Steve Farmer (left) and Todd Rupenthal with  Ginger.Photo by Tom Benz

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The large summer sign outside Happy Husky Bakery announces “Don’t be a Hot Dog. Have a Snowdog Sundae.” One cannot be faulted for not knowing such treats exist, but they do, and it is not hard to imagine dogs of all kinds literally lapping them up.

The eponymous “husky” refers to co-owner Todd Ruppenthal’s own Astaire and Ginger, the former black and white, like Fred’s ever-present tuxedo, and the latter with hints of red, like Ginger’s flaming hair. Just beyond a gate that is latched, presumably to keep canine patrons from bounding in, is a display case brimming with fresh cookies and cakes.

Along with Steve Farmer, Mr. Ruppenthal has been serving up unusual confections for seven years. It began as a lark when they happened to walk by a vacant storefront and Mr. Farmer joked that they should open a pet store. Neither of them had done anything like that before, but with their enduring love of dogs, the idea took on a life of its own.

Mr. Ruppenthal, who has a background in nutrition, creates the recipes for the treats himself and guarantees that the ingredients are all healthy. He explained, for example, that the sundaes are made from low-lactose yogurt that can be easily digested. Instead of chocolate, to which dogs are allergic, he uses carob, which has a similar flavor. Mr. Ruppenthal said that there is no added salt or sugar or bleached flour in any of his concoctions, and they are all baked fresh every two days. 

The store at 2601 Prairie Ave. is strictly a dogs-and-cats operation – no hamsters or parrots or goldfish – because the owners want to concentrate on what the shop does best. Mr. Ruppenthal said that since dogs must spend a certain amount of time outdoors, natural owner communities grow up around them, among them “Pooch Park” (at the channel near Sam’s Club), the dog beach or simply the sidewalks of one’s own block.

When asked why some dogs will gently sidle up to their counterparts on the sidewalk while others will react with an immediate declaration of war, Mr. Ruppenthal said that the latter are likely poorly socialized and bark to ward off close contact. 

In terms of keeping dogs happy, he suggested knowing their inherent traits, such as running or hunting, and creating some outlet for them. For instance, Mr. Ruppenthal said, huskies are intrinsically very gentle and if used as guard dogs, are “more likely to let a robber in and show him where all the good stuff is.”

Failing to recognize the animal’s strongest instincts might result in their chewing up the couch or some other destructive behavior out of frustration at not being allowed to engage in what they are wired to do.

The shop is about more than just food. Items range from leashes, beds, toys, and a surprising variety of bones to flashing collars and dog jerseys with Cubs, Bears and Green Bay Packers emblems.

The partners go to trade shows themselves rather than relying on distributors, which gives them a more unusual and current selection of merchandise. Assistant Ron Swiatkowski is a veterinary technician who, among other things, does nail trims with aplomb. It’s not unusual for him to do 40 or 50 trims on a given day.

Happy Husky also sponsors “Rescue Awareness Saturday,” where a couple of animals will be brought in from the local shelter and someone is on hand to let shoppers know what other species might be looking for a home. He said there was absolutely no pressure, though – that they were just “planting a seed.” 

Though the canine Astaire probably never twirled Ginger in quite the way it was done in the movies, the dancer’s legacy lives on in a place that celebrates the relationship between people and their favorite four-legged friends.