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How a Great Friendship Started the Barker’s Dozen

Jul 21, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Give a Dog a Bone

August 2017
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Michelle Smee

According to Tracy Hemme, The Barker’s Dozen is the story of a boy named Jake and a dog named Sam, and their great friendship. Jake is Hemme’s son, and Sam his pet Labrador. In 2006, when Jake was about 10 years old, Sam was just a puppy, and his first pet.

“Jake learned to walk the dog, take care of Sam,” explains Hemme. “He was learning the responsibilities of taking care of a pet. And at the time, my close friend and now business partner Cathleen Shuklian had three dogs of her own. She offered Jake his first job as a dog walker.”

So on top of Sam, Jake was caring for Duke the Great Dane, Anne the Labrador and Joey the basset hound. “And that little basset hound,” Hemme says with a laugh, “he ruled the world.”

“Jake decided it would be a good idea to give them treats after walking,” she continues. “So we went to the local pet store and checked them out. But at that point, he wanted to make our own treats because he didn’t understand the ingredients on the packages.”

They went home and Jake rolled up his sleeves, began researching, recruited his mother and started baking treats at home. The first batch they called Barkin’ Bacon Bones, made with flour, chopped up bacon, rice and chicken broth.

“We mixed it all together and used a cookie cutter in the shape of a bone, took them over to Duke, Anne and Joey and they were hooked,” says Hemme.

The process, says Hemme, became fun. “We’d go out and take Sam to the vet and talk to the vet about foods and different ingredients that were good for dogs, and we came up with recipes to try different things, to see what our dogs liked.”

By 2008, Hemme was baking so many treats – they had about 17 or 18 recipes – that she and her friend Shuklian decided to try selling the treats at the Visalia farmers market “just to see the reaction,” Hemme says. “But our treats were well received and we continue to grow.”

They’ve since narrowed their recipes down to seven treats that are sold individually, but even then Hemme, for whom this is just a part-time job, is baking at least every other night.

The Barker’s Dozen sells Barkin’ Bacon Bones, Peanutmudder Bones, Puperoni Sticks, Paw Prints (a wheat-free treat with banana, apples and oats), One Bounce Balls and Cat Poop. 

Yes, Cat Poop.

“I don’t know if you’re aware, but dogs like to eat cat poop,” Hemme says with a laugh. “I guess it’s the high content of protein that cats eat, and dogs go after it. We take our leftover dough and make Cat Poop by the Scoop, and to be honest, it’s our number-one seller.”

Recently Hemme returned to the menu the Frisky Biscotti, which they make with real pumpkin. And that quality of Barker’s Dozen, natural ingredients, is a hallmark of their treats.

“That’s kind of our thing,” Hemme says. “We’re all about fresh-baked treats with no preservatives. We’re committed to making wholesome treats for happier, healthier dogs, carefully crafted for your four-legged family members.”

The Barker’s Dozen also sells accessories, including dog soap made with essential oils and dog scarves. “For the fashion-conscious customer, of course,” adds Hemme. “We also have greeting cards that feature different breeds that are done by a local artist. All of these accessories are sold alongside the treats at the Saturday farmers market in Visalia.”

A part-time job, maybe, but for a pet lover, it’s also something of a dream gig. “Creating relationships,” says Hemme. “That’s what I love about farmers market. Our customers have become like family over the years, and it’s about our love and passion for dogs, serving the community, and making great friends in the process.” 

So of course that means they get to pet all the dogs. All of them.

“Yes,” laughs Hemme, “and we get to feed our customers.”

As for their founding “Barker” Sam, he passed away two years ago. “He was such a great personality and always happy,” says Hemme, “and Sam will always be the heart and soul of The Barker’s Dozen.”

While irreplaceable, that have a new taste-tester: Tango the Chihuahua, and you can bet she eats like a queen.

“We also have a cat named Leo, who of course couldn’t care less about any of this,” concludes Hemme. “He’s got quite the attitude.”

The Barker’s Dozen • 

(559) 471-9765

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