Marian Lanigan pressed fork marks into peanut butter cookies. Her dedicated Newfoundland Sadie stood nearby, poking her nose upward.

“They think that anything that comes out of the oven belongs to them, which most of the time, it does,” Lanigan said of her two dogs. The Superior woman has been making homemade dog biscuits since the early aughts. In the past few years, she launched Harpo Barks Dog Cookies, where she sells handcrafted treats, sweaters, collars and leashes.

“I probably wouldn't make a living of it, but I definitely have a good time,” she said.

Usually, Lanigan finds a recipe and modifies it. For instance, she deviated from her original PB recipe to make hers round like the cookies we grew up with. Same goes for her crispy cheese bites.

Lanigan’s dog treats run the gamut of apple muffins to liver pupscotti, gingerbread men and frosted cookies in the shape of fire hydrants and dog bones. She orders her pup-treat icing online, and ingredients like oat bran or soy flour she buys locally.

“There’s nothing funky in them, so if the kids get into them, they’re not going to harm them.”

Her best sellers are the peanut butter cookies. She attributes that to their aesthetic. “You have to appeal, not only the taste for the dogs, but looks for the people,” she said.

Marian Lanigan talks about the clothing she makes for dogs. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Marian Lanigan talks about the clothing she makes for dogs. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Her goods are taste-tested by their dogs Ben, Sadie, herself and her husband. “They maybe need a little more salt, but they’re not too bad, actually.”

And the best-tasting are “definitely” the crispy cheese bites, she said.

“I do like liver, but she doesn’t put onions in it, so …” said Jay Lanigan.

Harpo Barks is mostly a one-woman show, save for Lanigan’s neighbor and their 11-year-old grandson, Keaton, who helps at craft shows.

For how much dogs are a part of her business, Lanigan was formerly “strictly a cat person.”

“I converted her,” Jay said. “I didn’t tell her I was getting a puppy.”

The couple have had a couple of labs, a German shepherd mix, and today, they have two Newfoundlands. Asked which of their dogs was named Harpo, “None of them,” Lanigan said. She named the business after a play on Harpo Marx, a 1930s American comedian.

Now that she’s retired, she’d like to invest more time into the dog biz. She enjoys going to craft shows, hearing about and meeting her four-legged customers.

In the dining room of their home, Lanigan spread out dog garb that looked like a letterman sweater or a “Where’s Waldo” shirt. She has been knitting since grade school, and hand-making dog clothing for 15 years. It’s just fun, she said.

For all of her dog-gear making, Lanigan does bake for humans, too. Mostly Christmas cookies, coffeecake, homemade buns and chocolate chip cookies at the behest of their grandson.

Asked what their pets mean to them, Jay paused to consider his answer. At that moment, Sadie rested her head on a News Tribune reporter’s arm.

“Right there, she just told ya. They love you unconditionally.”

If you go

What: Parkland craft show

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Parkland Town Hall, 6221 Veterans Dr., South Range

More info: harpobarkscookies.com

Duluth shop promotes healthy ingredients

Some of the dog biscuits for sale at Matilda’s Dog Bakery & Pet Nutrition Center. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Some of the dog biscuits for sale at Matilda’s Dog Bakery & Pet Nutrition Center. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Stacy Locker walked into Matilda’s Dog Bakery and Boutique. Her 1-year-old German Shepherd Lucy scurried about on her leash.

"A lot of smells can be overwhelming their first visit," said clerk Naida Reynolds.

Locker and her husband had just returned from Mexico, and she was in the market for treats for Lucy “for being a good girl."

And Lucy had a lot to choose from.

Roasted duck feet, elk jerky, Canadian duck breast. Then, the Buckaroo Biscuits in Salmon Shooters, I Quiver for Liver, Mac and Cheese with Bacon. The locally made dog treats are the brainchild of shop owner Joanne Elliott, and “it started out as a joke,” she said.

“A home without a dog or a cat is just a house.”

Elliott — dog owner to husky-Lab mix Matilda, bulldog-terrier Olive and Chihuahua Thor — started making treats for her dogs. That expanded to farmers' markets, then wholesale. Now, the doggie goods can be spotted at Duluth's two Whole Foods Co-op stores, Duluth Pack, Mount Royal, as well as Elliott’s Lakeside storefront.

Elliott and three bakers hand-make the Duluth goodies, and while she didn’t disclose her recipes, she said they’re made with ingredients such as peanut butter, molasses and chopped nuts.

"They're not Milk Bones. They don't have chemicals,” she said. “They're not dog food, they're not pet food, it's human food. They're basically a cookie without the salt and the sugar.”

Joanne Elliott puts out biscuits at  Matilda’s Dog Bakery & Pet Nutrition Center. Elliott has four bakers on staff making treats for dogs. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Joanne Elliott puts out biscuits at Matilda’s Dog Bakery & Pet Nutrition Center. Elliott has four bakers on staff making treats for dogs. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Elliott's treats are sent to a New Ulm lab for crude testing, and she also offers gluten-free and wheat-free options.

In 2010, dog bakeries were popping up around the coasts, and when Elliott opened her Duluth store, people were skeptical, she said.

Locker, who lives near Matilda’s Bakery said having Northland-made dog biscuits is “convenient for the locals and good for the business owners that they can make a living here.”

Naida Reynolds has been working at Matilda's for about four years. Reynolds' Yorkshire Terrier Poodle mix, Murray Muppet Johnson III, has had numerous tummy issues. "Joanne has good products, and we try it out," she said.

"She is really into human nutrition, and for her, that translates over to dogs."

Much of their clientele have done their own research, and many are troubleshooting tummy problems, food-related, seasonal or environmental allergies. As a pet owner, you need to know about nutrition, and be able to identify the good stuff from the bad stuff. "We have control over what we put in our mouths. They don't. They're at our mercy,” Elliott said.

"As my dentist says jokingly, 'You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.' That's pretty much (it) with nutrition, our nutrition, as well."

The premium dog food movement was the result of a 2007 recall of pet food imported from China. The FDA found contaminants in vegetable proteins found in the food were sickening and killing cats and dogs.

Elliott noted pet food paralleling the mainstream food industry, i.e., coconut oil and turmeric showing up in both. For Elliott and Reynolds, that makes sense because pet owners want their animals to be healthy.

“People say, ‘It's just a dog. It's just a cat.’ Well, not in my house. They're part of my family,” said Elliott.

Added Reynolds: “It’s part of your soul for me, dogs and cats. A home without a dog or a cat is just a house.”

If you go

What: Pictures with Santa!

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7

Where: Matilda's Dog Bakery & Boutique, 4521 E. Superior St.

More info: matildasdogbakery.com