Dog biscuits are niche for LaFargeville entrepreneur

Donna M. Russell has launched a dog treats business out of her house, 23085 Route 411, LaFargeville. Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times.

LAFARGEVILLE — It turns out locally produced food with healthy ingredients isn’t popular only among those with two legs.

Canines aren’t as picky as humans who badger restaurant servers with questions about the origins of food, but healthy eating is equally important for dogs, said 59-year-old Donna M. Russell, who opened 4 Paws Barkerie last summer at her house, 23085 Route 411. The bakery for dogs has set itself apart by selling biscuits made only from locally grown ingredients and containing no preservatives or salt.

After a successful summer selling treats at events, Mrs. Russell is focusing on increasing online sales through her website, Facebook and Twitter pages soon will be linked to the website, which offers an array of treats including gift baskets and birthday cakes.

Mrs. Russell said her business was hatched after she experimented with treats for her family’s 4-year-old Lab-hound mix, Max. She said she was encouraged when she saw that Max liked the homemade treats more than ones that had preservatives.

“He liked them so much that I tried making them for family members and friends,” Mrs. Russell said.

Last year, she acquired a pet food license from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and developed a business plan.

Spring wheat used in the treats is harvested at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sackets Harbor, then ground into whole-wheat flour at North Country Farms in Watertown. Peanut butter comes from Martin’s Pretzels in Theresa. The eggs come from chickens at Roggie Farms in Carthage.

“People today are trying to feed their pets healthy, just like they’re trying to eat healthy,” Mrs. Russell said. “That’s why I’m using only locally grown ingredients. You can buy natural treats from Petco, but they’re made in Washington.”

She said disease prevention is another motivator for dog owners seeking healthy pet food. A consistently healthy diet can help prevent trips to the vet to treat ailments such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Finding the right flavors for pets also is important, Mrs. Russell said. For instance, Max likes only the peanut butter and meat-flavored treat varieties such as chicken, beef and pork. Other dogs enjoy the gluten-free banana-berry treats.

If the finished treats don’t make Max’s tail wag, it’s back to the drawing board, Mrs. Russell said.

A batch sent to her friend Lynn Tritten in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a success. “She took them out of the mailbox and her dog could smell them,” Mrs. Russell said. “He started ripping the package open when she was bringing it in, so she put the treats in a jar.”

The dog biscuits are sold in Clayton at Gold Cup Farms’ River Rat Cheese, North Country Express and the Clayton Food Cooperative; in Alexandria Bay at Thousand Islands Animal Hospital and the Gal’s Place, and in Watertown at Big M and Blue Seal Feeds.

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times staff writer