The Imperative of Shopping Local

shop local

The answer is simple, but the reasons for shopping local are more complex.

We’ve been in the business of providing for Pittsburgh’s pets for 24 years. I teach managers every day to be helpful in providing customers with the best information based on today’s science– not myths perpetuated by the pet care industry. What you think you know may not be true. Myths are everywhere.


Where Do We Look for These Myths?

Take for example the manufacturers that tell people not to feed their pets too much protein because it will hurt their kidneys. Not one shred of evidence exists to backup that claim. They want to sell low-protein food at a higher price to make more money per bag. This is so that when you see an expensive bag of food (containing nothing but the highest quality protein sources) for $70 or $80, you will automatically say that is too much to pay for any food quality.

The too-much-protein theory flaps in the face of 40 million years of canine evolution. One manufacturer representative recently told me that dogs don’t need the protein because they are domesticated. Domesticated!?

How stupid does that sound? Does the status of domesticity automatically override millions of years of evolution? On the other hand, he tried to sell me a new freeze-dried meat food at 60% protein. Real meat, only 60% protein. Does that compute? Does consistency in marketing matter any more? Obviously not.


Our shelves are not just filled with “stuff” to sell. They’re filled with items to feed and care for your pet. Our stores are also filled with knowledgable employees to help you find the right items for your pet.

Tell people what they want to hear. Sell people the food they think they need. People need to more often look beyond what they think they know. You simply cannot find a great pet food at the $35 price point. You’ll hear the contrary, of course, from every food manufacturer that makes food below $35 per bag. I don’t care if you are buying it online, Costco, WalMart, or the grocery store. Quality protein cannot be purchased cheap.


Think Logically. Ask Questions.

For every advertising claim ask yourself how that manufacturer would want to spin their marketing to sell you dog food. When you come up with your answer, do more investigation. Ask questions. Why might a big box store place a palette filled with one type of food right in the front of the store? Do they recommend the food? Or did they get a great deal from the manufacturer to move product?

complete and balanced dog food

Don’t think for a second that the vast majority of pet food is made using our best scientific knowledge about food processing or animal husbandry.  The old spin used to be “complete and balanced” food. That assertion means absolutely nothing. Complete and balanced neither exists for man nor beast. Proper nutrition is an ever-moving target. It is also a subject susceptible to snake-oil sales and rampant misinformation.


The Value and Void of the Internet

Most so-called pet supply stores are not really pet supply stores. Do they have pet supplies? Many are just closets with pet food. What they lack is the skill and knowledge to guide their customers to something better or more budget-friendly. Good luck finding this information on your Internet retailer du jour.

The Internet pays very little or no taxes to local government. The Internet provides little or no information. The greatest strength of the Internet is providing access to what you want or think you want immediately. As long as you fill our your credit card information correctly, they don’t care about the welfare of your pet. They don’t care about you getting the best food for your money.

Consider the dietary basis for all pre-domesticated canine species. Thousands of years of evolution cannot be eliminated overnight.

Consider the dietary basis for all pre-domesticated canine species. Thousands of years of evolution cannot be overwritten by human companionship.

For years I have preached that quality protein from animal sources is mandatory for great pet nutrition. Now customers are starting to look at protein sources. Manufacturers want to capitalize on this consumer push and they’re trying to sell higher protein sources. But where is that protein coming from? Are they selling good protein? Is it animal-sourced? What is the ash content? I have no idea why ash content is not included in a label. It is important. Why? Too much ash means a lot of bone. A lot of bone means a lot of calcium. Too much calcium causes stones. Mineral imbalance leads to many health problems. It’s not much of a reach to suggest that the ash content of most of our pet foods is too high.

Who other than your local retailer is going to care enough to dispense this information?


Transparency in Business

So why shop in a full-service pet store that doesn’t pander to customers? That doesn’t just sell them what they think they want? A true professional full-service pet store can save you money and grief and hopefully future veterinary bills. We see hundreds of dogs each week and talk to hundreds of customers. We talk amongst ourselves about these conversations and we learn more every day.

