DARRINGTON — Jennifer Savage tries to bake every day. After work, she’ll come home and take out the day’s frustrations in her kitchen.
Cranberry Sweet Potato, Pear Mint and Blueberry Biscotti cookies are some of her go-tos. Cakes and muffins, too. They’re the kind of goodies a person wouldn’t hesitate to munch on — except for one thing.
They’re dog food.
Savage, 49, bakes small-batch, limited-ingredient dog treats out of her home here. She calls it a “bark-ery.” Savage sells her goodies under the name CityBones. It’s a side business that combines her two passions: dogs and baking.
“My entire life revolves around dogs,” Savage said. “You can sit here and have the absolute worst day in the entire world, and your dog is going to make that better. That’s what baking does for me (too).”
Savage wants CityBones to be synonymous with the words “healthy” and “simple.” The blueberries she uses are locally grown, and the mint and apples are harvested from her 17-acre property.
The treats are all wheat, corn and soy-free. They are fruit and vegetable-based without any meat-based proteins, like chicken, pork or beef. The idea is to make a yummy treat that won’t irritate any dogs with allergies.
There are no preservatives and most treats have less than seven ingredients. The shelf life is short, three to six months. But that’s intentional.
“Dogs want something fresh too,” Savage said. “Would you want a cookie that’s been around for six months?”
Savage began baking pet treats around 2008. It started out as a hobby in response to a massive nationwide recall of contaminated pet food causing kidney failure, and sometimes death, in dogs and cats. She was worried about her dogs’ health.
“At that point, it was really hard to make sure you were giving your dog something good, that wasn’t going to be recalled the next week,” Savage said. “And I’ve always really been into nutrition.”
So Savage read up on dog nutrition at her local library. Cooking all of her dogs’ food from scratch was too time-consuming, so she settled on just making their treats.
Savage experimented with different recipes, resorting to trial and error with her dogs as test subjects. She soon shared her creations with friends and her popularity grew from there.
Savage started selling her treats around 2010. The business name CityBones comes from Savage’s nickname. When she moved to Seattle years ago, her stepfather, who she said “makes a nickname for everyone,” started calling her “City.”
“So it’s ‘City’s Bones,’ kind of, but that didn’t make sense,” Savage said. “But ‘CityBones’ sounded really good.”
The nickname makes less sense ever since she moved to a town of about 1,400 people. Friends and family joke that it really should be called “CountryBones.” Either way, Savage has found a market for her baked goods. Today they’re available online at Etsy and at any event Savage has a vendor booth, like the Arlington Street Fair or Marysville’s Poochella in the Park.
She also sells her treats at local establishments like Elemental Hard Cider in Arlington. Owner Christina Callahan said she runs a dog-friendly tap house and thought Savage’s homemade treats were a good fit. On average, Callahan sells about a pack a day and jokes that the treats look good enough for a person to eat.
“I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it yet,” Callahan said. “But we had a customer sit down and eat a bag in his car once. We were cackling about that for a while.”
CityBones has made a name for itself in the local dog-owner community, partly due to Savage’s volunteer work. In the past, she has volunteered at and sponsored events for local nonprofits like Save-A-Mutt, an animal rescue serving the Stanwood area.
Save-A-Mutt executive director Jennifer Ward said Savage is one of the first people she reaches out to for help, whether it be for a gift basket, a raffle donation or general support.
“She’s one of the friendlier people I know,” Ward said. “She’s super bubbly. She’s a crazy dog mom, like most of us. I think you have to be a crazy dog mom if you get into any pet-based business.”
Last August, Savage was able to go part-time working as an insurance agent in Arlington. Her dream is to build up CityBones to become a full-time endeavor. Until that day comes, Savage and her husband Troy Savage are focusing on building a new home on their property. The plan is for the new garage to be fully devoted to CityBones. Between the home construction, her day job, caring for two dogs and running a business, Savage has her hands full. It can be a struggle for her to balance what she wants to do with what she has to do.
“My hardest challenge has been work, you know, the thing that pays my bills,” Savage said. “The one that allows me to build my house. But I’m going to kick it to the curb as soon as I can.”
In what little free time she has, Savage works to grow her business while still making time to sell at in-person events where she can have face-to-face customer interactions. It motivates her to hear positive feedback.
“There’s just something I get from hearing that, and that makes it all worth it. All the craziness. All the tiredness,” Savage said. “That makes it worth it knowing that some dog appreciates it.”
Make it yourself
A few years ago Savage branched out into cakes. Here’s a recipe for one of her favorites.
Banana Blueberry Cake (for dogs)
½ cup oat flour
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup honey
½ cup mashed banana
½ cup dried blueberries
In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients and set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together oil, honey and egg until combined. Stir in the mashed banana. Once combined, stir in the dry ingredients. Once combined add the blueberries.