It might be easy to think of Steve Carroll as the protector of pets once you hear his story.
After all, his research on dog and cat food helps keep those pets healthy.
The co-owner of Kennewick’s Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium says it’s all about the animals and the customers.
“I’m essentially paid to pet puppies,” he said.
That’s not true. He admits he hasn’t taken a day off in 2 ½ years.
Paw’s, located in Kennewick near Costco, is similar to many other pet stores in that it sells dog and cat food and treats, toys, reptiles and supplies.
But a major portion of the store’s business is the food, and it always has been.
“The store was started with the idea of never selling any corn and wheat byproducts, and anything from China,” Carroll said.
Doyle and Dorothy Hunter opened the store in 2008.
“The company started after the 2007 recall of cat and dog food made in China,” Carroll said.
There was a contamination with melamine and cyanuric acid, which was causing kidney failure and death in dogs and cats.
Pet owners were scared they were feeding their dogs and cats the wrong types of foods.
Quality food is priority
Carroll was brought on board about five years after the Richland store opened, and he became an owner with the Hunters — who had stepped away from the business to pursue other interests. Carroll now runs it.
“We’ve been very well received by the community,” Carroll said.
After opening a store in Richland, a second store opened in Kennewick in 2013.
Two years later, they were consolidated at 8551 W. Gage Blvd.
“In 2015, we combined it all into the store here on Gage,” Carroll said. “It was a challenge to move an 8,000-square-foot store and a 2,200-square-foot store into a 14,000-square-foot store. And we continue to grow. We’re trying to carry a number of different foods.”
But it has to be the right food.
The store’s mission is to sell American-made high quality pet food free of corn, soy, wheat, artificial flavors and color.
It all starts with research.
“All companies that we deal with, we want to know where their food comes from,” Carroll said. “Second, we look at recalls. I’m looking at their ethical behavior, or if they’re cutting corners.”
Carroll spends five to 10 hours a week, usually in bed at the end of another long day, doing research online.
“I want to see the quality of testing, and the marketing,” he said.
He wants to ensure that the pet food is not sourced from China or Mexico, where there is a lack of oversight. He also watches for meat byproducts and fillers.
Fillers are wasteful with no nutritional values. Corn, wheat and soybean meal are examples, but there are more listed on the store’s website.
Other items that are red-flagged by Carroll, a noted label reader, are: gluten, butylatid hydroxytoluene, ethoxyquin, and propelene glycol.
In other words, if anything is sold in the store, it’s been vetoed by Carroll.
The company made it through the pandemic and has seen some solid growth — there are now 15 employees. When Carroll started with the company, there were four.
“The pandemic was tough,” he said. “Things were uncertain, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. Some employees were furloughed and had to go find jobs.”
But one thing Paw’s had been offering is a delivery service for the past eight years.
“I’ll deliver anywhere in the Tri-Cities on the same night it’s ordered,” Carroll said. “It was kind of our saving grace.”
Deliveries happened when the store closed at 7 pm each night.
“Sometimes I’d be out delivering until 2 am,” he said.
The reaction from customers has been great.
“I’ve had dog owners come in and say, ‘Thank you. Our dog is not gassing us out of our bed anymore,’ ” said Carroll. “They’ve got to have a proper diet. And that starts with nutrition.”
Sometimes the job can be painful.
“It’s a hard, emotional job,” Carroll said.
He spoke of a recent time where a loyal customer’s dog was dying. The dog loved Carroll and he loved him back.
The woman brought the dog to the store to see Carroll before it died.
“He literally spent his last hours with me,” Carroll said. “It can be physically and emotionally draining.”
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want to see a happy, healthy puppy,” he said. “But you better bring your dog by. I have a rule in which a dog owner has to bring their dog by within three visits.”
Carroll teaches his staff his research techniques, so they know what’s right for pets.
“I’m only as strong as the people who work for me,” he said. “I love my people. I’ve been blessed. I haven’t had a bad employee.”
I just need more.
“We’re having a hard time finding more employees,” he said.
And then, maybe he’ll take a day off.
“When I do, my wife has a honey-do list a mile long,” Carroll said. “But then I think, if I ever close for a day, how many animals will go without food? Everything done here is about helping the customer, and helping the animals.”
Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium: 8551 W. Gage Blvd., Kennewick; 509-783-7387; pawsnaturalpetemporium.com; Hours: 9 am to 7 pm seven days a week.