Lewisville pet store is a natural fit

Lewisville pet store is a natural fit

Aristopits focuses on raw food, healthy kibbles

Seven dogs, two cats, six kids and three businesses?

No doubt about it, Michael and Carrie Hansley have their hands full.

But when they opened Aristopits earlier this year, pet owners in Lewisville sat up and took notice.

“We focus on raw food, which is something you don’t really see in North Carolina,” Michael Hansley, 31, said. “But pets love it, and it’s a much healthier option.”

Aristopits, at 6606 Shallowford Road, sells such natural local and raw pet products as meat, including steaks.

The Hansleys had never given much thought to feeding their dogs raw foods until Stormy, one of their pit bulls, started losing her hair.

“She looked just like me,” Michael said, pointing to his bald head. “We discovered she was allergic to corn and wheat, and eventually we switched her to raw. The hair grew back in seven days. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

To get the raw food, they had to commute three hours each week, which became exhausting after a few months, Carrie Hansley said. They decided to start their own business and began delivering pet food door-to-door around the state.

But delivery soon became too time-consuming, especially with six kids ranging in age from 2 to 8. So, the couple — also the owners of carpeting and flooring businesses If It’s Carpets and Chem-Dry — set up a storefront in August.

One of their priorities at Aristopits is to make raw food affordable for pet owners.

“If you just buy raw meat for your 50-pound dog, it’s going to cost $9 a day, compared to $3 a day for regular kibble, so a lot of pet owners opt for the cheaper option,” Michael said. “We try to make it more affordable, so it’s about $2.50 a day. Here, you’re getting the best possible food for less.”

They also work to educate pet owners on the benefits of buying raw food.

“You don’t see wolves out in a cornfield munching on corn or in a blueberry bush unless they’re hunting a rabbit,” he said. “Dogs need to eat meats and organs that provide them with vital nutrients.”

At the store, they sell an array of meats, such as Blue Ridge Beef, steaks and venison liver, as well as some healthier kibbles and treats for dogs and cats.

Most commercial dog foods are like fast food for pets and consist of grain or corn that dogs cannot easily digest, Michael said. While raw foods take about four hours for pets to digest, dry food takes about 20 hours.

“A common response we get is, ‘I wouldn’t eat raw meat,’” Michael said. “Well, I wouldn’t hike my leg and pee on a couch. Humans and dogs are very different.”

Lizz Daveport, a Winston-Salem resident, said her favorite part of the store is the “animal-parts table,” which features such treats as rabbit ears, duck feet, pig noses and cow tails — most of which come from local farmers and would have been thrown out, anyway.

“It may sound nasty, but the dogs love them as a special treat, especially the chicken feet,” said Daveport, who fosters dogs. “I often refer our new adopters there for long-lasting toys, healthy treats and advice on food.”

Apart from food, the shop also sells collars, leashes, vitamins and toys — including bacon-infused nylon chew toys — as a one-stop shop for all things pets, Michael said.

Geralyn Kelly, owner of Elite Canine, a professional dog training center in Winston-Salem, said she likes Aristopits because the food is good quality and the Hansleys give personal attention to all their customers.

“They have lots of natural treats, which are better for your dog than some of the others on the market,” she said. “The shop is welcoming, and the staff is always helpful.”

Kelly, who has worked as a dog trainer for 12 years, spoke at the shop’s November “Trainer Talk,” a monthly series where pet experts help customers with anything from the proper way to groom your pet to training an excitable puppy.

In lieu of December’s talk, they are inviting owners to bring their pets to the store Dec. 13 at 9 a.m. to have their photos taken with Santa. The trainer talks will resume in January.

The Hansleys are also planning some fun pet events for the community in the spring in keeping with their missions to change the image of pit bulls from vicious bullies to loyal companions, Carrie said.

>Although the Hansleys always liked dogs, they weren’t always fans of pit bulls.

Three years ago, the couple bought a dog as a Christmas gift for the family, thinking it was an American Bulldog, only to find out it was actually a pit bull.

“We were horrified because we have six kids,” Michael said. “We’d always bought into the hype about pit bulls being a bad breed, but Stormy turned out to be phenomenal and we realized there’s no bad breeds, just bad owners.”

The Hansleys added four more pit bulls to the family, becoming self-proclaimed “pit advocates.” But when they tell people they have pit bulls, people usually recoil in fear, Michael said.

“We call it alligator arm,” he said. “People start petting one of our dogs and then we tell them it’s a pit bull and their arm snaps back toward their body really fast, even though our dogs are super friendly.”

The mission to change pit bulls’ bad reputation inspired the name of the store, and Aristopits has become the family’s “fun business,” Carrie said.

“We know your pets mean the world to you and we just want to provide them with the best there is to offer,” she said. “At Aristopits, your pets are part of our family.”

By Jenny Drabble/Special Correspondent Winston-Salem Journal