We caught up with Petagogy, a wonderful Pittsburgh based pet store, striving to give dogs in their area the best selection of dog food, treats, and toys. Together with Biggie's Bullies, they are helping pit bulls who have had a rough go in life get another chance. We spoke to Allison Stetz of Biggies Bullies and Heather Blum of Petagogy!
How did Petagogy start and why did it start?
Petagogy (pet-uh-go-jee) is an independently-owned local pet supply store that is operated by five humans and eight dogs. The name Petagogy comes from the word “pedagogy,” which is the art or profession of teaching. No, we’re not an obedience school or pet care experts, but we do pride ourselves on learning about the best products out there, and we hope to pass on that information to our customers.
Our animals aren’t just pets, they’re our family. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they live long, happy and healthy lives. We decided to open Petagogy in 2011 so that Pittsburgh-area pet owners have access to an independent store in their community that has a knowledgeable staff and a wide selection of healthy and natural foods, treats, and supplies for dogs and cats.
Owners Heather Blum and Cole Wolfson have one daughter, Maida, and two dogs, Deeka and Daisy, both of whom were adopted from a local shelter. Daisy is a beagle mix and Deeka is a… well, we’re not exactly sure what she is but our best guess is a chihuahua-corgi mix.
Owner Allison Stetz has four bully mixes, Biggie, Yogi, Mikey and Hippo. Alli is the founder and president of Biggies Bullies, a non-profit, foster-based bully breed rescue. Biggies Bullies’ mission is to give wonderful dogs a second chance, help change the public’s opinion of the American pit bull terrier and educate society on the importance of spaying and neutering dogs.
Tell us about your resident dogs.
Our original dogs, Deeka, Jack and Bumble Bee, are the inspiration behind Petagogy. They are also the store’s mascots; you’ll recognize them by their silhouettes on our logo. There's also Daisy the beagle mix, who was added to the Petagogy family after the store opened and bully mixes Hippo, Biggie, Yogi, and Mikey, who became Petagogy dogs after their mom joined the team in 2012!
Our goal at Petagogy is to offer high quality, natural and safe pet products, and we specialize in premium pet foods and treats. We’re all about researching and finding the most unique, healthy and innovative products for our customers, and we especially love those companies that are independent and family-owned like ours. We only stock foods, treats, and supplies that we find to be the healthiest and safest around, made from the best ingredients and no by-products. We also work closely with our suppliers and distributors and regularly attend pet expos and trade shows where we can talk directly to pet supply companies to get the low-down on new product offerings. All of our products are ones that we would and do give our own pets.
We are huge advocates of rescue pets. We do not sell live animals in our store, and we partner with many local shelters and rescues to do fundraisers, food drives, and adoption events. Every December we host a food drive benefiting the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center (ARL). For every pound or can of food purchased that day, we donate an equivalent amount to the homeless dogs, cats, and rabbits at the ARL. In the last five years we’ve donated more than 4,000 pounds of dry food and nearly 2,000 cans! We also host in-store adoption events for local foster-based rescues every month, including Biggies Bullies and Senior Pet and Animal Rescue (SPAAR). These events allow smaller, all-volunteer rescues without facilities to spread the word about the wonderful animals in their care that are available for adoption. Biggies Bullies is our favorite, due to the hard work put forth by our partner and Biggies Bullies' founder, Allison Stetz.
We strike to be active members of the Shadyside (the neighborhood in which our store is located) and greater Pittsburgh community. We worked with the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce to secure a Biz Buzz grant from the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2013. Funds from this grant were used to create the annual Bark Shadyside Pup Walk, a 1.5 mile dog walk and event featuring pet vendors and activities, held in April and benefiting the Animal Rescue League. The funds were also used to develop a new website for the Chamber, thinkshadyside.com, which features a list of dog-friendly stores and restaurants in Shadyside; install poo bag dispensers throughout Shadyside; and provide Bark Shadyside-branded water bowls to businesses along Walnut Street and Ellsworth Avenue. We also try to keep the Shadyside shopping districts pet friendly by offering pet-safe ice melt to all Shadyside Chamber of Commerce members at wholesale cost. Traditional rock salt and ice melt can burn animal paws, and is toxic to animals if they ingest it.
