NEW PORT RICHEY
The refrigerator door opened, and Cosmo was there. The carob cake with cream cheese frosting came out, and Cosmo was there. The lid came off, and … "This isn't yours!" Trina Messano sang. Cosmo, miniature Doberman, taste tester and self-appointed inventory tracker, tip-tapped away. No crumb trail today. Still, it's not a bad life for a shop dog.
Doggie Cakes, a gourmet bakery and boutique for canines, opened on Main Street in May. The owners (of the bakery and Cosmo) are Messano and her husband, Jason Longo.
Among the 23 types of treats are bow wownies, cinnamunchies, peanut barkers and tail waggers. All the goods are prepared and baked at the shop and do not contain sugar, salt or preservatives. Instead, ingredients include meat, poultry, cheese, peanut butter and fish.
The treats are not 100 percent organic, but they are all natural. "There's nothing in there you wouldn't have in your house," Messano said.
Prices range from $1 per treat to $30 for a cake.
Doggie Cakes also sells pet-themed greeting cards, collars, leashes, harnesses, gifts and organic dog food.
Messano, 37, who used to work as a district manager for the Wal-Mart photo department, always loved to bake — for humans. But during the pet food contamination scare, a friend suggested she whip up some treats for dogs.
"The kitchen became dog baking central," she said. "There was hardly any human food."
Recipes were based on ones she found in books but with a little experimentation. Cosmo was a taste tester as were Messano's other two dogs, Luna and Gigi, along with the dogs of friends and neighbors.
Starting in September, Doggie Cakes sold its goods at craft shows, farmers markets, festivals and Tampa Bay area canine-themed events.
All along, though, Messano wanted a storefront, especially once she had built up a small, loyal customer base. She and her husband, a marketing director at the University of South Florida, found the Main Street location after dinner at Juan's Black Bean Cafe one night. They thought the close proximity to the city's new dog park, at the Meadows Park off Cecelia and Larch lanes, was a plus.
So far, business has been slow. But Messano, who lives in west Pasco, is optimistic.
"My husband and I have always loved the downtown," she said. "We're trying to get involved to see if we can help revive the community."
Doggie Cakes joins other Pasco businesses — from dog day care to a do-it-yourself pet wash — that are part of the growing pet industry.
Industry sales are expected to be about $43.4-billion this year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. That figure has gone up every year since 1994, when it was about $17-billion.
Andrew Darmohraj, the association's senior vice president, said he expects the sales to "probably slow a little bit" because of the current state of the economy. But not much.
"We're seeing that pets are such important parts of people's families that owners are still inclined to buy the right types of foods and treats," he said.
People's relationships with their pets have changed over the past 50 years, Darmohraj said: "Dogs have moved from sleeping in a doghouse in the yard to sleeping on a pillow in the family room to a dog bed."
Messano understands the appeal.
"Your dog is your kid," she said, "so you don't deny them their little treats."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.