Woof: Eat my (natural) biscuits

It looks more like an upscale gift shop than a health store. Animal Connections sells all-natural food for animals, only in a space that's better decorated than most of those spartan, this-stuff-is-good-for-you shops for humans. Instead of grim bins of bulk natural foods, it carries neatly packaged apple crisp dog biscuits that sorely tempt one to sneak a taste.

"Everything here is human grade," says owner Pattie Boden. So yes, along with Rover, you could munch down on the barbecued squirrels dog treats.

Charlottesville's newest pet specialty store does not neglect four-legged bodies and souls, offering Reiki, crystal healing, and massage therapy. Of course, Animal Connections also offers the latest in cross-species trends: animal communication.

Boden has been at the art of animal mind-reading for over a year. Now she has the only store in Charlottesville providing that service.

Even more than a desire to talk to the animals, it was animal food that inspired her to open Animal Connections, which is tucked away in McIntire Plaza across from the skatepark.

"One of my dogs died two years ago with a food-related illness," she says. "They say a lot of cancers are started by bad food."

Animal Connections sells only natural, hormone-free foods, according to Boden. "We don't want anything that reeks of BHA or BHT," she explains, listing two chemical preservatives that are no-nos in her store.

Even the "Gotta Go" kitty litter is all natural. So, too, is the citrus-scented "All Natural Out Spot."

And for the dog-, cat-, or horse-lover on your Christmas list, Animal Connections offers hemp leashes, fashion collars and books on holistic health care. Boden can even set you up with a portrait of your beloved Bowser.

Animal Connections boasts a spiritual room for therapy, and Boden used a feng shui consultant to obtain the store's soothing atmosphere. "We're artsy and trying to set ourselves apart," says Boden.

It's interesting to note that in a shop like Animal Connections, the PC terminology is "companions" rather than "pets," and "guardians" instead of "owners."

So does this latest entry into the world of companion care threaten existing businesses? "I wouldn't think so," says Mark Williams, owner of Pet Food Discounters. "We've been here 20 years, and every brand here is natural."

Any plans to start offering animal reiki or massage? "That's not our thing," replies Williams.

Nor is Suzanne O'Leary at Pet Forum too concerned about the new competition. "We don't do a lot with holistic foods or lines," she says.

And as for animal communication services, "We won't be doing that either," says O'Leary.

In fact, Williams thinks Animal Connections will fill a niche. "The downtown needs a place like that," he says.

Essential oils and massage therapy– Animal Connections is like a spa for dogs.