Burton’s Blog 9/22 : Shopping Local – On Patronage

shopping local


If we go to a sit-down restaurant with professional cooks, we, as it is customary, tip the employees for jobs well done. The staff at these restaurants is incentivized to provide quality service, but it is not the business that rewards their generosity of time and patience. It is the customer. In fact, they are actually owed remuneration, as without our “gratuity” they cannot make a living wage.

The valued and essential concept of financially rewarding great service and information goes well beyond tipping your wait staff at meals. The problem is that not all service-related needs are considered equally.

Knowledgable Assistance Is Not Assured

Let’s relate this to the pet service industry. Customers often enter a pet supply retailer seeking professional service and knowledge. The service of any store clerk generally goes unrewarded and unrecognized. In this sphere of business, service is also demanded, but the customer is not expected to remunerate accordingly. The business pays the wage. Obviously this does not excuse rude or unhelpful clerks who are paid to provide said service, but consider for a moment the ways in which the expectations of each system realistically function to directly incentivize employees.

Customers often complain that customer service is lacking. There is good reason for that. Customers have the right to expect great service and information. The reward for great service and knowledge in retail is the repeated patronage of that business. That takes tenure and time.

What’s happening in 2017, however, is that many people will visit a business, obtain knowledge, buy a few items and then scour the Internet and grocery stores for the cheapest options. The repeat patronage (aka “the tip”) to reward the clerk and the business for services well tendered never takes place. The pet supply store provides the service while Internet merchants and grocery stores receive the repeat business.

The Realities of Business in 2017

Make no mistake – we’re realistic about the difficulties facing modern brick-and-mortar business – but we believe that sharing proper pet care information is essential to the transaction with our customers. We have an obligation not just to our customers but to their animals to provide the best pet care information possible.

Neither the online retailer nor the grocery store provides personal care. The customer often goes to these businesses with false information acquired from flashy television marketing or Internet hearsay.

Consider the difference between McDonald’s and that aforementioned sit-down restaurant. You don’t tip a McDonald’s employee for stuffing a soggy burger in paper, but you do tip a waiter or waitress that serves you repeatedly over the course of an hour, maybe more. They take your order, refill your drinks, bring your food, endure your jokes, check if you need anything, anything at all.

The grocery store is the McDonald’s of pet care. If you want a McDonald’s burger, that’s what you get. It’s not really what you want or what you should be eating, but it’s there and it’s for sale on the cheap. Customers find an inexpensive bag labeled “balanced,” something they saw on the television. They believe that it’s the best because Purina told them so, repeatedly. Nobody can talk back to the television, to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. These companies get away with the kind of misrepresentation that should make us all ill.

Lies and Misinformation Cost More

When something goes wrong with their pet, do these same customers go back to the grocery store for help? Who’s there to help them, hopefully, solve some of their problems? The benefit we get for providing our experience is having you as a customer. That’s all we ever ask. We don’t receive or ask for tips or any other compensation. A customer that uses us for information, but does not give us their business attaches no value to that service – yet this very same customer likely tips 20% at a restaurant without thinking twice. With enough customers like this, they won’t have us around to provide that information for much longer because we’ll be out of business.

Recently a customer sought my help. I have helped her many times in the past. My information saved her hundreds of dollars, and she freely admitted it. She also told me I saved one of her dogs from euthanasia. The only benefit we got was her business, and obviously we asked for nothing more.

After the discussion I made an offhand comment that I hadn’t seen her in the store lately. She said, “No, I’m getting my food from the Internet so I don’t have to carry the bag.” She saw nothing wrong with that, nor did she think twice about telling me.

The Realties of Business in 2017: Part II

Look at this from our perspective. We have to provide a storefront and pay sales tax. Most Internet retailers run a warehouse and pay no sales tax. This is like doing business with one hand tied behind our back. In order to provide service and information, we have to pay quality, experienced people. This isn’t a restaurant where the owner can pay his wait staff insignificant wages. We also can’t be McDonald’s, merely stuffing unhealthy burgers in sacks.

ust because you and your pet are in a good place now doesn’t mean you no longer need service. Consider what’s going on in the pet service industry today. Four of our competitors – PetSmart, Petco, Pet Valu, and Pet Supplies “Plus” – have been opening stores by the hundreds. They also have people with virtually zero education in animal husbandry telling you what to buy and what to do. I wish I could compile a book containing all the dumb things people tell me they were told to do by employees at these stores.

