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A Barker's Dozen opens Saturday

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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When it came time to stock her new business, A Barker's Dozen Dog Bakery and Supplies, Michelle Y. Stephens went with what worked best for her own five dogs.


Ms. Stephens, who shows and occasionally breeds French bulldogs, said she always carefully selects the food they eat.


"What we feed the dogs is a major part of their conditioning," she said. "We feed them only the best."


Building off her own preferences, Ms. Stephens filled her shop in the Carbone Bros. Plaza on Coffeen Street with all-natural and organic food, and toys and accessories.


Dogs and cats will be able to sample some of the fare offered at Barker's Dozen, 611 Coffeen St., during the store's grand opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.


On the Monday before, a glass case in the store stood empty, waiting for freshly baked treats to arrive later in the week. Ms. Stephen does not make the biscuits herself, but has them delivered from local and out-of-state bakeries.


The shelves were lined with a variety of savory-sounding treats, such as blueberry cobbler, chicken pot pie and apple dumpling. There also were various fish-flavored treats for cats, although feline items are more sparsely stocked.


Born and raised in Watertown, Ms. Stephens grew up around the North Country Kennel Club, where her parents were members.


An avid participant in the dog show circuit, Ms. Stephens said she decided to open her own dog-themed store after visiting cities where canine boutiques and dog bakeries abounded.


"I've focused mainly on dogs because the dog people population in the Fort Drum areas is growing really fast," said Ms. Stephens, who sported a necklace with a bone-shaped charm. "A big part of the store is to have the supplies and food to promote healthy dogs."


As long as they are on a leash, dogs are welcome in the store, which is filled with rows of dog shampoos, beds and carrying baskets, leashes, toys and a range of canine outfits in different sizes.


In a couple of weeks, she will add on a section for hunting and sporting dogs, featuring such items as the scents they use for training, fake animals and reflective vests.


Ms. Stephens, who spent $25,000 on renovations, advertising and inventory for the 688-square-foot space, said she wanted to offer a range of organic, recycled and earth-friendly toys at Barker's Dozen.


"People have a whole desire to be environmentally friendly," she said. "There are not a lot of places to go for those kinds of things."


Ms. Stephens said she chose the all-natural and organic route for the edible section in reaction to recalls and pet deaths last year that were attributed to tainted dog food, particularly food that had a wheat gluten ingredient from China.


"All the lines I carry never had any problem with any recalls," Ms. Stephens said. "Most lines come from the U.S. They have little or no additives. Some lines are completely grain free."


As a North Country Kennel Club member, Ms. Stephens said, she has learned over the years what works best when dealing with a range of dog maladies, from kidney disease and diabetes to skin problems.


She hopes to use that knowledge to help her Barker's Dozen customers sort out what foods are best for their pets.


Eventually, she hopes that Barker's Dozen is successful enough that she can expand the bakery section. Once the store is in full swing, she also hopes to hire an employee to free her on weekends so she can go back to competing on the dog show circuit.


In the meantime, Ms. Stephens said, she will regularly feature products enjoyed by Tucker, her American Canadian International Champion.


Kicking off the "Favorite of the Week" special is likely to be a glow-in-the-dark ball now in vogue with Tucker. The toy was modeled to look like the earth, with raised continents giving it a bumpy surface that make the ball's movements unpredictable.


"It bounces sporadically because of the continents," Ms. Stephens said. "That's his favorite right now."

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