Snap and Me
Mark Witriol was in the market for a dog companion when he was asked to foster an 8-week-old Standard Poodle. Witriol loved to hike and suspected a curly-haired poodle wasn't the right breed for his active lifestyle, but he acquiesced. Five years later, Snap is still his best hiking partner.
The 50-year-old co-owner of Pet Food Express, a holistic pet food and supply company, is a self-proclaimed "sucker" for pets. In addition to Snap, Witriol also parents a high-strung Terrier named Rio, which a friend found tied to a parking meter in Oakland with a note addressed to Animal Control. The same day Witriol rescued Rio, another friend asked him to take in a dangerous Rottweiler puppy that had lost its hearing due to abuse and was scheduled to be euthanized because of behavioral problems.
"I inherited two dogs on the very same day," recalls Witriol. By simply changing to a healthier dog food, Witriol alleviated the Rottweiler's hearing disability, and watched him thrive until he eventually died from cancer.
Denied the privilege of owning a dog while growing up in NYC, Witriol's pet-free life changed dramatically upon moving to California. While attending a dog show at the Cow Palace, Witriol met Michael Levy, who had just opened his third Pet Food Express location. As the duo chatted, they discovered that the newest store was adjacent to the electronics store owned by Witriol. The coincidence sealed Witriol's fate.
Levy recruited Witriol in 1992 as his partner, hoping his business savvy would help expand the company. Today, Pet Food Express operates 49 stores throughout Northern California and is looking to expand to Pasadena in 2014.
While success is an occupational goal, Witriol is particularly proud of the company's reputation within the community. A champion of pet rescue, Pet Food Express raised 1.5 million in 2012 alone for Northern California pet shelters and rescues through its four major fundraisers and smaller ongoing efforts.
Through its permanent pet adoption centers in five of its stores, 1,751 cats, kittens, and bunnies found new homes last year, and another 581 dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, roosters, etc. found new homes in just one weekend during the Bay Area Pet Fair & Adoptathon sponsored by the company. Later this month, Pet Food Express is hosting its fourth annual fundraiser for K9s and is organizing another Bay Area Pet Fair slated for October 5-6.
Witriol's own generous heart is a common trait among his pet-loving employees and customers. "No one has an average dog, "surmises Witriol. "We all have the best dog in the world!"
By Jill Layman