Jobless journalist opens Slovenia’s first dog bakery

Updated 04 September 2013

Jobless journalist opens Slovenia’s first dog bakery

Who would have thought the answer to unemployment in the city worst hit by Slovenia’s economic crisis could be meat, mint and peanut butter-flavored snacks for pooches.
But that’s just what happened for Nastja Verdnik, a 26-year-old journalism graduate who has opened the Balkan country’s first bakery for dogs.
“I used to make biscuits for my dog, but never dreamt of making a career out of it,” Verdnik told AFP in her tiny shop in the northern city of Maribor, where she sells home-made biscuits, muffins and cakes, including for dogs with allergies.
After graduating from Ljubljana University last year, her hunt for a job in journalism led nowhere. She had already made biscuits for friends’ dogs and even sold small quantities to a local pet shop.
“I saw at the employment office a program for promoting entrepreneurship among young people,” she said, so put forth the idea for a dog bakery and got immediately backing .
“Hov Hov” — Slovenian for “woof woof” — was born.
“There are more dogs registered in Slovenia than children under nine. And owners, before getting a dog, know they will have the financial resources to keep it,” said Verdnik.
Her confidence was boosted by research showing during a dog’s lifetime, owners can spend the equivalent of the price of a car on their pet.
Since she opened in June, her business — strategically located at the entrance to Maribor’s main park, a favorite playground for dogs — has not stopped growing.
“In September I will open a new shop in the capital, Ljubljana, and later might do it also abroad,” she said, with eyes on neighboring Croatia or Austria.
Once a major industrial center, Maribor has struggled more than the rest of Slovenia with the economic crisis. Unemployment in June was 18.1 percent, compared with 12.6 percent in Ljubljana.
Anger over rampant corruption in city hall also prompted violent demonstrations last winter.
But dog biscuits have proven remarkably crisis-resistant, with people in and around Maribor willing to go the extra mile to indulge their pets.
“We are not from this neighborhood, we live on the outskirts of Maribor, but we care about the quality of our dogs’ food and we also like buying them home-made biscuits,” Vera, the owner of two greyhounds, told AFP.
Hov Hov’s selection ranges from the classic beef, lamb, venison, turkey and tuna to banana, peanut butter and even mint-flavored biscuits to fight bad breath.
The snacks cost three to four euros ($4-5.50) for a 150-gram (5.3-ounce) package and are available in gluten-free and no-egg versions. She makes all shapes and sizes — bones being a favorite — and will even make special birthday cakes.
“I only use healthy ingredients as I would for my own pets,” said Verdnik, who gets advice from a veterinarian friend and adds no artificial ingredients.
And it’s not just the canines who are eating Hov Hov’s biscuits, as some of their owners confess to nibbling the vegetarian treats, said Verdnik.
“This is our second visit: now we have returned with a list of orders for our neighbors and friends,” said Marija, the owner of a German shepherd.
Keeping up supplies means baking at home an average of five kilogrammes (11 pounds) of biscuits each day. To cope with increasing demand, Verdnik plans to rent a kitchen and probably hire one or two helpers in September.
“Two hands aren’t enough any longer,” she said.
She has not totally ruled out journalism. But if she did ever find a job, she would only use her skills “to write about pets, pet-food and related issues,” she said.


When coronavirus robs you of your sense of smell

Updated 06 July 2020

When coronavirus robs you of your sense of smell

  • “Anosmia cuts you off from the smells of life, it’s a torture.” — Jean-Michel Maillard, president of anosmie.org

PARIS: “What I miss most is the smell of my son when I kiss him, the smell of my wife’s body,” says Jean-Michel Maillard.
Anosmia — the loss of one’s sense of smell — may be an invisible handicap, but is psychologically difficult to live with and has no real treatment, he says.
And it is the price that an increasing number of people are paying after surviving a brush with the coronavirus, with some facing a seemingly long-term inability to smell.
“Anosmia cuts you off from the smells of life, it’s a torture,” says Maillard, president of anosmie.org, a French group designed to help sufferers.
If you have the condition you can no longer breathe in the smell of your first morning coffee, smell the cut grass of a freshly mown lawn or even “the reassuring smell of soap on your skin when you’re preparing for a meeting,” he says.
You only truly become aware of your sense of smell when you lose it, says Maillard, who lost his own following an accident.
And it is not just the olfactory pleasures you lose. He points out that people with anosmia are unable to smell smoke from a fire, gas from a leak, or a poorly washed dustbin.
Eating is a completely different experience too, as so much of what we appreciate in food is what we can smell, says Alain Corre, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Hopital-Fondation Rothschild in Paris.

“There are dozens of causes of anosmia,” he says, including nasal polyps, chronic rhinitis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Now the new coronavirus has been added to that list, says Corre — with the symptom alone allowing a diagnosis of COVID-19 in some cases.
“When people lose their sense of smell and don’t get it back, we note a real change in the quality of life and a level of depression that is not insignificant,” he adds.
The problem is when the condition persists, he says.
“To be deprived of your sense of smell for a month, it’s not serious,” says Maillard. “Two months, it starts to become a problem. But after six months, you’re all alone under a bell jar.
“There’s a psychological aspect to this which is very difficult to live with,” he insists. “You need to get help.”

CovidORL study
There is no specific treatment for the condition.
You have to address the cause, says Corre, but “the problem of the anosmias linked to the virus is that often, the treatment of the viral infection has no effect on your smell.
“According to the first numbers, around 80 percent of patients suffering from COVID-19 recover spontaneously in less than a month and often even faster, in eight to 10 days.”
For others, however, it could be that the disease has destroyed their olfactory neurons — the ones that detect smells. The good news is that these neurons, at the back of the nose, are able to regenerate.
Two Paris hospitals, Rothschild and Lariboisiere, have launched a “CovidORL” study to investigate the phenomenon, testing how well different nose washes can cure anosmia.
One cortisone-based treatment has proved effective in treating post-cold instances of anosmia and offers some hope, says Corre.
Another way to approach the condition is through olfactory re-education, to try to stimulate the associations that specific smells have in your memory, he says.
His advice is to choose five smells in your kitchen that are special to you, that you really like: cinnamon say, or thyme. Breathe them in twice a day for five to 10 minutes while looking at what it is you are inhaling.
Anosmie.org has even put together a re-education program using essential oils, working with Hirac Gurden, director of neuroscience research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). It is based on the work of Dresden-based researcher Thomas Hummel.
“As early as March, we got several hundred phone calls, emails from people who had COVID and who were calling for help because they couldn’t smell anything any more,” says Gurden.
Maillard meanwhile finished his re-education program last winter, using four smells.
“Today, I have 10 of them,” he says, including fish, cigarettes and rose essential oil. “I’ve even found a perfume that I can smell!” he declares.