Our managers and many integral employees have all been with us for many years. Cindy: 24 years.  Steve: 24 years. BJay: 24 years. Chris: 24 years. Phil: 22 years. Donna: 20 years. Ken: 16 years. Sarah: 7 years. Milan: 7 years. Who else can provide that kind of consistent support for their customers? Buying online may save you a few minutes and a couple dollars today, but what is the ultimate cost?

purina beyond

Purina has stuck a couple of plant leaves on top of “Beyond” to convey a “healthful” message to its consumers. Now is the time to think. Think about the kind of protein source required by our pets. How is this marketing lying to you?

Purina recently came out with a formula called Beyond. The commercial suggests you can feed Beyond to a seven-year-old dog and they will become re-energized and more youthful. Why in the world is a seven-year-old dog showing signs of senility or lethargy? Simple. He was fed a rubbish food for the first six years of his life. Now, Purina’s come to rescue that dog from, well, probably Purina’s old food… but this time it’s legit! This is the only food you’ll ever need… until we come out with another forever food next year! This time our rubbish food isn’t rubbish! Is there any limit to our gullibility when it comes to marketing?

Once full-service pet stores have been crippled by Internet competition and the neighboring big box stores run by investment bankers, the business of improving pet care will only be in the hands of the profit takers. Consumers have the power to make a difference, by supporting stores that sell more than just the stuff on shelves. Burton’s Total Pet shares its collected experience free of charge with every customer that comes in the door and takes the time to ask for more information.


The Shop Local Movement

Locally-based retail shops are the last holdout from a bygone era. They’re the last stores that feel accountable for every customer that walks through their doors. National chains like to put up a good front, feign community awareness, but what are they really selling? What’s behind the curtain? A board room full of investment bankers counting their dividends.

shopping local - shop small

The Shop Local movements like Shop Small and Small Business Saturday have been gaining traction as families have rediscovered the value of face-to-face interaction, of an accountable merchant here at home. That traction, however, has been slow. We lose more of these Mom-and-Pop shops every day. The movement to shop local needs to be every day and whenever possible. Celebrate these stores for their service, for the people that pour their blood, sweat and tears into their business and serving their communities.

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Burton’s Blog 2/14 – Fleas and Ticks

fleas and ticks


People always seem to be more worried about fleas than ticks. That is misplaced emphasis. Ticks transmit disease and can cause long term chronic pain. Lyme Disease is one of the most serious diseases transferred by ticks. We will start our story from there. This is an update to a previous article I published a few years ago about fleas and ticks.

Fleas and Ticks 2017 – No Rest for the Wicked

Depending on the circumstances fleas and ticks can be present year round, so don’t become complacent just because the temperature drops. The ticks will overwinter in fermenting leaf litter. When it gets warm for a couple of days, they begin looking for a meal. Remember to comb out your dog when he is out where there are ticks. There is more to controlling Lyme disease control than just putting on a topical.

tick sizes

Over the years there have been all kinds of products produced to help prevent being bitten by ticks. There are two separate philosophies regarding tick and flea control. People don’t like chemicals so they decide to use the so-called “all natural” ingredients. This is foolish. The risk of their inefficacy is too high. There is no such thing as “moderate” success when repelling ticks. Even with humans there are no foolproof repellents. The other school of thought is to use topical and systemic toxins to kill the parasites. The problem is some of the products only kill fleas. Advantage, Advantus, Capstar, etc. Some 10 years ago Merial came out with Frontline. This worked against fleas and ticks. It helped more than Bayer’s Advantage because Advantage only killed fleas.

Prior to this the vets sold Program. That was a farce. It contained a well-known chemical called Ivermectin. Every flea in a house had to bite the pet to die, and people thought Program was all they needed to cure their infestation. Premise spray with permethrin was also needed but that wasn’t conveyed to the client. I personally like Ivermectin. It is a great dewormer — but with regards to ticks, the put must already have been bitten for the drug to take effect. If the pet’s been bitten, the damage has already likely been done. It does not protect against getting Lyme.

