“Gosh!” says Evan Smith, about learning that his shop, Canine Utopia in Vancouver, won Top Dog Awards in eight categories this year. “We strive to be different,” he says.
That humility and kindness helps make them a perennial favorite with pet owners, coupled with Evan’s and partner Jason’s commitment to using all natural products.
“We didn’t just open to open a store,” says Smith. “We opened the store because we have dogs with allergies and no one seemed to carry what we needed. So we said, ‘We can’t be the only ones experiencing these problems, so we’re going to open a store to carry what we want.’”
Evan and Jason have two Pugs, Dunkin’ and Kyle, and a French Bulldog named Hera — “like the goddess,” Smith says, smiling. “She earned the name.” Hera is their most allergy-prone dog, and the shop’s original inspiration. “Initially I was ordering or driving to Portland to get products, which was expensive and time-consuming,” says Smith. All of their pets are adopted, including recent arrival Gordon, a 12-year-old cat. “Gordon thinks he’s a dog,” says Smith, “so he greets everyone and tells them about how he’s starving.”
Starting their business was “a grass-roots thing,” says Evan. After looking into purchasing an existing business, they decided to do what they wanted they’d have to build it from the ground up. The business’s feline side is now expanding — being painted “Tabby-cat orange” to match Gordon.
The couple thoroughly researched pet product manufacturers before opening. “We visited plants and worked with the manufacturers on their recall history and product sourcing to make sure we were living up to our standards of quality products,” explains Smith.
Smith says one concern around food recalls is companies that co-pack. “For example,” he says, “Diamond manufactures 17 food lines and we learned that their machines never turn off; they run seven days a week, 365 days a year. If they never turn off, they aren’t getting cleaned, so it tarnishes the outcome of the food.” All of Canine Utopia’s products are independently packaged, and they support other small businesses whenever possible.
The business is about a month from becoming “green certified” by Vancouver. “It was a lengthy process, but fun,” says Smith. “Last year our New Year’s resolution was to become a green store.”
Community involvement was built into the business plan, and it shows. Smith is a board member with DogPaw, the group managing off-leash dog parks in SW Washington. He’s also spearheading a mural called “Portrait of a Town.”
“I wanted to showcase the community, so that 15 years later people could see everyone that makes this town a town.”
Mindy Smith, no relation to Evan, moved to Vancouver a couple of years ago and needed special food for her sensitive Jack Russell. She’s shopped at Canine Utopia since it opened. “They’ve just been wonderful,” Mindy says. “It’s a really nice atmosphere and they’re very service-oriented. I really appreciate that.”
Mindy says while experimenting with different foods to find the right one, Evan and Jason were very helpful, patient, and generous with samples, “Which helped a lot. We need those anchor business in Vancouver, and Canine Utopia is a perfect example of that,” she says.
2309 Main St., Vancouver
360-737-7881 * k9utopia.com