Having a big sign and flashy TV advertising doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. You’re buying stuff off of a shelf without the benefit of service. Grocery stores and companies like Purina and Pedigree rely on the widely held belief that all dog and cat foods are just fine and pretty okay.

I Cannot Write This Next Part Loudly Enough

*ALL* DOG AND CAT FOODS ARE NOT OKAY – just as all dog and cat food suppliers are not equal.

Maybe you can’t afford the very best products. That’s reasonable! But that doesn’t mean you can’t make real, substantive improvements in your pet’s diet without spending a lot of money. A quality, professional pet store provides service beyond that of a regular chain store that hires people with no discernible knowledge or skills. It takes years to learn how to properly care for animals.

Experienced pet people can suggest fresh new products that improve your pet’s wellbeing. An experienced pet person will keep you updated on the latest in practical care. We can be sounding boards for you to tell us about bad experiences and vent frustrations. We can recommend qualified groomers, pet hotels, or any manner of pet professional.

At Burton’s Total Pet, all you have to do is read the reviews on our website to see the difference we have made to pet’s lives. Burton has practiced professional animal husbandry for 45 years. 25 years as a mentor to pets in Pittsburgh, 20 years as manager of large livestock farms and operations manager at the Detroit Zoo. His life has been devoted to animal health from a practical perspective.

Experience Is Not Cheap, But It Is Free (To You)

The staff of our stores has a lot of experience as well. We have a parrot expert at McIntyre. Dog expertise at Cranberry, McIntyre, and Bridgeville. Professional fish expertise at McIntyre, Greensburg, Monroeville, Bridgeville, and Irwin. A reptile expert at Cranberry. To gain access to their experiences all you have to do is ask. We have five managers with over 20 years of experience.

It is for the above reasons and more that make our stores a valuable, community asset. Our existence relies on you shopping at our stores or at least giving us a chance to show you what we can do for your pet.

We are not looking for tips. We survive as a business because people recognize our worth to them and their pet and they bring their repeat business. We believe you deserve more than just a bag of food from our shelf.

Ask yourself what is our service worth to you? You likely think about that when considering 15% or 20% or more at a restaurant, but not when receiving service at a retail store. It’s not easy to put a value on years of invaluable experience, but in our stores you get it for free just by shopping here. Your patronage is your gratitude. Your patronage keeps us in business and allows to continue to serve Pittsburgh-area pets and their people.

Burton’s Blog: Talking Pot Bellied Pigs

Burton’s Blog 8/11: Talking Pot Bellied Pigs

blog banner pot bellied pigs
We don’t necessarily recommend pot-belly pigs as pets, but when they are small, they can be really fun. Some years ago we got talked into three so-called micro pigs. Their names were Fiona, Einstein, and Philbert. 
We acquired them not to sell, but for our customers enjoyment. Providing access to animals like these is an important service. We provided space for these pigs for as long as we had the ability to do so. Despite their name, these pigs can grow quite large. Fiona become almost 200 lbs! They were great companions, but a 200 lb. pig is a difficult roommate. They outgrew their modest temporary homes in our store and needed to move on to greener pastures.
We ultimately found really good homes for them where they could live happily ever after. Pot-bellies are not good house pets, unless you are not fussy about the destruction and mess that can come with an animal that is more like a small bulldozer. Put simply, they are an incredible challenge and only for people with ample outdoor space to explore their piggy natures.
The main point I was trying to make with them was to show people the intelligence of the animal. They are not just bacon. They have intellectual capabilities. During the 20th century, science didn’t want to recognize that animals other than humans had an ounce of sense. That is totally false and through researchers like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey we have come a long way in understanding the cognitive abilities of other animals. Now Goodall and Fossey worked with primates rather than pigs, but their research led to a widespread scientific awakening about animal intelligence.

Burton’s Blog 6/27: Your dog’s been bitten by a tick. Now what?

tick bite

Your dog’s been bitten by a tick. Now what?

Tick season is in full swing now and will remain so for the next 5 or 6 months. Even after November, depending on the weather, ticks can still be active and deadly.

There are right ways and wrong ways to dislodge an embedded tick. A lot has been written about what to do when bitten by these dastardly blood suckers. One thing you’ll read is the suggestion to save the tick and take it to your doctor to see if the tick carried Lyme. They’ll test for other pathogens as well, but with regards to Lyme disease I have talked to personal care physicians and their recommendation in our area of Western Pennsylvania is to assume infection. They’ll automatically give the patient a round of doxycycline. The incidence of ticks carrying Lyme is so high that we must assume the tick is infected.