How did Biggies Bullies get started?
It had always been a dream of mine to run a small rescue where dogs could thrive in foster homes before being carefully placed in their forever homes. I rescued my first dog Biggie, an American bulldog mix, in December of 2009 and fell in love with the bully breed instantly. I became frustrated by all of the misconceptions surrounding these amazing dogs. A year later, I moved to Pittsburgh where I was hired at a local shelter. That year I learned a lot about dog behavior and training while working with a lot of pit bull type dogs. This solidified my ideas of wanting to focus on the breed itself and the planning stages of Biggies Bullies began. In 2010 I pulled my first dog into Biggies Bullies and have been rescuing and advocating for bullies ever since.
What are some issues pit bulls in Pittsburgh face?
Overall, Pittsburgh is a pretty pit friendly city but like any city they still face their own issues. Some rental properties, apartment buildings, and dining patios have breed specific rules. You will also get the occasional person to cross ahead of you on the street when walking dogs with pit bull characteristics. Dog fighting happens all over the country and Pittsburgh is included. It happens in rural and city like areas.
How does Biggies Bullies work with the community?
Biggies Bullies rescues locally from shelters in and around the Tri State area. We will cover the cost for spay and neuter surgeries for pet owners who cannot afford the vet care. We will also cover emergency vet bills for bullies whose families are in a financial bind. We are excited about launching a new program called Hungry Hippo’s Pet Food Pantry. This will allow pet owners who are experiencing trying times to have a place to pick up pet food from their local food banks.
What are some of your most memorable dogs that you've had in rescue?
I still can remember every single dog I saved since the first. They each taught me something different. Every dog has impacted my life and has helped shape Biggies Bullies into what we are today. Two of my most memorable fosters were Hippo, who became my own, and Roo. Hippo came to Biggies Bullies as a new rescue after being unwanted by her owners. She was abandoned at a veterinarian’s office with Pyometra, a severe uterus infection where eleven pounds of infection was removed. I received a call from the vet that same day and took Hippo home to recover from her big surgery. I officially adopted Hippo in the Spring of 2013 after learning that she had Pulmonic Stenosis, a heart condition which doesn't allow enough blood to flow through the valves to her heart. When she’s not working at Petagogy with me and greeting every single customer, she’s teaching Biggies Bullies foster pups manners and educating the public about pit bulls. Her most recent project, Hungry Hippo’s Pet Food Pantry launching this coming spring! Hippo has taught me, and every one she meets more about appreciating each day than anyone ever could.
Roo came to Biggies Bullies after being found tied to a park bench with a severe skin infection. When I went to get her out of her kennel at the shelter, she wouldn't even move, she just cowered in the back corner shaking, confused, and terrified. She was one of the most fearful dogs I have rescued yet and it was so rewarding watching her grow and learn how to be a dog, and to actually enjoy life! I had her under my care for almost nine months because of how terrible her skin was. Our Volunteer Manager Veronica adopted her and has helped her come so far. Roo often gets to come to events and be one of our "representabulls!"
How does Petagogy help Biggies Bullies?
Petagogy have helped Biggies Bullies since the start of the store and the rescue. One of Biggies Bullies first public appearances was a Valentine’s Day adoption event at the store with a three legged dog we had rescued. From always donating to our events, making us gift baskets for our raffles and always making sure we have any supplies we need for our fosters! The store is also helping our newest program, Hungry Hippo's Pet Food Pantry. Foster dogs often get to come to work with me and get spoiled by staff and customers, and help build their trust by always having friendly positive interactions. Customers have become some of my best volunteers and supporters, as well as all of the wonderful fundraising connections I've gotten to make by working at the store!