When Brian Lewandoske throws his dog a bone, it’s not a processed treat from a bag but a raw chicken foot or a rabbit head from his freezer.
It’s all part of the raw pet food diet he began feeding his pets five years ago when his young poodle began having twice-a-week seizures.
Today, his dog is thriving thanks to an all-raw diet, and the experience has become the basis for Lewandoske’s fast-growing pet food shop, Dowsky’s Raw Dawg and cat, which recently relocated to Sheboygan’s north side after outgrowing its 3-year-old Union Avenue location.
For Lewandoske, who’d done hands-on construction work his whole life and had never worked in retail, the shop’s swift success has been a welcome surprise.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought this would be a living,” said Lewandoske, who co-owns the shop with his longtime girlfriend LaRue King. “I mean, who would? You can’t make a living selling dog food for heaven’s sakes.”
But this isn’t your standard pet kibble.
At his new location inside the former Mark’s Fine Food at 1910 Calumet Ave., the racks are lined with dehydrated kangaroo tails, cow tracheas, frozen lamb femurs and other unusual treats for man’s best friend.
Most popular are the frozen raw chicken feet, which are sourced from area farms and sell at $1.29 each. Lewandoske said he sells about 450 per month.
“I could actually assemble an animal in here, but it would have the head of a rabbit, the lung of a cow, the throat of a pig, the foot of a chicken, the liver of a lamb and the heart of a pig,” he said.
The store also stocks a range of high-grade, grain-free dog and cat kibble that Lewandoske said is as natural as he can find, along with probiotics and other supplements.
Lewandoske, who’s had dogs his whole life, contends feeding pets a raw food diet helps them avoid a range of maladies as it more closely matches what they’re evolved to consume.
It does come with an extra cost — about $10 more per month compared to premium kibble — but he argues that’s offset by lower vet bills over time.
“It’s like an insurance policy. Your dog doesn’t end up at the vet as often,” he said.
Raw pet food diets aren’t without critics.
The FDA has warned raw pet food carries many risks because animals and humans can be sickened by pathogens in raw meat. The FDA has also expressed concern that animals might not get all the nutrients they need.
Proponents, such as Lewandoske, emphasize such concerns can be overcome by responsible pet owners who ensure their animals are eating a balanced diet and who know how to safely handle and store raw food.
Lewandoske is quick to point out trading kibble for tracheas and other raw pet food isn’t for everyone, as it requires a major commitment by owners, who must intensively manage what they feed their dogs by offering a complex balance of vegetables, meat and other items, along with making sure the items are prepared right to ensure proper digestion and safety.
“It helped that we were dog people,” said Lewandoske, referring to when he and King began feeding their 2-year-old poodle a raw food diet in response to the animal’s frequent seizures.
Lewandoske attributes his store’s success to the same social trends impacting how people eat, including the local and organic food movements.
At the same time, he realizes how far outside the mainstream raw pet food is for animal owners, which made him skeptical of whether his business idea would even work.
So much so that when he opened his Union Avenue store in 2012, he did so without taking on any debt and purchased minimal inventory, so if the business didn’t take off, he could walk away.
The closest he ever got to advertising was the sandwich board he placed outside. But somehow, things took off almost immediately.
“Business actually exploded and people just started flowing in,” he said. “I started stacking dog food waist high all over the store, and I had to have more room.”
Three years in, he began searching for a bigger space, leading him to his new 1,200-square-foot store, which is double the size of his previous location, although still modest by modern retail standards.
He even quit his day job building displays and exhibits for local companies, which was never part of the plan.
“I have really no business experience whatsoever,” he said. “But I’m that crazy dog guy from down the street who loves his dog, and it just kinda spread.”
Read or Share this story: http://shebpr.es/1YiFu96