Pets: Something for everyone (especially the dogs)

These pet toys are made with care - and ethics.

Before we head up to Lake Michigan for the occasional getaway, we ask our family and friends if they want us to bring back any “special” items from stores we don’t have in Dayton.

Our daughter, Jordan, likes the taffy from the Taffy Barrel, a store filled with barrels of every imaginable flavor.

My sister, Beth, likes the fudge from Kilwin’s, a candy, ice cream and confectionary concern where the smells make your mouth water.

Our good friend Sean likes the roasted corn salsa that American Spoon, a family-owned company, prepares in small‑batch copper kettles. They use fruits and vegetables from Michigan farmers and foragers to make everything from preserves and spoonable fruit to salsa and drink mixes.

When I talked to Melissa, Sean’s wife, she requested new toys for Sully, their Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix, and Smarty, their English Lab. We purchased the ones they currently play with at a unique pet store by the lake.

“OK,” I said as I jotted Melissa’s requests on my list, completely forgetting about the salsa. “How long has it been since we first got those two the toys?”

“At least two years,” Melissa replied. “Their bodies are still intact, but they’re getting pretty unrecognizable. They have lasted longer than any other soft toy the two have had.”

We talked about the toys’ durability, applique eyes and lifelike looks before I hung up and went back to packing.

Once at the lake, we waited for a decent weather day to shop. The middle of March up there is generally a better time for skiing than for leisurely walking up and down sidewalks and popping in and out of favorite art galleries and specialty stores.

Our first stop was a family favorite, Ruff Life Pet Outfitters. Gary Albert opened the store in 2012, and it reflects his love for dogs and the outdoors. His theater degree from Michigan State University as well as his work in both Chicago’s professional theater and corporate world influenced the store’s modern industrial design.

The store carries the usual dog items such as treats, toys, leashes and collars, but items differ from the big box stores in terms of how and by whom they are manufactured.

For example, the toys we purchased for Sully and Smarty are from Fluff & Tuff, a family business based in Michigan. On their website they list some of their guiding principles: “Durable yet attractive toys, exceptional customer service and philanthropy wherever possible.”

The construction of these toys is remarkable. Not only are they fabricated to the safety standards of children’s toys, but they are certified from the International Council of Toy Industries’ (ICTI), Ethical Toy Program.

These toys have seams that are concealed and double-stitched. This is a must with my family’s Lab, Teddy, who when given a soft toy will search for a loose thread or weak seam so he can pull it apart quickly.

Gary said these toys are among his hottest sellers.

We picked out a squirrel for Sully, an otter for Smarty. Melissa said they were thrilled. Even Wasabi, the family’s “tuxedo” cat and self-proclaimed ruler of their house, loves them, often cuddling up to one or the other for a nap.

Of course, not everything went according to plan. There was the matter of Sean’s salsa, which we had initially forgotten because I neglected to write it down.

But he got it by Easter, so everyone was happy.

Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at


Find more on Ruff Life Pet Outfitters and Fluff & Tuff

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