I walked into Jenny Wilcox's small kitchen and found the happiest baker I've ever met in my life. There she was in her apron flashing the brightest smile, surrounded by hundreds of her delicious-looking bite-sized baked treats. Apart from the treats, I saw bowls of grated carrot, grated apple, flour, baking sheets and plastic party bags. The kitchen had that wonderful warm embracing aroma that develops when baking is on the go.
Scurrying to and fro, wearing a pink bandana around her neck, was Wilcox's four-month-old pet and taste tester, a beagle named Penny Lane. Wilcox and Penny were both displaying lots of energy and excitement.
Wilcox's positive and upbeat personality is one reason she's been doing so well with her small home business, Jenny's Bark Goods. It's impossible not to be swayed by this delightful young woman's enthusiasm for her homemade treats for dogs and cats. Shortly after adopting Penny, she decided she wanted to cook for her pup so that she'd know exactly what Penny was eating. Next she started selling the treats at the Saturday Farmers Market in St. John's and eventually to retailers like The Doghouse on Duckworth Street. An individual treat costs 75 cents, while a bag of 12 will cost you $7.00. Wilcox is very serious about choosing the right ingredients.
"Pretty much all of my recipes are quite simple. I do use human food, but I don't use things such as salt or sugar or butter or anything like that. So mainly my treats are made with fresh meat, they're gluten-free and sometimes, if I see some organic cheese, I'll buy that. Not everything is strictly organic, but when I have the choice I usually choose organic."
Jenny's Bark Goods come in all forms and flavours. She has cookie-cutter shapes. Some might be in the shape of a bone, a Newfoundland dog, a cat or a heart. The bones are made from chicken livers, buttermilk, sunflower oil and spelt. She also has spinach-and-cheese cookies, apple-and- carrot dumplings and ham-and-cheese biscuits. The ham and cheese kind were especially popular with a friend's pooch.
"There's a girl at work and she had a beagle. She would put his all-time-favourite treat in one hand and my ham-and-cheese treat in her other hand to see which one he would choose and every time he would choose mine. She'd come back and say, ;Oh you won again last night Jenny.' She had to keep moving the treats around in her apartment because the dog was always scratching the place where they were.
"You hear a lot of cute stories like that and it makes me feel really, really good; because when you own a dog it's so exciting to get them excited. It makes you happy knowing that you're making your dog happy."
I was intrigued when I heard Wilcox mention the words "gluten free." Could it be that dogs suffer from allergies and food sensitivity? I'd have thought the possibility remote. After all, the phrase "like a dog's stomach" was not meant to suggest a delicate digestive system.
"Some dogs do have allergies to gluten products. I hear that a lot, actually. It's far more common than what I ever expected. The type of flours that I use would be, you know, corn flour instead of whole wheat, so a lot of my treats end up being gluten-free, about half. Another thing is that there are only three or four ingredients in my treats anyway. So, if you're not sure if your dog has an allergy, it makes it a lot easier to pinpoint when you're giving them a treat that only has spinach, cheese and maybe flour in it. That way it's easier to have feedback from your dog if you don't know what they're allergic to."
I brought some of Jenny's Bark Goods home to my dog and he loved them. I noticed that Penny Lane seemed to want to vacuum everything up. It does make a difference feeding your dog something that you wouldn't have much hesitation eating yourself. Jenny Wilcox was right about that. However, it's also good to remember that Jenny's Bark Goods are "treats" and shouldn't be eaten excessively. A few treats per day would be plenty.
As I was getting ready to leave I asked Wilcox how she saw her business developing.
"I started doing this because I love my dog. I love baking and I wanted to meet friends at the Farmers' Market. So I started selling them there and already it seems that it's taking off for me. I just hope that this develops into what I'm dreaming of, which is my own bakery where I wear an apron for 12 hours a day and my dog is able to be in the bakery with me. I have this vision in my head and I just hope that everything does work out that way. If it doesn't then maybe it wasn't supposed to be."
Considering the growth of her business after a few short months, I'd say the possibility of that dream being realized is more likely than not.
Good luck Jenny Wilcox.
"The Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook: Homemade Goodies for Man's Best Friend," by Liz Palika, Howell Book House
"Cooking for Dogs," by Marjorie Walsh, New Holland Publishers Ltd.
"Better Food for Dogs: A Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide."by David Bastin, Robert Rose
"Everything Cooking For Dogs," by Lisa Fortunato, Adams Media
"Chow Hound: Wholesome Home Cooking for Your Doggie," by Eve Adamson, Sterling Innovation