A Tupelo woman parlays her love of baking into a homemade dog treat business.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Until she was in the ninth grade, Tiffany Wheeler was terrified of dogs. Her childhood did not include canines in her family, and when she found herself in the presence of the occasional dog, her father had to carry his young daughter until they reached a dog-free space.
“At some point, I just grew out of that fear,” said Wheeler, 32, who works at North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health.
And then seven years ago, Wheeler’s attitude toward dogs changed in a big way when she looked into the eyes of Lulu. Not only was she no longer afraid but she also realized she’d fallen in love with a newborn puppy diagnosed with the potentially fatal parvovirus.
The sick pit bull pup was in a litter belonging to a friend of Wheeler’s who needed to separate the contagious puppy from others. Wheeler agreed to foster the puppy until she, hopefully, recovered. By the time she was well and beginning to thrive, the puppy had been given a name — and a permanent home with Wheeler.
These days, Lulu and her human are constant companions — and Lulu shows no lasting effects of the illness that nearly ended her life before it had a chance to begin. The nap-loving, 60-pound pit bull is a beauty with her blue-gray coat and soulful brown eyes. She’s as docile as can be, rarely even making a sound when visitors arrive at her home.
After a sweet greeting, Lulu heads to her own bed or Wheeler’s sofa and commences to nap until she decides it’s time for some more affection. As for Lulu’s figure, no one would ever guess she’s the reason Wheeler now has a secondary job making homemade, healthy treats for dogs.
A Sweet Start
When Lulu turned 1, Wheeler celebrated her four-legged friend with a birthday party complete with a family dinner. The birthday girl did, in fact, wear a tutu and a tiara. And Wheeler, a baker from way back, made Lulu a birthday cake.
“That first cake was just a regular cake,” Wheeler said. “And I learned quickly that Lulu’s not good with dairy. After that, I did research into what not to feed your dog, and I came up with a healthy recipe made with natural stuff.”
That was the beginning of what would become Kreecher’s Creations. Working out of her home, Wheeler takes orders for “pupcakes” for furry friends. The name is compliments of her father, Kenneth Wheeler, a Tupelo school board member and head of security at North Mississippi Medical Center.
“When I was born, I had a lot of hair. Not just on my head, but on my arms and my back,” she said. “My dad started calling me Kreecher which often gets shortened to ‘Kreech.’” It’s an endearing nickname that stuck.
Wheeler said she’s loved baking since she got an Easy Bake Oven when she was a little girl. Her maternal grandmother was a baker, so there’s the possibility as well of a genetic factor. No matter the reason, Wheeler says baking is her purpose: “I’m supposed to bake.” And until Lulu came along, her baking was exclusively for humans.
“I doubt I’d have ever started making the dog treats if not for Lulu,” Wheeler said.
While Wheeler works each day at the hospital, Lulu spends time playing with pals at doggie day care. Recently, Wheeler baked her homemade “pupcakes” and delivered them to be shared during treat time at day care, a feat that possibly made Lulu the most popular pup in the pack for the day.
Recipe for Success
When she bakes doggie treats these days, Wheeler uses the tried-and-true recipe she ultimately landed upon after experimenting with different ingredients. The recipe, she said, makes a cake like a carrot cake, but without sugar and all the spices.
“For the icing, I use Greek yogurt and peanut butter that’s xylitol-free,” Wheeler said. “I decorate with real dog treats like little dog bones and Beggin’ Strips. The workers at Lulu’s day care and I were curious about the cake, so we tried a bite and decided it was good. It’s not as sweet as you might expect, but the dog cakes are certainly people-friendly, if you’re inclined to have a taste.”
If not, baking for humans is also part of Kreecher’s Creations. Wheeler filled quite a few orders last Thanksgiving for her cakes. She’s hoping her culinary cottage industry will continue to grow, and there’s every reason to believe it will.
“The doggie treat world is definitely evolving,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler credits Lulu with Kreecher’s Creations’ early success and with much more.
“Loving Lulu has certainly increased my quality of life,” Wheeler said, smiling at her brown-eyed girl. “I am happy all the time. I mean, how can you not be happy around Lulu?”