Animals -- all sizes -- always have been Dorothy Hunter's passion.
She worked as a volunteer at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence, Kan., from third grade until she graduated from high school. She trained horses in Kentucky and Montana and marine mammals in Rapid City, S.D.
"I've been bucked off, knocked over and still loved them," she said.
So when she told her husband, Doyle, in 2008 she wanted to open a pet store he wasn't surprised.
"He gave me one year to prove to him that it was what I really wanted to do," she said.
They opened Paws Natural Pet Emporium in Richland in March 2008. Recently they opened a second Paws -- this one at 6713 W. Clearwater Ave., Kennewick.
"I guess he's convinced now," she joked.
The Hunters carry animal foods that are free of preservatives, byproducts and unpronounceable ingredients.
"We're a health food store for animals," said her husband.
If your pet has food allergies or needs a special diet, Paws is where you'll find what they need.
The Hunters don't sell animals. Instead, they invite Benton County Animal Control to come in to the Richland store on Saturdays to do adoptions.
"We believe in supporting the animal shelters. We will not sell animals when there are so many out there needing homes," said Dorothy Hunter.
They're also passionate about seeking out American-made products.
"They cost a bit more but we feel it's worth it to help the American economy, to keep workers and business here," she said. "Many of the treats we carry are made in Washington and the catnip we sell is grown right in Richland."
The Hunters also believe in customer service.
"My husband's motto is: give your customers what they want in a clean atmosphere. They tell us we have the only pet store that doesn't stink," she said.
Their philosophy must work. Last year the Hunters received the Best Customer Service In the Nation award from Global Pet Expo, a national pet business magazine. They've been nominated for the award again this year in the multiple store category.
"Nominations come from our customers. We treat everyone like a friend," said Dorothy Hunter.
The Richland Paws Natural Pet Emporium is at 1420 Jadwin Ave. The Kennewick location is hard to spot -- it's across from the multi-story grain elevator on Clearwater, behind The Battery Store & Auto Electric.
Both stores are open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Richland store's phone is 943-6640, and Kennewick's is 736-3647.
You can find them on Facebook and the stores' website is www.pawsnaturalpetemporium.com.