Now Bayer has introduced Advantus. This is another product that will only kill fleas. It is a systemic product that has an active ingredient called Imidocloprid — the same as Advantage. Fleas are a nuisance, but ticks are dangerous and potentially deadly. Lyme disease is everywhere now. It’s doubly dangerous because it’s hard to diagnose and the tick population seems to be exploding.

Many of the other products take up to 48 hours to kill ticks. Some, like Advantix, will kill both fleas and ticks but it still takes 24 to 48 hours to kill a tick. The nice thing about Advantix is that it uses permethrin (dogs only — the chemical is toxic to cats) which also acts to some degree as a repellent.

The new Seresto collar from Bayer seems to be quite effective, but I suggest using a bit of Frontline spray around the tail region of larger dogs. In big dogs the collar seems lose efficacy on the far end of the dog. Frontline seems to be going out of favor for some reason. Some say it isn’t as effective as it used to be. I have not noted any dropoff in quality. We use a product called Spectrasure (basically the same as Frontline Plus with an IGR – insect growth regulating hormone – that for the life of me I see no immediate use). If the flea or tick bites an animal protected with Spectasure, they’ll die and their eggs won’t be around anyway. The IGR is to keep the eggs of the fleas from hatching. It seems a little redundant, but IGRs have little to no toxicity at any concentration. It’s superfluous, but harmless. Spectrasure is cheaper and saves money, but many still want to pay the extra cash for Frontline because that is what they know.

In the late spring when the tiny ticks are out and about you can barely see them. Be diligent about combing your dog for fleas and make sure they have a quality topical that kills both fleas and ticks. Cats are harder to treat because permethrin is toxic to cats, but there are a couple of new products on the horizon that hopefully will be available soon. I will keep you informed as they are released and tested.

I hope this helps you make decisions about controlling fleas and ticks. Talk to one of our managers — they can be a great source of information — or call me at (412) 367-0962.


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Evanger’s Hunk of Beef Voluntary Recall

evanger's hunk of beef recall


Evanger’s has voluntarily recalled specific lots of its Hunk of Beef product due to potential contamination with the deadly drug, pentobarbital.

I just spoke to Evanger’s. To say the situation is a bit bazaar could be considered an understatement. Both the FDA and Michigan State labs are involved in the testing, but so far the results have not been put on official record. There have been no other reports of sick pets anywhere other than the one household. That specific lot of Hunk of Beef has been independently tested and found free from contaminant.

As a precaution, we will recall all Evanger’s Hunk of Beef, but it appears that the whole issue may be very isolated. We do not receive our Evanger’s from any of the distributors that would have received this lot of Hunk of Beef. Even now after two weeks of testing, we have not received the official test results for concentrations of pentobarbital nor do we have any idea if the drug was found in any unopened cans. Initial reports by independent labs found no contaminants. At this point I’m not especially concerned that any other dogs will be involved, but the exact cause has not been determined. So stay tuned. We haven’t heard the last of this situation.

Many of you are likely asking how pentobarbital could get into a can of food. At this point, I can only make assumptions, none of which are based on any concrete facts. Since we don’t know we need to react with caution. I’m shocked, quite honestly, but we have to react based on what we know. The original tests, undertaken by independent laboratories at the request of Evanger’s, returned nothing. Next we need to determine the origin of the cans. Were the cans tampered with? Had they already been opened prior to purchase? Also, it’s worth noting that cans of Hunk of Beef are hand-packed. I wouldn’t entirely rule out an individual act of malice. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to investigate every angle.

I will contact the lab that found the pentobarbital directly to determine their testing procedures and I will update this post when I know more. Our customers will definitely be kept apprised of the situation. I would also like to avoid immediate consumer hysteria — and I’ve said it before — but nothing has shown up in any other can of Hunk of Beef. I will also verify that none of the cans from the batch in question migrated east through our distributors. Food contaminations are difficult to trace, but eventually we’ll connect all the dots. I know the right questions to ask and I’ll keep on top of it.

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