By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 11, 2007 at 5:41 AM

Milwaukee animal lovers have long held a soft spot in their hearts for the Wisconsin Humane Society. With a dedicated group of dozens of volunteers, the organization has always relied on donations to keep itself afloat, finding homes for stray and abandoned animals.  But seven years ago, the Humane Society began a new chapter in its fundraising effort: it opened Animal Antics, a full-service retail store, where 100 percent of the proceeds go back to the shelter.

The store, 4500 W. Wisconsin Ave., is just 250 square feet -- but what stands out most is its prices -- Animal Antics is competitive with the big-box pet supply stores, and in some cases, even cheaper. They can get almost anything the big stores offer, and every purchase directly helps a stray animal.

The Humane Society knows that it has to keep prices down to get customers in its doors, even when it's hard for a small shop to compete with Petco or Pet Supplies Plus.

"We just do, we try to be cognizant of (prices) so that people can utilize the store," says Michelle Tegen, retail supervisor for both the Ozaukee and Wisconsin Humane Society Animal Antics. "We don't obviously do the volume of the big-box stores, but we try to work out some discounts with our suppliers."

To that end, Animal Antics is a complete pet supply store, carrying products for dogs to cats to gerbils to wildlife to humans. They also focus on positive-based products, steering clear of choke collars or punishment products.

Says Tegen, "It fits into our whole scheme of education. I work with the best trainers and educators in the nation regarding high-quality, positive products, so that when people adopt, that transition is flawless."

Tegen says that the store is now an integral part of the adoption process. "Our counselors and clients love it because (before we opened Animal Antics) they would try to describe products, and now they walk in and say, 'This is what you need.'"

It's really made adopting an animal a smooth process, she says, and of course, animals are welcome in the store. "We do have a good return business, but majority of clientele is new adopters."

And though Animal Antics isn't the first of its kind in the United States -- cities like San Diego and New York did it first -- the Wisconsin Humane Society is putting together a national workshop in October for any shelter that's interested in emulating Milwaukee's success.

Tegen only wishes the store was bigger, but the shelter is considering expansion.

"It's a win-win for everyone involved," says Tegen. "Clients are going to get the best supplies on the market. It's almost like making a donation, but you're getting a good price, too."

Animal Antics has also stayed on the forefront of technology, utilizing eCommerce for the last year and a half.  Customers can shop and buy online, then pick up their orders at the store.  They can also place special orders, says Tegen.

And with 30 volunteers (though Tegen is always looking for more), the group has been busy lately, answering questions about pet food recalls.  For the record, Animal Antics didn't carry any of the tainted food, she says.

The store is open the same hours as the shelter: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m -9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.