It’s been Karen Komisar’s dream for three decades to run her own business.
For years, the Ellicott City resident worked with Animal Advocates of Howard County, helping the organization raise funds for pet adoptions. Meanwhile, she rescued her own dogs and cats.
In September, Komisar left her job of 25 years in health care sales with plans to open Sea Dog Pet Boutique. The business opened its doors Monday at 172 Main St., in Annapolis.
Sea Dog isn’t just any old pet supplies store.
Yes, Komisar offers a range of treats, colorful collars and leashes and stuffed toys with punny names based on alcoholic beverages like “White Paw” and “Barker’s Mark.” But she seeks items that are made locally or are sourced from small businesses that are woman owned or ethically produced, or both, Komisar said.
“Everything has a story behind it,” she said, pointing to Timberdoodles, a brand of natural dog treats, made by an Irish butcher from New England. Nearby is a rack of greeting cards that feature paintings from a mother-daughter company based in Howard County called Wet Nose Greetings. Another brand of treats, Sweet Piggy Bakery, is based in Millersville.
“I have always loved animals. We have two rescue dogs and a rescue cat. We have two geckos, a guinea pig and fish,” Komisar said. “It was just important to me to provide things that were healthy and safe for our pets. Not a lot of preservatives or dyes and things like that.”
To fill out her inventory, Komisar spends hours researching products, scouring social media pages of other boutiques and popping into brick and mortar stores when she travels to see what kind of merchandise they carry. She specifically seeks out companies owned by women or that employ women. For instance, some of the collars from a company called Puddle Jumper Pups are made by stay-at-home moms, military wives and young women just starting their careers in business, according to the company’s website.
Komisar makes sure that even the products from other countries meet her standards, such as The Paws, a company based in Bali that hires women to hand-make bandannas. Many of the proceeds go to rescue dogs.
“People told me I was crazy. Obviously, I can’t avoid some things that show up on Amazon,” Komisar said. “But I really did my best.”
In her work with Animal Advocates of Howard County, Komisar helped establish the fundraising event Walk for Paws, which became a key moneymaker for the organization. Komisar hopes to bring similar philanthropic work to Annapolis with fundraisers and other events.
She purchased a claw machine that sits next to the register and filled it with stuffed dog toys. The game, branded with the Sea Dog logo, costs $1 to play, with all proceeds going to the ASPCA of Annapolis and Senior Dog Sanctuary. The store had its first winner on Tuesday, a couple from North Carolina, Komisar said.
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Komisar chose Annapolis because of her love for the historic city on the water. Though she and her fiance are still based in Howard County, she recently purchased a property in Annapolis and plans to move here full time soon, she said. She will bring with her two rescue dogs, Oshie, a 2-year-old black lab and pit bull mix, and Bentley, a 9-year-old Australian shepherd.
Bentley is the inspiration for the Sea Dog logo, a smiling cartoon dog with red fur on a blue background.
They also have a 14-year-old cat named Colby. One nook of the business is set aside for cat supplies, including collars, treats and toys.
Unfortunately, neither of Komisar’s pups will be making an appearance at the store because they’re a little skittish, but customers are encouraged to bring their pets inside, she said.
On Tuesday, the store had its first “dog theft,” when a furry friend came into the store with her owner and swiped a low-hanging treat from a display. Komisar said she didn’t sweat the loss of revenue. After all, she could still be answering emails from doctors and sales reps at her old job.
“One of these days, I’m going to work with puppies,” she recalled saying to herself. “And now I’m finally getting to do that.”
Sea Dogs is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.