Bonnie Turner and her pal Bun-Bun (who's looking for a family of his own), at Ruffins Pet Centre, Fonthill. BOB LOBLAW PHOTO

Never heard of Ruffin’s Pet Centre? Unleash the hounds—Bonnie Turner is in town, with Bun-Bun backup

Special to the VOICE

As Bonnie Turner walked into Ruffin’s Pet Centre in Fonthill she was greeted by chirping birds and an excitable rabbit that jumped to see her. Turner, who is the new owner of the store, stopped to pet the rabbit—informally named “Bun-Bun”—a visit she says she makes every morning when she gets to work. Though Turner is new to the Fonthill location, she is not new to the Ruffin’s chain, as she has owned the Ruffin’s Pet Nutrition Centre on Hartzel Road in St. Catharines for six years now.

Nor is she new to the realm of pet supplies, animals, and their care. For most of her life Turner has worked in the pet industry, in the capacity of groomer, retailer, and merchandiser. Beyond the workplace, she has also always been a pet lover. Growing up in St. Catharines she had dogs, birds, an iguana, and a turtle or two.

Ever since she was a young child, Turner had been captivated by the idea of going into retail.

“When I was little I always wanted to have my own pet store. I just thought that was so cool when people owned pet stores,” said Turner. “I just thought, wow, to be able to have all these animals and take care of them everyday. I think that’s so neat.”

Turner started working in pet stores as a dog groomer at the age of 15 as part of a high school placement, and continued to work as such throughout university.

“I love the art of [grooming] and I love helping animals.”

She recalled one time when a customer who was moving away went out of her way to thank her.

“She said she just loved the way I groomed her dog so much. She and her daughter had made a little ornament with her dog on it for me and a thank you card and everything, just to say thank you for providing that extra service.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing however, and Turner says she has certainly learned from mistakes that she and her coworkers made. One story in particular about two apricot poodles with the same name still stands out, despite happening many years ago.

“One [dog] was old, and one was young, and one of them went home to the wrong house. Luckily we figured it out. We called [the customers] to say, you have the wrong dog. They said that they had wondered why he wouldn’t stay at the house. He kept trying to leave,” said Turner. “So we got the dog swapped out in time, but that was quite a funny story because the dogs were the same—same color, same name, everything.”

Her love of animals and need to provide them with care prompted Turner to study biology at Brock University, the first step toward a career as a veterinarian. Despite her interest in the subject and her love of the program, she soon found that the path to veterinary school was not for her. During university she had the opportunity to work alongside a vet and found that parts of the job were too difficult. The idea of putting down animals, specifically, and putting them down without shedding a tear over their passing, was something she could not, and did not want to do.

“I’m just too compassionate to not feel [the loss of a pet] with the person. But I still wanted to help animals in any way I could.”

As a result, Turner continued to work for pet stores and groomers, including major chains such as PetSmart. Over the years she has worked in Thunder Bay and London, where her husband’s job took them, before returning to the Niagara area.

Today, she and her husband, Dave, live in Niagara-on-the-Lake with their twin 12-year-old daughters, Hailee and Ella. The family also includes a dog, hamsters, and the twins’ geckos and finches. Turner says her daughters have inherited her love and compassion for animals and were eager to help out when she purchased the St. Catharines, and now the Fonthill, stores.

The move from working in larger pet store chains to joining the smaller, locally based Ruffin’s was spurred by Turner’s realization that she didn’t always agree with the philosophies of the larger corporations.

“I realized I didn’t believe in what I was selling anymore. I wanted to get into something more natural. I started working for Global Pet Foods. That’s where I really got my nutrition base and really got more interested in that, and in helping out animals that way. The whole holistic approach to helping animals is where I really felt like my passion was.”

Turner says Ruffins’ philosophy is similar, as it offers a range of pet foods and materials at different prices, providing healthy options for people’s pets at reasonable cost. Turner hopes to further improve the ability of the Fonthill store to cater to the needs of Pelham pet owners. She and her husband are currently working to add an office to the space, and also hope to expand the location to incorporate dog groomers as well.

The Fonthill store, unlike the St. Catharines location, also sells pets, a new opportunity for Turner and her employees. Employee Kailey Augerman, who has worked for Ruffins for two years, followed Turner to the new location in part because of the opportunity to work with the animals. Augerman said that she loves being able to bounce between the two locations, and enjoys coming to Fonthill for the store’s fish and birds. Both women are looking forward to getting to know their new clients and helping keep Pelham’s pets healthy.