Before adopting her bull-terrier mix Willow, Andrea Lincke’s passion was baking. A professional pastry chef by trade, she was very familiar with eggs, butter, and icing. But when her rescue dog came along, Andrea began to see her skills in a new light.
Willow’s life had been far from easy. Originally a breeding dog, she was dumped by her previous owners when her usefulness ran out. “She was lucky to be found by a very dedicated rescue group, and was in long-term foster care for rehabilitation,” says Andrea, remembering what it took to win over the traumatised dog. “They mentioned that food is the way to her heart. We maybe took that a bit too seriously.”
Realising that her baking could be the secret weapon, Andrea attempted her first batch of lovely dog treats. The plan worked: Willow loved them, and soon Andrea was experimenting with dog cakes too. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of advice about making delicate and beautiful luxuries for pets. Previously, “cakes” for dogs were (at best) queasy lumps of meatloaf with candles plonked on top. But Andrea knew she could do better.
Making a Dog Birthday Cake
When the business she was working for closed, Andrea decided to become a professional baker for dogs. She launched her business, appropriately named Willow’s Pantry, from her Elwood kitchen. Today, Willow’s Pantry offers artisan dog treats and cakes that Andrea sells online and at markets, and makes to order.
Andrea approaches her new (dog) cakes in the same way as her old (human) ones. Sourcing ingredients from local businesses and wholefood suppliers, she works with human-grade, free-range, natural, and often organic products, and steers clear of sugar and preservatives. “It’s important for me to know where my ingredients come from, especially with meats,” she adds.
While her cakes are beautiful—with the height, colour, and signature style you’d expect to find on any baker’s Instagram feed—Andrea discourages the curious from sneaking a bite. “Some [customers] are brave and have a lick. There’s nothing in them that would make one sick, though they are pet food only, and made for a dog’s palate.” In case you were wondering, the most popular flavours are peanut butter and carob.
Dogs are, understandably, less judgemental than human customers. But their diets present a new wave of baking challenges—when you cut out sugar and preservatives, you have to get creative. “My favourite ingredient is blue spirulina,” Andrea says. “It’s the vibrant blue colour you see in the cake icings. It amazes me every time, what Mother Nature can create.”
Do Dogs Really Need Birthday Parties?
There is something surreal about seeing our obsession with photogenic baked goods spread to dogs. Do they really get a kick out of all this fuss? Andrea concedes that a lot of this is for the owners, who enjoy the novelty of a dog party. But she insists the dogs “know for sure that something special is going on”. A veteran of dog birthday parties, she adds, “I love how excited the pups get when they see their friends.”
Dog cakes, gourmet treats, and even birthday parties all fit within a larger (and growing) trend of treating pets like family—specifically, children. And while it’s easy to roll your eyes, there’s something sweet about going to the effort of putting aside an afternoon to celebrate someone so special. “The unconditional love of a dog definitely brings joy to people’s life and even gives some a purpose,” reminds Andrea.
Beyond the novelty factor, she also understands first-hand how powerful treats—or rather, nurturing—can be. For Willow, Andrea’s baking was a way for her to feel safe and loved, and to heal. “We were really lucky to be chosen as her new family, and it amazes me how Willow gained her trust back in humans. She loves to go out for walkies and plays with her dog friends. She loves to be at quiet markets, mostly to beg our customers for treats. But if that makes her day, I’m happy for her.”
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