“Dogs are family”: A Chesterfield dog shop worth barking about
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Carole Foster, owner of the Barkworthy Dog Emporium in Chesterfield, pauses as she tells this story, her voice soft-breaking, the emotion evident. The story is why her and her husband Tony made a dramatic life-change, uprooting from Manchester, and moving to Chesterfield to make a new home, and a new business. She tells more.
“And it’s also where Kira collapsed and went to the animal hospital, and died. That house wanted gone… And the reason I had my two dogs, Kira and Bailey on the logo, and the whole ethos of the shop, is because of them.”
A young couple with a baby and a dog enter the shop. Carole leaves the counter and grabs assorted treats to offer the dog while chatting to the young couple. The dog looks happy. Carole asks before offering each treat if the dog has allergies to any of the ingredients, the ethos apparent.
“It’s everything healthy and natural. I don’t sell anything I wouldn’t give my own dog. And that’s my ethos.”
This genuine care ethos expands beyond the shop, Carole and Tony active ingredients in the Reach Sled Dog Rescue organisation. Carole talks of how another Alaskan Malamute came into their life.
“I wasn’t going to have another dog for a long long time because I was too broken. And the girl we’ve got now, I’d actually brought her into rescue four years before. And she was coming back into rescue, and they were like ‘Do you want her?’ And was like ‘oh no, no…’”
“And the meet and greet she had lined up, didn’t go well at all. So it would have meant she’d have to go to the emergency boarding kennels for an indefinite length of time until we found her a home. I couldn’t bear the thought of that.
“And I said ‘Well, she can come to us for a few days so she doesn’t have to go to the kennels’… That was just over two years ago, and she’s… home.”
Carole’s voice soft-breaks again. “I honestly think my two sent her to me because they knew I needed her. I strongly believe that.”
Their new Malamute is called Nishka. When asked ‘Why dogs?’ both Carole and Tony smile.
“Why not dogs!” barks Carole, both of them laughing. “They’re amazing! Unconditional love! It’s the only animal that loves you more than it loves itself.”
The conversation turns to how dogs seem to know how you’re feeling.
“Absolutely. 100%. Our rescue girl, even now, she’ll know when I need a cuddle. They’re amazing.”
Tony nods. “They’ve evolved to pick up on even your facial expressions. It’s scientific. They’ve evolved to read you.”
“They can read hand signals. And they can read whistles. So why shouldn’t they read your face?” adds Carole.
Looking around the shop, it’s clear that the stock echoes Carole and Tony’s motivation to give dogs the best. Carole explains their food ethic.
“Some dogs have to be grain free, some dogs don’t have to be grain free, so we sell both. Some dogs have to be dairy free, some dogs don’t, we sell both. We try to cater for every dogs’ diet, but we also try to keep it healthy and tasty and you won’t find anything here that’s got a chemical listed in the ingredients.”
“And you won’t find things like raw hide which is totally dangerous. People get confused between natural hide and raw hide. We do not sell raw hide.”
They do sell dog ice-cream. Amazing. Handmade collars, bandanas, bow ties. Birthday hats, birthday cakes. Toy treat hiders to keep your dog happy. Chew toys and licky mats. And ice-cream. They sell dog ice-cream… thankfully Carole distracts as I’m considering flavours.
“All my shampoos are natural. All my flea and worm is natural. Skincare stuff is natural. Teeth stuff is natural.”
Natural seems an important part of the Barkworthy ethos. Tony explains the importance of awareness versus an accepted norm.
“It’s not like people are wilfully giving their dogs inferior food stuffs, they often don’t know.
“And as I say, okay, in moderation we all enjoy a bit of a junk food treat, but your dog’s diet consists of that. And it’s a bit like if you bought a new car you wouldn’t put red diesel or sugar in the petrol tank.”
Tony is also an artist: a talent he brings into the shop, offering dog portraits.
“One of my first things was if I set up a little gallery in the window, where I can work, people walking past will see the work, and hopefully that will spark some interest. And within a short while I was deluged with commissions.”
“Memorial portraits probably make up about a third of my commissions. People want some kind of memento.”
Tony points to a portrait on the wall. “This little Yorkie there, that was one of the lads that works the security round here. We’re talking about a big burly guy, and that was the love of his life.”
When asked if people who don’t have a dog understand this connection, Carole smiles.
“People say ‘Oh, it’s just a dog’. No, it’s not. Dogs are family.”
And have Carole and Tony connected to Chesterfield?
Tony: “Yeah. It’s almost like we’ve always been here.” Carole nods. “People seem to have taken to us, and we’ve taken to the people of Chesterfield.”
Barkworthy Dog Emporium can be found in Theatre Yard. They also sell dog ice-cream.