Belle and Lincoln are used to enjoying the occasional spa day.
From shampoos and trims to blueberry-scented facials and blowouts, the offerings at To Wag For, a grooming salon in Bel Air, seem to put pep in the pups’ steps.
“When I pick them up Lincoln always looks sharp, Belle is always nice and fluffy and they both smell so good,” says their owner, Renee Martin, 37, of Forest Hill.
Belle, a lab mix, and Lincoln, a Yorkie, have been going to the salon for about five years. “Lincoln goes once a month and Belle goes every couple of months,” she says.
Martin also likes to stop in for treats and toys for her two dogs, as well as for her cats. “They’re constantly bringing in new stuff,” she says.
The shop is one of many businesses in Harford County that is finding success by tapping into a seemingly inexhaustible resource: The desire that people have to lavish luxury on their pets. To meet those desires, the county boasts doggie day cares, pet grooming salons, and several bakeries that create small-batch preservative-free treats for pets.
To Wag For, which has a sister store in Santa Monica, California, bills itself as a “welcoming one-stop shop” for dog products and services. The salon features hypoallergenic grooming products, and promises such services as hand-clipping of unruly coats, de-shedding, and blow-drying. “All our grooming includes a blueberry facial,” says general manager Megan Conway.
She says most grooming sessions take three to four hours. “Some dogs require a complete hand-scissoring,” she says, because clippers can’t cut more than an inch.
The store sells treats made without chemicals, pet clothes (“We just got in some lovely polo shirts for the guys and spring dresses for the ladies,” says Conway), and enrichment toys such as puzzles that dogs have to solve in order to get a treat. “It keeps them mentally stimulated so they don’t destroy your couch,” says Conway, herself the owner of a beloved Borgi — a Corgi mixed with a little Border Collie — named Wren.
There’s also a photo studio, where pets and their people can dress up for seasonal snaps, such as one that Belle and Lincoln took for Christmas, with Conway dressed as “Peppermint Paws.”
To paraphrase an old saying, the way to a pet’s heart is through its stomach. And several businesses make handcrafted baked treats for pets, often developing their first recipes to help their own pets navigate allergies or tummy problems.
Kelley Arnold, of Joppa, launched her Doggielicious Donuts K-9 Bakery after an allergy test revealed all the foods that didn’t agree with her rescue dog, Axle. “I knew I wanted something with very limited ingredients,” she says.
Axle is now gone, but Arnold’s pit bull, Ford, and French bulldog, Winston, don’t seem to mind sharing their home with a doggie doughnut-maker. “I can’t bake without them [eating] at least several,” she says.
Arnold bakes the doughnuts and cookies in her home, and sells them at the Bel Air Farmer’s Market and other places that are popular with dogs. Flavors include peanut butter oatmeal, apple cinnamon and blueberry, but maple bacon may be the most popular, she says.
Husky-lab mix Mylo, Japanese Chin-Pomeranian mix Suki and Boston terrier Fritz also had tummy troubles that inspired their person, Kara Beron, to create custom treats and launch Kara’s K-9 Waffle Treats.
“I had three dogs with sensitive stomachs,” says Beron, a surgical veterinary technician married to a veterinarian. She suspected that the salt and preservatives in the commercial treats were to blame, so she started baking some alternatives.
She started out by making just a few flavors of the soft, dog-bone-shaped waffles, and now offers around 35, including pepperoni pizza and chicken cheese steak.
Four years ago, she opened a store in Forest Hill that sells the baked-on-site waffles and carries pet-related items from other local entrepreneurs, including memorial candles for pets who have gone over the rainbow bridge.
The store has an open kitchen, so visitors can watch the waffles being made, and freezers to store the preservative-free treats. Beron also sells the waffles at regional farmers’ markets and events.
Though Fritz has since passed on, the other two dogs love the treats and no longer suffer from stomach issues, she says.
Meanwhile, over in Edgewood, a small commercial kitchen with baking ovens down one wall and dehydrators lining the other, is making treats for Luci’s Pet Pantry.
The company, launched in 2020, makes and sells what it calls “disobedient treats” as well as dehydrated meats and ice cream mixes for dogs and cats. The treats can be purchased online, or at retail stores nationwide.
Doggie Day Care
Even the most beloved dogs sometimes need some time away from their families. A doggie day care like Dogtopia provides a safe and fun place for them to play when their humans are at work or on vacation, with activities like bubble time and games like “Mother May I,” when dogs listen for their name before crossing a line.
“Our goal is for them to have the best day ever, making friends and playing with other dogs,” says Patti Miller, who opened the Bel Air site in January with her husband Joe.
She says her 22 years of experience as an elementary school teacher come in handy when handling her canine charges. “They’re like my kids when I taught. You get to know their personalities,” she says.
Dogtopia, a national franchise that started in 2002 and now has about 225 locations, offers day care, boarding and spa services. In Bel Air, dogs can stay for the day or overnight, and can avail themselves of shampoos, massages, nail-trimming, ear-cleaning and teeth-brushing.
For day care, dogs can stay from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They’re divided by size and allowed to play in rooms with rubberized flooring and equipment like ramps and steps.
Canine coaches make sure the dogs are having fun and getting along. Report cards and webcams let the humans know how their days are going. There’s even a midday break for naps and lunch.
Miller says many of her customers sign up for “wellness plans” that let them bring in their dogs several times a week. The dogs enjoy it, and at the end of the day they are happily exhausted.
“Dogs are social, just like kids,” she says.
And they enjoy pampering, just like most of us.