Astoria Characters: The Shopkeeper With Pedigree

Cheeto and Onyx, the current rescue residents at Whiskers Holistic Petcare, are ravenous.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Randy’s the owner of Whiskers Holistic Petcare.

The meowing year-old felines – as their names indicate, one’s orange, one’s black and white – drop their elusive demeanor and run up to Randy Klein when she opens the cans of food.

They gobble their breakfast like street dogs then settle in for a well-deserved morning’s nap in the shop’s screened-in Rescue Ranch at the front window.

Like all the cats who have stayed at Whiskers, they are up for adoption.

Whiskers, which is on Ditmars Boulevard by Astoria Park, and Randy have been neighborhood fixtures since 2008.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Whiskers is at 19-25 Ditmars Blvd.

The shop’s a sister store to the East Village flagship, a pioneer in the holistic pet movement that Randy and her husband, Phil, established in 1988.

Randy, who shares a home in Bayside with Phil and 12-year-old sister cats named Rocky and Viola-Lou, grew up in Plainview with dogs.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Randy: ‘I’m a workaholic.’

“My parents were terrier people,” she says. “We had a Wire Fox Terrier named Missy and later an Airedale and Welsh Terrier at the same time.”

It’s not surprising with that pedigree that Randy, who has long silver-gray hair and a black vest that is decorated with buttons with slogans like “Meow Meow” and “I’m Only There for the Cats” over her Whiskers T-shirt, didn’t wait long to get her own dog.

Tiffany-Anne, a Malamute/Collie mix, was her study buddy at SUNY New Paltz.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Cheeto chowing down.

Randy points to the wall behind the Whiskers counter, a collage of customers’ cute dog and cat snapshots that runs all the way to the ceiling.

You can’t miss the adorable Tiffany-Anne; she’s showcased in a wooden frame big enough to hang solo over the living room sofa.

It was Tiffany-Anne who started Randy on the holistic path.

After working as a secretary for several years after college – “I used to type 150 words a minute,” she says – Randy used her skills at a word-processing company she and Phil started.

One of their clients used a holistic veterinarian, and when Tiffany-Anne, who lived to be 13, did not respond to traditional medical treatments in her later years, Randy explored the option.

“At that time, holistic vets were considered quacks,” Randy says, shaking her head.

Exactly one month after Tiffany-Anne left the world, Randy brought home Tedi-Anne, “a gorgeous mutt” who became her steady companion for the next 16 years.

Tedi-Anne’s poster-size photo is next to Tiffany-Anne’s.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Randy greeting a regular with a treat.

Xena, another mixed breed, took Tedi-Anne’s place for 18 years.

Randy scans the photos; there’s no picture of Xena.

She also notices, as if for the first time, that there’s not a single image of Phil, to whom she’s been married for 40 years.

Cats were a later addition to Randy’s life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Cheeto in the Rescue Ranch.

Her first was one she found wandering in her neighbor’s yard.

That calico was soon joined by another who, like the shop, was named Whiskers.

Whiskers appeared around the time Randy and Phil’s word-processing business was winding down.

In 1988, they bought a 300-square-foot pet store in Manhattan’s East Village that adhered to a holistic model and ran both companies for eight years.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Whiskers was a pioneer in the holistic pet industry.

Through the years, they expanded the shop – it now covers 1,500 square feet – then added the Astoria location.

Almost immediately, they began taking in rescue cats and offering them for adoption.

Whiskers Holistic Petcare, which now has 16 employees, ushered in a new breed in the industry.

“We are an educational center that happens to sell product,” Randy says. “We’re different because of what we don’t carry. To be on our shelves, the vendor or the manufacturer has to answer a series of questions — by me personally.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Randy works at the shops six days a week.

She notes that Whiskers produced one of the industry’s first natural-product catalogs, held the first natural pet symposium in New York City in 1997 (it attracted 1,000 attendees) and created the first online website devoted to the topic.

Although Phil, who is 80, retired during the pandemic because he is in a high-risk group, Randy, who is 65, has no intention of throwing in the bone any time soon.

“I’m a workaholic,” she says. “I work six days a week. We don’t have children – the animals are our kids.”

When asked how many hours she puts in, Randy gets flustered.

It has never occurred to her to count them.

Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling