Changing Your Mind
The Heartsong Center offers a tune-up for your brain

Crap Shoot
New Mexico's multimillion-dollar bet on legal gambling

Salsa Days
The night the lights went out on Jessie's Café

Last Call
Our reporter takes alcohol servers' training

The Songs of the Land
Modern-day Apache Joe Saenz teaches ancient lessons


Columns and Departments
Editor's Note
Desert Diary

Theatre Festival
Cowboy Exhibit
Top 10

Business Exposure
Celestial Cycles
The Starry Dome
Ramblin' Outdoors
40 Days & 40 Nights
Guides to Go
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Continental Divide

Special Section
Arts Exposure

Diana Ingalls Leyba
Arts News
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit
The Change We Need
Coping or Healing?

Red or Green
Dining Guide
Mimbres Valley Café
Table Talk

About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   January 2009


Pet Project

Better Life Pet Foods makes its pawprint as a health-food store for dogs and cats. Plus KSIL signs off, Datura transplanting to Twisted Vine, First New Mexico Bank branches out, A.I.R. delivers, Bernina moves and more business news.

It might seem like destiny that someone with a name like "Kat" would come to own a pet-related business. A whirlwind of activity on this busy morning at her Las Cruces store, Better Life Pet Foods, Kat Lacey pauses to consider the coincidence of her name and the work she does, then adds a dash of irony.

Business Exposure photo
Kat Lacey, owner of Better Life Pet Foods in Las Cruces,
holds a feline companion in front of just some of
the pet foods her store sells.

"Actually, I'm allergic to cats," Lacey says with a laugh, giving an affectionate rub to a resident "shop cat" walking across the checkout counter. "But I love them and I have them in my life. And I love helping my customers' cats have a better life, too."

With a company mission to provide dogs and cats with better quality of life through owner-education and natural products, Better Life Pet Foods is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a retail store. Before that, Lacey ran the business out of her home for five years.

"We were the first distributors of Wysong Solid Gold in New Mexico," Lacey says. Better Life also distributes Canidae, Breeder's Choice and Pinnacle brands of premium dog and cat foods.

Recalling those early days of starting up her then-home-based business, Lacey says, "The truck used to back up to the house and we'd unload all these bags of dog food through the windows! We couldn't do it through the door."

While two of her staff members unload huge boxes of newly arrived products, setting up a holiday display with all manner of pet toys and treats, Lacey points out some of the unique items she sells.

Better Life stocks a broad line of dietary supplements and remedies for pets, from calming agents to hairball relief, from digestive aids to products offering "urinary tract support." Along with Frontline brand flea and tick collars, there are herbal-based sprays and powders.

Another whole bank of shelves holds an array of natural shampoos, some with soothing aloe and other itchy-skin remedies. One product, a shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one — sort of a "Pert for pets" — promises a silky coat in one step, a boon to those dog owners whose pets eschew the tub.

There are sweet-potato chews, providing dental exercise, low-fat fiber and special vegetable-based nutrients. A line of treats called "Hip Action," with glucosamine and chondroiton that are thought to aid the joints, comes in peanut butter and beef flavors.

Several customers fill small sacks with treats from the variety of crunchy bone-shaped goodies and jerky-like treats offered in the open bulk bins. The store also offers professional grooming services, boarding for up to 30 cats, and a Do-It-Yourself dog wash station: a raised tub area that makes it easier than washing Fido at home. For $10-$14, depending on size, the customer gets an apron or raincoat to keep dry, a choice of shampoo and conditioner, towels and a blow dryer.

But the cornerstone of her business, Lacey says, is the premium lines of canned and dry foods she sells for dogs and cats.

"A lot of companies slap the 'all-natural' label on their products," she says. "But what does that really mean? You've got to look at the ingredients and know what they are. It's shocking, sometimes, what you find in the list of ingredients! That's how I got into this, by reading labels to find out what I was feeding my own pets."

Though she admits that some customers may initially balk at her products' prices — particularly if they're used to buying mass-produced commercial products in grocery or discount stores — Lacey says that feeding premium foods is cost-effective.

"You'll actually feed about 50 percent less," she says of her brands. "There are no useless fillers, the foods are more nutrient dense, so the animal is satisfied with less. So it looks like more money on the outset, but then the food goes much further, so you at least break even. And then you save in another way, too, and that's less vet bills. The animal is healthier, so you're not running to the vet with lots of illnesses or serious disease."

To make switching pets to a premium diet even more cost-friendly, Lacey offers "frequent buyer" and "Tell A Friend" programs, through which customers can get free bags of food. She also offers products wholesale through her company Desert Dog Distributors.

Lacey recalls a few noteworthy stories of how getting customers to switch their pets to a natural diet with some of the high-quality foods she sells made significant improvements in the animals' health.

"People bring in their pet, or they tell you about its itching or digestive problems. They're looking for a special food to help, something (the pet) will actually eat," she says. "We recommend an all-natural diet, and the brands we sell are, I feel, the best in the industry. If the customer takes my advice and starts feeding these products, usually in one month the animal is so much improved. It's happened time and time again," she adds with a satisfied smile. "I wouldn't be here all these years if it was just a fluke!"

Pointing out a glossy photo on the wall near the front counter, Lacey tells the story of a customer who started feeding her Italian greyhounds on one of the brands of dog food Better Life Pet Foods sells.

"She's won dog shows," Lacey says with obvious pride. "The judges always remark on her dogs' lustrous coats."

One of Lacey's own dogs, a husky she adopted from the animal shelter, had a poor coat and smelled bad. "After a couple of months on a natural diet, his coat looked better, he became just radiant and full of energy," she says.

And among her most significant success stories, Lacey recalls one customer who had a cat that scratched its face so relentlessly that it was bald on its face and neck. "It wasn't pretty," she says with a sad laugh at the memory. "The poor thing had had lots of steroidal treatments but it wasn't helping."

Lacey recommended the customer board the cat at her store so she could control the animal's diet for a length of time.

"I fed it a diet of grain-free dry kibble and some raw foods with sardine oil. We gave it baths and put nail caps on the claws so it could give its skin a rest," she says. It took time, but the cat's coat grew back, shiny and black.

"It was more beautiful than ever," Lacey says. "It was rewarding in that sense alone, that the cat was just this beautiful creature, lovelier than it had ever been. More than that, though, was the improvement in its quality of life. The sweet thing was no longer itching and suffering. Not only was it beautiful, but now it was a happy cat!"

Better Life Pet Foods, 365 Avenida de Mesilla, Las Cruces, 527-9265. Local delivery available for $3-$5 with purchase. www.betterpetfoods.net, wholesale orders: desertdogs.net

Off the Air

The Broadway Street studio of KSIL radio, 105.5 FM went dark as 2008 drew to a close. Serving southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, KSIL was a Class C1 FM station licensed in Hurley, transmitting from Pinos Alto Mountain, and was the area's only fully locally owned and operated radio station. A source confirms that the station did not secure enough advertising to be profitable. This reporter mourns the loss of the station's eclectic programming mix, ranging from Americana and Alternative Country to bluegrass, folk, roots rock, R & B and more. In addition to valuable truly local weather forecasts — including owner Steve Bumpous' own colorful, animated and up-to-the-snowflake live reports during Silver City winter storm activity — the station provided well-known syndicated programs like "Southwest Stages," "Blues Deluxe," "etown" and Red Steagall's "Cowboy Corner" and live broadcasts by Mike Moutoux, "New Mexico's Most Enchanting Cowboy." You'd think with a line-up like that, there'd have been something for everyone.


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