Now for removing the tick. You will need a simple piece of equipment called a mosquito hemostat. The hemostat is a tool used in the medical profession to clamp blood vessels or tag sutures. We carry them in our stores for the purpose of grappling with ticks. Some articles recommend tweezers; however tweezers leave a lot of latitude for shape and ability of the tool. There are many types. You will need a narrow tip with a strong grip to remove the tick cleanly.

mosquito hemostat

Examples of a strong pair of tick-grabbing tweezers (left) and a mosquito hemostat (right).

The mosquito hemostat will clamp down and is made of stainless steel that has a strong grip when used. Now for removing the tick. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull steadily straight up. Do not twist or jerk it. Even when great care is taken you might leave the mouth parts in the skin. Your body will heal over the tick mouth parts and eventually expel them. You won’t even know it happens in most cases. You can save the tick if you want in a freezer bag. Store them in the freezer until you decide what you need to do with them.

Once the tick is removed, clean the area with alcohol or an antiseptic and keep your eye on the location to see if there are any red areas. Under no circumstances should you wait to see if there are symptoms of Lyme before seeking treatment. Assume the worst and immediately go see your doctor. That is the safest course of action due to our scourge of tick-born diseases.

Now for some additional information that may be helpful. People wait until they find ticks on their pet to react. Be proactive! Prevent ticks from biting you or your pet in the first place. Putting a flea or tick toxin topical or collar on your pet is fine, but don’t assume that is all you need to do. That is a little short of being careful. You can’t assume 100% effectiveness, and it only takes one bite to cause Lyme Disease. Use your topicals, but also check for ticks and fleas by inspecting your pet with a flea comb on a light or white sheet.

A lot has been made of Seresto Collars the last two years but I prefer Advantix II (Bayer) or Advantect II (Generic). Brand and generic varieties exist for most flea and tick topical applications and collars in our stores. As an example, Advantect II is only $39 for 4 months and Advantix II (Bayer) is between $58 and $63. Save money where it makes the most sense.

Another word about tick control. If you find embedded ticks on your pet, you need to make sure all embedded ticks are removed before using a topical. Recently a customer came in and asked me to examine some bumps on her dog’s neck. I looked at 5 or 6 bumps, cutting one of them open (with her permission), and decided she discovered ticks on her dog and didn’t want to pull them so she used a good topical to kill them. The embedded ticks died and stuck in the dog’s skin. Eventually the skin grew over them, like a piece of sand in a wound. This is very unpleasant. Always be proactive whenever possible. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call me my McIntyre office at (412) 367-0962.


Information about Advantect II by tevra and Advantix II by Bayer ($59 to $63 per 4 doses).

  1. Pyriproxifen (IGR-growth regulating hormone)
  2. Imidocloprid (original ingredient for Advantage, was not effective as a repellent nor killed ticks, that is not good)
  3. Permethrin (a repellent as well insecticide with great residual. This in my mind is one of the best products.
  4. Cant be used on cats. For cats use CateGo (also available in our stores)
  5. In short they are the same product at a very different price.



Frontline by itself will kill ticks and fleas but not very quickly. Merial is advertising Frontline Gold which is merely a marketing ploy. All they did was add another IGR and claim “new and improved!” but neither of the IGRs in Fronline Gold or Plus kill fleas or ticks quickly.

There are many generics for Frontline and they work… but not fast enough to be wholly effective.


  1. S-methoprene IGR with no killing power
  2. Pyriproxyfen added to Frontline Gold. Save your money.


Regarding Wondercide, a new “wonder” drug


I called the Wondercide manufacturers recently to find out about their claims of efficacy. The active ingredient is cedar oil. They claim it is all natural and all organic. The problem is that it doesn’t have any residual for killing ticks or the fleas. You have to keep spraying the product on the pet to kill the fleas and ticks. In my mind that makes it pretty useless. The liquid has to be directly applied to the tick. This is not much protection.

They claim to have been presented on Shark Tank. I’m not sure what a bunch of MBA and accountants know about fleas and ticks or Lyme Disease. Some dogs are indeed sensitive to the pesticides and maybe this product would be helpful as long as you kept a bottle of it on you at all times. Cedar Oil will act as a repellent after it dries, but I could not find any literature showing efficacy. In short, Wondercide will not ultimately protect your pet. It’s just not practical to keep spraying the pet with the solution. Plus, I think it would be really hard to penetrate the skin on dogs with thick underfur like and Siberian or Akita.