C’mon, admit it. On Christmas morning, there’s always a present for your dog under the tree.
A recent Time magazine story reported that 63 percent of dog owners and 58 percent of people with cats give their pets Christmas presents. Based on a Petfinder.com poll, the story also said that four in 10 dog owners and 37 percent of cat owners hang stockings for their pets.
At the Schenectady Greenmarket at Proctors, holiday shoppers will find two vendors who sell treats for pets:
Rocket’s Canine Cookies
Deborah Scharff’s treats for pets are all-natural, and she makes each one by hand in her Scotia kitchen.
“Everything is truly homemade,” Scharff says. “It’s just my hands, my oven, my rolling pin.”
Since April 2016, when she started Rocket’s Canine Cookies, she’s been at the summer and winter Greenmarket peddling dog biscuits, fishy-flavored cat treats and a soothing balm for winter-stressed paws.
“I find that many customers buy for other dogs,” says Scharff.
Especially at holiday time, shoppers are looking for a special goodie not just for their pet but also for their neighbor’s friendly Lab or their cat-loving boss, she says.
On Dec. 10 and 17, in addition to the regular fare, she’ll be offering holiday-decorated doggie cupcakes, made with carrots and topped with cream cheese “frosting,” for $5 each. The products will also be available at the Saturday Delmar Farmers Market on Dec. 9, 16 and 23.
The mother of three home-schooled children, Scharff juggles baking for pets with caring for her kids.
“I do them in my kitchen in-between teaching my kids,” she says.
Scharff buys the wheat flour, oats and other ingredients herself, using as many locally sourced ones as possible, including Saratoga Peanut Butter Company. Sweet potatoes from the Greenmarket are roasted in the oven, the blueberries are fresh. “I cook the bacon (all-natural) down myself. ”
The dog biscuits, 36 bone-shaped pieces for $10, come in four flavors: Gluten-Free Peanut Butter, Cheesy Sweet Potato, Bacon Cheddar and Gluten-Free Blueberry Banana.
Bacon Cheddar is her biggest seller, followed by the peanut butter biscuits, which are soft in texture, good for puppies and older dogs.
“It smells really good,” she says, holding open a bag so a reporter can sniff the crushed rosemary. As tempting as they appear, the taste has little appeal for humans. “There’s no salt or sugar. They are really bland.”
The newest Rocket’s product is cat treats, four ounces for $5, in salmon or tuna flavors, made with flour, egg and “a little catnip.” “They are hand-rolled and cut,” she says. “The catnip I use is organic, from a local farm.”
Rocket’s Paw Balm is made with beeswax, olive oil, coconut oil, calendula, Vitamin E and shea butter, which is melted and mixed in a double-boiler and poured into tins. It sells for $10.
When Scharff was a girl in the Albany County town of Bethlehem, she loved to spend time baking with her mom and playing with the family dog, Taffy, a lovable, adopted mutt that looked like a collie.
When she grew up, she earned a degree in food service administration from Hudson Valley Community College and later worked as a health inspector for Albany County, checking out restaurants and street vendors and investigating food-borne illness.
At the Greenmarket, she enjoys chatting with shoppers and listening to tales about their dogs. They often ask her why the business is called Rocket’s Canine Cookies and if she has a dog named Rocket.
“I used to work with a woman who had a dachshund named Rocket. I liked the name,” she says.
But the family doesn’t have a dog yet. “I’m waiting for my five-year-old to mature,” Scharff says. “The kids want a dachshund.”
And the name?
It will be “Rocket,” of course.
Ever hear of red deer?
About 300 of the animals roam Highland Farm in Otsego County, where Ingrid and Werner Vigh raise them and sell their grass-fed meat.
Native to Europe, North Africa and Southwestern Asia, red deer are prized for their venison, which has the lowest cholesterol of any red meat.
And then there are the humongous antlers that sprout from the heads of the males.
“Our big stags go 30 point and 3½ feet in length,” says Ingrid Vigh.
The Vighs, who sell venison at the Schenectady Greenmarket and the Troy Waterfront Market, also sell their red deer antlers as all-natural chew product for dogs.
The demand has grown dramatically in the past five years, Ingrid says. “We start selling in May and by September, we are sold out.” But she always saves a big bunch for the holiday season, when dog lovers are looking for gifts for their pooches.
Antlers come in four sizes: $5 for small, $10 for medium, $15 for large and $30 for monster. “You buy an antler for the size of the dog,” Vigh says. “Small antlers for small dogs, big antlers for big dogs.”
A stag’s antlers regrow every year. They start growing in the spring at a rate of about an inch a day and then they fall off or “shed” at the end of winter. “It’s a natural thing,” says Ingrid.
When the deer are shedding, the couple walks the 150-acre, fenced farm. “They drop to the ground, we just pick them up. We pressure-wash them, hang them to dry and cut them.”
For dogs, a hunk of antler offers hours of gnawing and a supplement of minerals.
“It lasts longer than other marrows and cleans their teeth,” says Vigh, an owner of five Hungarian Vizlas. “Most of the dogs get quite into the antlers.”
How long the antlers last depends on the size of the dog and its interest in chewing. For some dogs, it’s a six-month deal.
“Some dogs chew like maniacs,” she says.
The Vighs, who both grew up in Austria, have been breeding red deer for 14 years. The meat is harvested at the farm, with a state vet present to inspect each animal.
At farmers markets and by appointment at the farm, they sell smoked venison and fresh venison as ground meat, stew meat, steaks and roasts.
When the deer aren’t eating grass, they eat feed grown by the Vighs, “We do everything ourselves,” says Ingrid.