Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 17
 
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton


BEST FRIENDS: “Our main goal is to help people understand the benefit of the all-natural foods we offer to their pets.” Mike Growney, owner of Utopia For Pets in the Princeton North Shopping Center, enjoys spending time with Willow, his nine-year-old white Samoyed.

Utopia For Pets, Featuring All-Natural Foods,Is Located in Princeton North Shopping Center

Once upon a time, people fed their pets left-overs from the table, or even had their cats fend for themselves, capturing mice and other small creatures for dinner.

How different it is today! Aisles of pet food, treats, and toys in the supermarket greet the pet owner with a myriad of choices, all geared to the individual animal’s condition. Food for overweight pets, for mature animals, for indoor cats, for oral care … the list goes on and on.

However, a number of animal nutritionists point out that the popular commercial brands do not offer the most wholesome diet for an animal. Consequently, more and more pet stores and boutiques are providing all-natural foods and holistic treats for companion animals.

“We’re really promoting natural products,” points out Mike Growney, owner of Utopia For Pets, which opened in the Princeton North Shopping Center in December. “Our food is all-natural and doesn’t contain gluten, corn, or unhealthy by-products, which can include left-over parts of an animal carcass. Commercial products have tons of corn and gluten, which are not nutritious for the pet. Their systems are not fueled properly, so they can develop problems, such as too much weight, diabetes, kidney problems, etc. They need meat and vegetables for good nutrition.”

Small Animals

Mr. Growney, who was formerly in retail and owner of a pet sitting business, liked the idea of having his own pet store. “I have merged two of my former businesses,” he notes. “There was no pet supply store in Montgomery Township, and they were renovating the shopping center. This space became available, and I felt it was a good fit with the Wellness Center and the nearby health food store.”

Food for dogs, cats, birds, and small animals, such as hamsters and guinea pigs, is available at the new store. There is a large selection of supplies, including bowls, leashes, beds, also supplements and remedies, gourmet treats, and accessories (sweaters, coats, bows, etc.).

“Dogs and cats are carnivorous, and all the food we carry ensures a meat-type of protein and also vegetables and fruit,” reports Mr. Growney. “In fact, the fastest-growing segment in the pet food industry today is raw food. These are formulated diets and are the healthiest — the closest to what the animal would eat in the wild.”

Such brands as Nature’s Variety and Primal offer raw food.

For customers who are not ready for the raw format, however, there is a complete range of natural dry and wet food from companies including Wellness, Merrick, California Natural, Evo, Innova, and Canidae.

“These all supply high-quality, nutritious food for dogs and cats,” says Mr. Growney. “I believe that feeding your pet quality food ultimately helps you save on vet fees. The healthier the diet, the healthier the animal.”

All-Natural

Prices at Utopia For Pets include a 5-pound bag of quality dry dog food at $9.99, a 4-pound bag of dry cat food for $11.99, and toys starting at $1.99.

“We also have all-natural flea and tick repellents from plant and tree oils. You apply them every month for a cat or dog,” he adds.

Mr. Growney is pleased that in the short time Utopia For Pets has been open, it has already attracted many regular customers from around the area. “They often bring in their dogs, sometimes to try on a coat or sweater. We also have Pawz, little balloon-type covers, to put on dogs’ paws to protect them from salt on roads and mud.”

Mr. Growney’s Samoyed, Willow, is on hand to greet all customers — human and canine — with a warm and friendly welcome.

Major Priority

“I enjoy meeting all the new people, and I like to connect with the community,” says Mr. Growney. “We have sponsored boys’ baseball teams and girls’ softball teams. We try to give back to the community. In addition, we have Adoption Day every Saturday, rotating SAVE and Animal Alliance. We have gotten animals adopted, and it is wonderful when that happens.”

Educating customers is a major priority at Utopia For Pets, he adds. “One-third of our customers are very knowledgeable about the best food for their animal’s health; one-third knows a little and wants to learn more about their pet’s nutrition, and one-third really knows nothing about what’s best. We want to help educate them.”

Indeed, Mr. Growney spends a lot of time with customers, talking about the food, explaining its benefits, answering questions, and helping people. He points out that many people don’t know that chocolate is toxic for dogs, as well as caffeine, and sugar, and that onions are bad for cats. Poinsettia plants are poisonous for dogs and cats.

“It is also very important not to overfeed your pet,” he explains. “What separates Utopia For Pets from everyone else is that we are really here to help you. We are very knowledgeable, and if we don’t know something, we will try our best to find the information. We try to make everyone feel very welcome, and we do our best to educate them.”

Utopia For Pets is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 10 to 4. (609) 683-1500. Website: www.utopiaforpets.com.

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