A Spotlight on Queer-Owned Businesses in Vancouver, BC
The Great Canadian Dog Cakes is a local small business run by Olga and Natasha Vernev. They make healthy dog food as well as truly beautiful dog cakes and cookies that can be purchased on their website. I reached out to Olga on Instagram and asked if she would like to be interviewed for Roar Cat Reads. She very kindly agreed. I hope you enjoy getting to know Olga, Natasha, and The Great Canadian Dog Cakes as much as I did!
Hello Olga! You were recently interviewed by Vancouver Magazine, and I highly recommend that all readers head there to read your story. Both of you were born and raised in Russia and endured homophobia in many forms before escaping to Thailand and then Cambodia. You were eventually able to immigrate to Canada through Rainbow Refugees. What has been your experience living in Vancouver as a lesbian couple?
The first year in the life of an emigrant is called “the year of rose-tinted glasses”. Everything seems extremely magnificent, and your head spins like a weather vane. In addition, one of our great desires came true – we ceased to be a sensation for others. It became clear that all of our social self-defense mechanisms were completely unnecessary in Vancouver. When you are a lesbian in a Siberian city far from a somewhat more tolerant capital, you have to behave like a mongoose in a danger, using your appearance to show that you are a much more threatening and dangerous person than you really are. In Vancouver, it became obvious that those around us were not going to make comments or look at us like exotic animals. And, goddess, people smile at each other easily and help each other without expecting anything in return. In four years here, we have only twice encountered someone’s rudeness. It is very different from being faced with rudeness twice a day! Returning to the pink-tinted glasses, one of our friends who observed our enthusiasm for Vancouver and its residents in the first days after landing, said, “Live here for six months, and I will ask your opinion again.” Well, several years have passed, and we are still delighted.
You brought your Scottish terrier Speilberg with you to Vancouver. Tell us a little about him!
This is a special dog in the sense that for many years, I dreamed of getting a Scottish Terrier and calling him Spielberg. I have had a childhood fixation since the time when Enid Blyton’s detectives about Five Find-Outers became available in Russia. The Scottish Terrier Buster was there, and he stole my twelve-year-old heart. Natasha gifted me the puppy for my 30th birthday; we didn’t know then that we would leave Russia in seven months. Spielberg’s passport name is Cynic In A Scottish Skirt, but we renamed him because such a long name is inconvenient to shout when your puppy is eating trash outside.
His socialization in Siberia was impaired because his childhood fell in the winter when long walks are difficult for both dogs and owners. So he was raised by two cats who lived with us in those days. Since then, he is confident that he is partly a cat. His two main hobbies are standing in the doorway and sleeping on our chest. In Thailand and Cambodia, he had almost no friends. All of this ended when we brought a dog to Canada who did not know how to wave its tail and had no idea why it was needed. But here in Vancouver, he learned how to use it!
Olga and Natasha, you are both romantic and business partners. How do you manage both of these roles in your relationship? What is the hardest part? What is the easiest part?
We overcame the hard part of our business and romantic relationship while traveling in Southeast Asia. In the three years we spent there, we found ourselves in a situation in which some families found themselves occasionally in a lockdown. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We were both constantly together, and we often had to look for a way out of difficult situations. I think we got to know each other again, and our roles were finally determined. Natasha has a lot of business experience, and she knows how to think globally, plan in large strokes, and predict major turns on the path of development. I’m more focused on details. Once upon a time, it seemed to us that this major difference would interfere with any of our business cooperation. Later we realized that these are not opposing ways of thinking, but complementary to each other. In a romantic relationship, it works the same way.
The Great Canadian Dog Cakes is a play on the television show, The Great Canadian Bake Off, correct? What inspired you to choose that name?
Yes, it is. You know, there is an assumption that immigrants who come to Canada become extremely patriotic. I can’t say for all the immigrants, but it was definitely true for us. We wanted a big and loud name for our company, and certainly a Very Canadian name in honor of the country that accepted us when our homeland actually abandoned us. But naming a business is very difficult when you have an intermediate level of English. The word playfield is reduced to the size of a tea saucer. In any case, a week after the opening, we found ourselves in the nice company of Тhe Great Canadian Dog Academy and The Great Canadian Dog Food. so we won’t brag about the originality of the company name. But this name gives us a sense of belonging to something big and significant. The feeling of belonging to this country and to the people around us. This greatly motivates us to do our business well and to be useful.
What products are you most proud of selling?
