Monday, February 19, 2007
National Post Article - February 17, 2006
DOGGIE STYLE DILEMMA UNLEASHED
Zosia Bielski, National Post
Published: Saturday, February 17, 2007
You'd think the fur would fly when Timmie Doggie Outfitters opened next door to Helmutt's Pet Supply along the trendiest stretch of Queen West last spring. Helmutt's (865 Queen St. W.) had been on the block for a decade; Timmie (867 Queen St. W.) set up shop in May. Just how many gourmet pet shops did the people of Trinity Bellwoods need? And how could Timmie so shamelessly bark up Helmutt's tree? Zosia Bielski sniffed it out.
If Helmutt's had a celebrity patron, it would likely come in the form of Woody Harrelson, at least his hemp loving, rabid yogi incarnation. It's no-nonsense, down-to-earth, socially conscious and rough and tumble -- the kind of place you'd expect to be around for a decade, even in one of the city's most coveted neighbourhoods.
In front of Helmutt's lime green exterior, a setter cheerfully sniffs another setter's rump. Inside, the cozy shop sells everything from organic catnip to parakeet giblets to sweet potato and duck chow for pooches. Helmutt's has that slightly acrid scent particular to pet stores.
For cats, there is fresh cat grass, dehydrated salmon treats, beautifully packaged chicken fricassee. The manager recommends Wysong, a small brand out of Michigan that specializes in organic treats. Later that day, wolfing down Wysong's seafood meal, my cat gets her first taste of unprocessed cuisine, including ground flax seeds, dried kelp, sage, rosemary and artichoke. I can say with full certainty she ate better than I did that day.
After dinner, she enjoys the small furry ball that Helmutt's sells for 95?, just one of their very affordable toys. I douse the ball in catnip and watch my cat go ballistic; the clicking noise really gets to them, the manager tells me after asking me about my pets.
For dogs, Helmutt's carries dried snake skin treats and pig ears, on special.
These guys are passionate about animals. Pit bull co-op listings and lost cat posters flank the cash desk. Paper paws adorn the front door and window: For $2, customers sign their name on a paw and support autistic kids who need help dogs.
What Woody Harrelson is to Helmutt's, Paris Hilton and Fred Durst are to Timmie. A well-coiffed couple shops for a dog carrier. Owner Paul Ryu stacks gourmet dog treats on whitewashed shelves, apologizing for a non-existent mess. Every few minutes, he shushes a dog barking from the back room -- curious, considering it's a dog's Neverland. Mary J. Blige croons over the stereo. The store smells like Banana Republic.
For anyone who ever dared to dream of dressing their Pomeranian in a pink peacoat and seafoam green booties, Timmie is the spot. Denim vests and droll T-shirts line the shelves, and Swarovski crystal studded leashes shimmer pink from a jewellery case. They go for $200 to $300, depending on the size; Ryu imports them from Hollywood.
Strawberry milk baths, $10 cat treats sold from ornate Chinese takeout boxes, squeeze toys shaped like crowns, Grecian laurels and Hummer tires: These pets live the high life. From a miniature ice cream parlour set up by the front door, Ryu sells freeze-dried ice cream treats in peanut butter and vanilla. No animal smell and no irony here.
Ryu also asks me about my pets. I tell him about my dead cat and my live cat; he seems to care. He asks me about the lifespan of a typical feline. Well, I've known them to live to 26 with lonely actors, but the Humane Society says outdoor cats usually kick the bucket at age three. But what's the deal? Why amI helping this doggie-savant with his research? Ryu tells me the store is expanding its cat goodie line. Perhaps Timmie will make it to its first anniversary after all. Rumour has it Ryu is trying to snag some of Helmutt's suppliers. Bad dog.
I drop a whopping $3 on cat food and Ryu tosses a few treats in for free. The snacks are called "Barking Mad"; a pouch goes for $6. They look like fine dark chocolate. My cat gobbles them up, drooling all over the kitchen floor. What was that, I ask Ryu over the phone. "Buffalo liver," he tells me. My cat eats buffalo, I say proudly.
So which one? Between a 95-cent ball that engrosses my cat for days and the buffalo liver that makes her slobber, it's a tough call. The service at Helmutt's and Timmie is excellent, but more importantly, these people are nice, delightful even.
Maybe there is room for two pet stores in Trinity-Bellwoods after all. Following the Ontario Municipal Board's approval of at least four high-rise condos in the Queen West Triangle down the street, the area will soon see 2,000 new regulars, and a few fur kids in need of peacoats.