A dog’s best friend


Ken Schlegel


Walking into Edelweiss Bakery & Café, the customer first gets the impression of a cozy little bakery. A ceramic pig’s head, crowned in flowers and vines, hanging over the specials menu greets customers at the door. Baskets and tins of all shapes and sizes decorate the walls. Nearing the big glass display cases, eyes fall on flaky croissants, iced cakes, éclairs topped in chocolate, and freshly baked cookies. A cuckoo-clock ticks away gently on the back wall.

The real point of interest, however, reveals itself on the left wall.

A large sign proclaiming “Sa Da Ka” heads a display that can only be described as a shrine to dogs. Soft chew toys hang along the top of the walls and upon the light spangled tree in the corner. Books on training and dog treats grace the small set of shelves. Leashes of all colors decorate the display next to a rack of “Pet Naturals of Vermont” bags. What is the reason for all this dog paraphernalia? The answer lies with the owners, Ken Schlegel and Ralf LaBelle, and their love for their dogs.

Ken and Ralf have experienced supreme joy from their three Siberian Huskies, Sasha, Dakota, and Kayak. Pictures of the dogs decorate the walls. Sasha and Kayak give doggy grins from a couple of frames. Dakota is shown basking in the sun in another.

The name “Sa Da Ka” is a tribute to those dogs. Ken and Ralf have always loved dogs and they are a big part of their lives. “A dog can get so much deeper into your soul than a human can,” said Ken. “It doesn’t matter what kind of mood you are in. They are going to love you unconditionally.”

Sasha was Ken and Ralf’s first dog and the alpha female of the group. “She knew what she wanted, how she wanted it, and how to get it,” Ken said.

They later rescued Dakota from the humane society. He brought a softness and comfort with him, despite his bad experiences in previous homes. “We would have done anything for him,” Ken said.

The last dog to join the group was Kayak. “He’s the goofball. He just does his own thing,” said Ken.

Sasha died two years ago of a tumor on her liver, sparking the idea of Sa Da Ka with her passing. Soon after that, Dakota was diagnosed with diabetes and passed away from respiratory complications.

“When Dakota became diabetic, we got more into detail about researching the health and wellness of dogs,” Ken explained. After Dakota died, Sa Da Ka really began to take root, and it was fully realized over July 4 weekend in 2011.

The main idea behind Sa Da Ka is trying to help dog owners discover how better nutrition can benefit their dog. They want to promote alternatives to the store-bought dog food, which can cause problems for our four-legged friends.

“Look at your dog, no matter what breed of dog it is, as a house wolf,” Ken said. “Wolves don’t go to a store to open up a bag of dog food, pour it out and eat.”

Ken suggests that dogs are built to eat and digest meat like their cousins, the wolves. They are not meant to eat the grains, starches, food coloring, and preservatives found in abundance in most dog foods. All of those ingredients are bad for a dog’s organs, which are not designed to process all the starches and sugars.

“Why should your dog, who has the internal structure of a wolf, have grain?” asked Ken. “The safest thing to do is to start them off on a raw food diet, or as close as you can get it. If you do choose to pour food out of a bag, at least supplement it with raw or semi cooked food of some nature.… If you can fix healthy food for your children, you should be able to fix food for your dog.”

According to Ken, just about any raw meat is healthy for a dog, with the exception of pork.

Along with the information they seek to spread, Ken and Ralf also sell pet products.

A glass case displays a variety of bright rubber Kong toys, degradable poop bags, and portable food and water bowls. They also sell some of their own homemade, all natural dog treats, which are made by Ralf.

Offered too are treats made by Pet Naturals of Vermont and Food Science Corporation out of Essex Junction. All natural shampoos, conditioners, flea and tick sprays and wipes are displayed as well. “You could even use it on yourself, it’s that natural,” Ken said.

There are also bottles of water labeled “Canine Water.” The water is not specifically for dogs, and humans could drink it. Ken and Ralf were going crazy from the number of people who would stop at the bakery in mid-summer to ask for water for their dogs.

“This is just basically our way of saying, ‘Bring some water for your dog!’”

Ken had some parting words of advice for potential and current dog owners:“There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ about dogs,” he said, noting the best way to get rid of some of those ‘ifs’ is to study up on the type of dog you want and how to best take care of a dog.

“Watch what you feed them and how you feed them,” he said, adding that there is a variety of sources where owners can find information about better nutrition for their dog. A few are Wysong.net, Pet Health Network, or Happy Dog Spot.com.

Ken and Ralf hope for a prosperous future for Sa Da Ka. “We would like to expand at some point in time,” Ken said. “Right now the bakery is our primary focus.” For now, Sa Da Ka is advertised simply by word of mouth. “Sa Da Ka will follow us, no matter what we do, because we’re always going to look out for the health and wellness of dogs.”

Ken and Ralf never forget the inspiration their dogs gave them. Both of them have Sasha and Dakota’s names on dog tags around their necks, close to their hearts. “It’s where they will always stay” says Ken. “No matter how many dogs we have in our lives, there will always be Sasha, Dakota, and Kayak.”