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BRATTLEBORO — After a two-year absence, there’s a familiar face in One Stop Country Pet Supply on Putney Road.

“Over the years, Saskia [Whallon] and I have had discussions,” said Dan Blake, who earlier this month finalized his purchase of the stores in Brattleboro, Keene, N.H., and Barre. “I told her if she ever thought of retirement, she should call me, and she did.”

Whallon, who purchased the pet store two decades ago, first hired Blake more than 10 years ago, when he was only two years out of high school.

After graduating from Brattleboro Union High School in 2008, Blake struggled with his health, in and out of surgery as a “professional kidney stone maker,” as he characterizes it.

“Those were pretty dark days,” he said.

But one of the lights for him during those difficult days was working at the pet supply store.

“Saskia really took me under her wing,” said Blake. “She taught me the business, inside and out.”

Blake worked his way up to management, running the Brattleboro store for more than five years and the Keene store for about one year.

“But I was getting a little burned out,” he said, eventually taking a job with Open Farm, a supplier of ethically sourced pet food with ingredients that can be traced from the farm to the food dish.

Blake is the first to admit before he left One Stop, he still had some growing to do.

“When I left two years ago, I got caught up on the small things. I was worried and I was a pain to work for,” he said, but taking a job with One Farm and traveling across New England gave him a new perspective.

“I came back with a newfound appreciation for these guys when I saw how other stores were doing it,” said Blake. “It’s reassuring to have those people around me. I definitely would not have gone into this without them.”

He said he knows he can rely on Nick Passino, Michelle Hughes and Heather Harlow in Brattleboro, Dan Darcy and Gina Reynolds in Keene, and Amber Vecchiarelli and Lorissa Spooner in Barre.

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“Without them, these stores don’t function. Knowing I had a core group of people who were excited and looking forward to this was a huge relief.”

And, not to forget, Blake bought three pet supply stores during a pandemic.

“It was a little scary, not knowing what was going to happen,” he said. “But we watched it like a hawk and made educated choices surrounding it.”

For the past year, working for Open Farm, he was also watching how other independent pet supply stores in New England were faring.

“The stores that didn’t have good relationships with their shoppers got ghosted by customers going online,” he said, a problem One Stop didn’t have because of its relationship to the community.

Over the next six months, people will see some changes in Brattleboro and Barre, said Blake, including new flooring, energy-efficient lighting and ceilings, as well as some new displays and shelving.

Blake said the all-natural pet food industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, driven by the same concern consumers have for their own bodies and the bodies of their children.

“Three-quarters of the people, when they go to a grocery story, they are thinking what is in this and where did it come from,” said Blake. “And not just about the ingredients, but what the ingredients were subjected to during growth, production and through the supply chain.”

People are applying the same amount of scrutiny to the health of their pets, he said.

Yes, it often costs a little bit more, said Blake, but pets, for many people, are members of the family, and should be treated that way.

Blake and his wife, Sarah, have three cats.

“People refer to me as the crazy cat lady, which is so not awesome, but that’s how we are,” he said.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.