Instead of talking about a specific product, I will speak about the technology we are proud of. Natasha managed to invent a cream that is even more attractive and healthy for dogs than those used in dog baking. We wanted special frosting, and Natasha spent two months experimenting with potato and yogurt cream to get it. Seriously, we constantly had a fridge full of experimental cakes with frostings of slightly different compositions. Natasha checked every day how its appearance and taste changed during storage. We were not satisfied with the results. The main problem was that frosting instantly lost liquid, and in a day, even the most beautiful cake was covered with ugly cracks. Natasha added and removed ingredients. We were almost ready to abandon this idea, but just a few days before the opening, Natasha managed to find the perfect balance between potatoes, yogurt, peanut butter, and broth. We got the dream cream. It is similar to human cake cream and is easily stained with natural ingredients. Some owners of our furry clients have tried it and say that it is not bad!
What products are your best sellers?
We are very surprised by this, but in fact, our most popular product is homemade dog food. We have a hypothesis that this was influenced by two factors – the haste of the modern world and the desire of dog owners to feed their pets the same healthy food as they would choose for themselves. People do not always have time to cook something healthy and balanced for their puppies from vegetables and real meat. It is nice to know that many people trust us to do this for their dogs.
What can we expect from The Great Canadian Dog Cakes in the future?
Expect us to evolve into The Great Canadian Cat & Dog Cakes. We’ve got a lot of requests to take care of the cats in this city, so we’re busy researching the technology for making healthy cat treats and cakes right now! We would also like to launch our own pet food line, but these plans are so far on the horizon that they are difficult to see through the fog.
Roar Cat Reads is a blog for nerdy, queer content. What is your favorite queer and/or nerdy book?
After the fall of the USSR, Western culture came to us slowly and adjusted for the cultural preferences of consumers. Natasha and I still laugh that our first feminist literature was written for us by Stephen King and Andrzej Sapkowski. Now it is difficult to call any of this feminist literature, but for the 90s in Russia, “Rosa Marena” and the female characters in “The Witcher” produced a strong impression.
We read a lot, but there are not many queer books in Russian translation. We arrived in Canada with almost no English. Now, a few years later, when we read (still slowly but with great pleasure), we were bombarded with a ton of interesting books with queer characters. The last thing we read was Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. One Russian blogger wrote that it resembles “Warhammer”, created by a goth nerd, and we agree with that 100%. And right now on the home shelf, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is waiting for us. We look at it with impatience, but in the first month after starting the company there is too much work, so the books will have to wait a little longer.
As for non-fiction, we highly recommend the collection of stories from real people Basically Queer, edited by Claire Robson, Kelsey Blair, and Jen Marchbank. This is a whole kaleidoscope of stories and reflections about the formation of the queer movement and the emotions of the community. If someone wants to learn sensitivity and respect for others, this book will be the best textbook.
Thank you so much for talking with me, Olga! Where can people find The Great Canadian Dog Cakes online?
We invite everyone to join our Instagram @thegreatcanadiandogcakes. Every day dogs eat something delicious, and we have some fun atypical photoshoots for dog cookies coming up. If you would like to celebrate something with your puppy, or just to please him with healthy homemade treats and meals, we invite you to our website thegreatcanadiandogcakes.com.
A Customer’s Review
“When I first got Mala she had a lot of stomach issues, which I was able to help with switching her to a raw and fresh food diet. I found that finding treats that were raw or not heavily processed was next to impossible. Mala and I do a lot of training through Agility, Scentworks, recall on hikes, and posing for Insta photos, so finding raw and fresh treats that also motivate her is really important to her diet, as well as making sure she isn’t left with stomach issues after being given treats.
The Great Canadian Dog Cakes has done a fantastic job at combining both fresh ingredients, and ones that Mala likes and is motivated by! She has now tried all their different flavours and loved all of them (although the Beefy Crunch and Cheese Milk Bones were her favourites). I love that I can get not only a big cake for special occasions like her Gotcha Day and Birthday, but also smaller heart cakes because I love to spoil and surprise her! All that at a reasonable price, supporting local, and not upsetting her stomach? I’ll take that over heavily processed treats from Big Box stores, any day! We will be trying their stews next!
The dog community has always been incredibly supportive and inclusive, so I am also thrilled that Olga and Natasha are able to support this community, and in turn, the dog community can support the LQBTQ+ community as well!”
-Kim (and Mala) from @furociouslypawsome