Visitors who stop by the new Fangs & Fur pet-food store in Columbus' Fifth by Northwest neighborhood may be greeted by Mozzie, a friendly Australian shepherd dog.
"He's our store dog," said Anthony Santilli, who co-owns the store at 1724 Northwest Blvd. with his wife, Danielle.
But Mozzie is more than a mascot -- it was Anthony Santilli's experience with Mozzie that led the Columbus native to become an advocate for and vendor of raw pet food.
Eight years ago, Santilli was living in a small apartment in downtown Seattle. Mozzie was just a pup.
"He was getting sick, throwing up all the time," Santilli said. "He was getting pretty lifeless, and finally I took him to the vet one night at 3 a.m. because there were these clear, white, translucent little pellets in his vomit."
It turned out the "natural" chicken-jerky treats Santilli had been buying for his dog were made in China and were contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics and resins, he said.
"I started looking into dog food and dog treats and what they are putting in them," Santilli said, adding Mozzie was having trouble digesting dry pet food and "it really began to concern me."
A friend told him about the option of a raw-food diet -- which may include raw meat, as well as bones, vegetables, fruits, eggs and dairy products.
"She asked me if I had a pet snake, would I feed it a wheat cracker or a mouse? I, of course, answered that I would feed it the mouse. And she said, 'Then why in the world would you feed your dog kibble?' "
As he researched, Santilli said, he became convinced that a raw-food diet was best for his pet -- and for most pets.
His passion led to a desire to open a business that would help him spread the word.
"I thought, 'What better place than to come back to my hometown?' " said Santilli, who grew up in Columbus near Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington.
The raw-pet-food movement has some high-placed skeptics.
Public-health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as many veterinarians, have spoken out against feeding pets raw food.
The CDC's website says the agency "does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets" and warns that "germs like salmonella and listeria bacteria have been found in raw pet foods, even packaged ones sold in stores."
But Santilli said commercially prepared raw pet food has zero tolerance for salmonella.
"They go through high-pressure pasteurization and fermentation to kill harmful bacteria but keep in the good bacteria," he said. "It's a stronger standard than regular dry food."
A raw-food diet is what nature intended for dogs and cats, Santilli said.
"It follows their physiology," he said. "It's only been over the last 50 or 100 years that humans have changed the diet of dogs and cats. For 99.9% of their evolution, dogs and cats ate a protein-based, high-moisture diet. Dogs evolved as carnivores with sharp, pointed teeth."
Over the past century, the introduction of dry food meant most pets are being given carbohydrate-rich, low-moisture diets, Santilli said.
"Most of the dry food is 45% to 75% carbs, and that's causing all kinds of bad results, like obesity in our pets, tooth decay and a lot of gut issues," he said.
Santilli said Mozzie is living proof of the benefits of a raw-food diet.
"He's almost 9 years old and he's so full of energy," he said. "He's a Frisbee dog, and when we take him out to the dog park, he's jumping over my head and just has boundless energy."
Fangs & Fur, which opened Feb. 3, offers fresh-frozen pet food, as well as meat-based dry food.
"We understand a raw-pet-food diet is not for everyone, so we do offer some healthier dry-food options," Santilli said, including brands that do not use any synthetic material. "But I think you should include at least some raw, high-moisture food, even if it's just treats, to accompany your pet's main food."
The store also carries raw goat's milk and bone broth to use as meal toppers and to add moisture and nutrients to pets that eat dry food.
The store's "raw bar" offers freeze-dried treats, including duck heads, necks and hearts; pig snouts and ears; and turkey necks.
"They're single-ingredient items -- not a lot of preservatives in them," Santilli said. "Dogs and cats love them."
Along with food, Fangs & Fur sells probiotics and joint supplements, as well as leashes and collars.
"We're trying to give pet owners an alternative -- something different," Danielle Santilli said. "Part of our mission is to educate people about the benefits of a raw-food diet."
The store will hold a series of informal programs to help introduce people to the concept of raw-food diets, she said.
The first event will be a presentation about the benefits of a raw diet. It will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the store.
On March 25, the second session will cover the myths of raw food.
Fangs & Fur is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.
For more information, go to fangsfur.com.