By Amy Wenk
Renee Palmer and Patsy McGirl departed the corporate world in 2000 after 15 years of sweating for companies such as BellSouth, but their pursuit of business bliss left them panting.
“We left the boardroom for the doghouse,” Palmer said about her shift from human resources management to the couple’s animal care business in Decatur, Camp Woof Dog Daycare and Boarding.
After five years of 110-hour workweeks, the two decided to sell Camp Woof in 2005.
“I was depleted,” Palmer said. “I didn’t have anything left to give. I was worn out, exhausted. … We took two years off of life.”
Recharged after the sabbatical, they rediscovered their passion for pets with a new place for people to pamper and refresh their pooches, CityDog Market in Brookhaven.
Palmer and McGirl wrote the business plan for CityDog Market “because we wanted to go back into the pet industry. It seemed like retail would be a natural fit,” Palmer said.
“We thought Brookhaven was a perfect choice because there is a community, neighborhood feel in Brookhaven, but also because Brookhaven is such a health-conscious community,” said Palmer, noting that statistically 30319 is the healthiest ZIP code in metro Atlanta. “People, when they are conscious about what they put in their own bodies, they are conscious about what they put in their pets’ bodies.”
The pet store owners were spot on. CityDog Market has become a favorite destination for Brookhaven residents such as Stacy Annulli and her 8-year-old daughter, Alina Torres, who attends Ashford Park Elementary School.
Their weekly visits are “my daughter’s favorite thing to do in the world,” said Annulli, who rewards the child by letting her pick a toy or treat for their three dogs and one cat.
For Alina, what makes the store “amazing” is visiting with Palmer and McGirl, as well as store dog Big Daddy.
“I really think the owners are fantastic,” Annulli said. “They are always excited to see you, your dog and your children. It’s nice having a small store in the community and getting personalized service. Today, in our society, we have lost that sense of community. Places like this bring it back.”
The core business of CityDog Market is natural foods and treats for dogs and cats.
“We want people to know that when they come in to shop at our store, whatever they choose for their dog — whether it’s a treat, a chew, a collar, a toy — that it is healthy and safe for their pets,” Palmer said.
The store carries only foods with no corn, wheat, byproducts, artificial colors or preservatives.
“I won’t compromise, even if it means shutting my doors,” Palmer said.
She went on to explain about ingredients that can lead to ailments in pets.
“Corn and wheat are often passed off as protein sources in dog food, and they are not,” Palmer said. “Instead of using brown rice, which is a healthy filler, they use corn or wheat because it’s less expensive. The problem with that is that it can be a culprit for dogs with skin allergies.”
She said a switch to natural foods can result in animals with better coats, increased energy, and less stiffness, joint pain and shedding.
CityDog Market also carries an assortment of unusual treats, including dehydrated stingray tails, salmon skin rolls and shark spines.
“These are high in antioxidants, high in chondroitin for joint mobility,” Palmer said, noting shark cartilage is used in cancer research.
In addition, Palmer and McGirl stock their own line of natural pet treats with such catchy names as Better Than a Belly Rub and Fur-tata.
Other products at the store include environmentally friendly toys and beds, collegiate pet paraphernalia, no-stink collars and doggie cookies shaped like martinis.
Services and events
CityDog Market’s services include obedience classes, wellness seminars and canine massage therapy.
One of the most popular services is the self-serve dog wash.
For $18, customers can use one of two washing stations designed to clean the dirtiest of dogs. Everything you need is included: shampoo, towels, dryers, brushes and ear cleaners. The easy-entry tubs and enclosed space make a difficult chore a breeze, and there is no cleanup afterward.
“The dog wash is definitely a destination for a lot of our customers,” Palmer said.
CityDog Market plays host to weekend pet adoptions run by rescue organizations such as Labrador Friends of the South and German Shepherd Rescue. Plans are in the works for an all-black dog adoption.
“Black dogs are the most underadopted and overlooked dogs,” Palmer said. “Our mission is to raise awareness regarding the plight of black dogs and to promote the adoption of all dogs. Patsy and I are very committed to rescue work.”