Dogs in Vacaville — and even some in Davis — soon will be wagging their tails more and barking less, except for Linus, Dawn Keeler-Bohlig’s Yorkshire terrier, who seems frightened by a tall visitor entering his home and perhaps worried he might have fewer woofles to eat.
What’s a woofle? It’s a dog snack in the shape of a 4-inch-diameter waffle made with all-natural ingredients.
Keeler-Bohlig had just finished making a batch of them in the small kitchen of her Anita Court residence in Vacaville, where she recently relaunched her popular dog-and-cat-treat business, Tommy’s Firehouse Bakery, after a 20-year break. Her kitchen smelled of fresh waffles left a minute or two longer in the waffle iron than they should have but they were far from being burned.
She sells the woofles and a variety of other dog treats at the Vacaville farmers market every Saturday and the twice monthly Davis market. Among her many products are “Mini-Peanut Butter Bones,” small and bone-shaped, of course; and “Happy Birthday Dog Treats,” also in bone shapes but some are rectangular, balloon-shaped, or round, the latter ones about the size of a silver dollar, most with “Happy Birthday” imprints and some coated with frosting and sprinkles.
Business, she added, is picking up, and, depending on the product, prices for small bags of dog treats range from $4.50 to $6, and in their downhome way will be part of the global pet food market value that is forecast to reach $119 billion in 2025, according to a report compiled by globenewswire.com.
By all accounts, dogs and cats love Keeler-Bohlig’s homemade treats, including Linus, who, after a few minutes and some eagerly anticipated pets and ear-scratching from the visitor, calmed down, sat near the kitchen table and looked up sweetly and eagerly at the visitor.
The ingredients in the mini bones and the happy birthday treats? Oat flour, all-natural peanut butter, unsweetened apple sauce, egg, and cinnamon.
But, said Keeler-Bohlig, other ingredients used in her array of treats include pumpkin, carrots, bananas, blueberries, molasses, organic honey, real vanilla extract, baking powder, baking soda, organic coconut oil, carob powder and carob chips (those two because chocolate is toxic to dogs), chi seeds, organic oats, and dog-friendly icing and assorted sprinkles.
When she sells her treats at area markets, she offers a two-page handout that not only tells the story of the bakery, started in 1997 with childhood friend Janine Lilja but discontinued in 2001 but also notes that Keeler-Bohlig recently “changed the recipes a bit” and makes an effort to bake natural and, for the most part, gluten-free pet treats.
But in the handout she also makes clear that she is neither a veterinarian nor an animal nutritionist.
“So it’s advisable to consult with your own authority when trying new foods,” she wrote. “As with all treats, feed in moderation and don’t feed anything to your dog that you don’t feel comfortable feeding them.” They are, after all, treats, “not a meal replacement,” she added in the prepared statement for customers.
When she and Lilja started the bakery, they each owned Dalmatians who had allergies to certain foods and treats. Lilja’s dog, LS Thomas, aka Tommy, had skin allergies “and I started looking at making my own treats and I’ve always loved baking,” Keeler-Bohlig, who works part time as a registered dental assistant, said in a follow- up email Tuesday to The Reporter.
“Tommy was my inspiration to start the dog bakery,” she noted, referring to the business namesake who died in 2009. “I wanted to give all dogs a special joy in their lives, even if it was a single little treat.”
So she and Lilja, who now lives in Idaho but consults with Keeler-Bohlig during the ongoing restarting of the business, started selling the treats at area markets, dog shows and crafts fairs in the late 1990s.
But life happened and both women married, had children and eventually went their separate ways, noted Keeler-Bohlig, a Vacaville native, graduate of Vacaville High and daughter of the late Ira Keeler, a model maker who worked for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magicstudios in San Rafael.
His legacy of film work and craftmanship, including several “Star Wars” films and EC-17 Blaster weapon used in the films, the “Indiana Jones” movies, “Back to the Future” and more, decorates the living room, along with the avian ambience of sharp tweets, whistles and chirps from parakeets, a cockatiel, and a parrot, clearly making the Keeler-Bohlig residence a pet-friendly space.
With the relaunching of the bakery, she balances her time with her dental office responsibilities, but often begins baking right after work hours or sometimes in the morning.
“I don’t like being told what to do,” said Keeler-Bohlig, 56 and the mother of one, a daughter named Jessie. “So I decided to reopen my bakery,” evidence of that laid out on her kitchen table in neat packages and on trays.
Somewhat of a surprise, she admitted to being allergic to dogs.
“But I love dogs,” Keeler-Bohlig said quickly, adding that, over time, she comes to know her customers’ dogs names.
She began baking cat treats when customers at the Davis market asked if she had them, but, unlike the dog treats, they require refrigeration in order to increase their shelf life, she said.
To increase shelf life for all her products, she overbakes them, she said.
“The longer you cook a treat, the better,” said Keeler-Bohlig. “They last longer.”
Her bakery and the products she makes are — based on her comments — an homage to dogs.
“To me dogs are a gift from God and they truly deserve to be spoiled and loved,” Keeler-Bohlig said in the follow-up email. “As they give us so much in return. Unconditional love is something we could all learn from dogs The world would be a better place.”