After 27 years of teaching elementary school, Marla Peavler decided it was time for a change. That decision, to start a business that tapped into her passion for animals, happened just before a global pandemic changed everything for educators, and small businesses, and everyone really.


As a result, Pura Vida Pets got off to a bit of a slow start. “When I started out, most of the festivals and events were closed or very limited. There was no ‘normal’ at that time.” Peavler took that time to really dig into the legwork of starting a business and since she wanted to make homemade dog and cat treats, she had to learn about getting her products lab-tested and certified through the Department of Agriculture. Now, Pura Vida Pets is up and running and so is Peavler. One glance at the Facebook page will show that she is zipping all over Central Illinois to introduce people to her all natural pet treats and other accessories. 

Why pet treats? “The whole time I was teaching I would do dog sitting and dog walking on the side (a service that is still offered through her website) and I have two pets of my own, and I’ve always gravitated towards animals.”

Two brown sacks of treats with clear windows are sitting on a gray wooden table. A taller bag has a sticker that says Tunariffic, and there are brown morsels visible. A shorter bag has a sticker that says Sampler, and there are small round cookie-like treats visible. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Pura Vida comes from a Costa Rican phrase meaning “pure life”, and her goal is to use all natural ingredients that are safe and healthy for pets. She’s done her research to make sure that every ingredient is safe for the dogs and cats that will be consuming them. They do not have any salt, sugars are sparing, and all of the ingredients can be found in your kitchen. She has treats for all tastes, with flavors like bacon, peanut butter, pumpkin, and apple and oat for dogs and chicken, mackerel, and tuna for cats. She will make pupcakes and larger party-sized cakes for your doggos, and has partnered with Industrial Donut to turn her pupcakes into doggie donuts to sell at the donut shop. 

Peavler is constantly tweaking, and utilizing customer feedback to inform her range of products. Her treats now come in two different sizes, a larger size and also minis for smaller dogs or for training incentives. She has soft and crunchy treats. If you are looking to indulge your dog with an every once in a while treat, the bacon balls are the way to go. The healthiest options are the A…O biscuits, which are made with apple and oats. “It’s the granola bar of all the treats.”

Rope like tug toys are lined up on a table. They are made with red, green, black and white fabrics braided together. Photo from Pura Vida Pets Facebook page.Photo from Pura Vida Pets Facebook page.

You can also find handmade dog and cat toys in her online store. Peavler makes tug toys utilizing recycled and repurposed fabric. She will often find clothing at Salt and Light that she can cut up and use to create the toys. For the felines, she makes Wonder Wands, with tidbits that she finds at The Idea Store. If you want to give your pet a little snazzy flair, Peavler makes dog and cat “cocktail collars”. 

Of course Peavler’s pets have their favorites. Her cat, an orange tabby named Goldie Go-go Boots Hawn, is a fan of the Wonder Wands. She refers to Nala, the black German Shepherd, as a treat snob, who now turns up her nose at any other treats. Nala loves some balance in her treat life, preferring the bacon balls and A...Os. 

It seemed like an important journalistic endeavor to have my own creatures try some Pura Vida products, so I ordered a sampler bag of mini treats for my Chihuahua mix Stitch, and Tunariffic treats for my Snowshoe cat Doja. Both are very interested in all things food, so I expected a wholehearted willingness to try these new offerings.

A small, brownish-colored dog is sitting on his hind quarters, with his face pointed up. He has a turquoise blue collar. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Stitch knew that I was breaking out some treats, so he immediately hit his "look I'm sitting like a good boy" pose. I offered up a bacon ball first, and as he often does with new foods he took it to a different room to examine it and lick it a few times. He quickly realized this was something good, and ate it right up. Now that he trusted what I was giving him, he devoured the bite-sized apple and oat treat.

A cat with black facial markings and white with grayish undertone fur and white paws is crouched low on the floor, hovering over a treat. Her pink tongue is sticking out. Photo by Julie McClure.Photo by Julie McClure.

Doja was definitely curious about the tuna treat, but played around with it a bit in the beginning. Because Stitch has no manners when it comes to food, he swooped it and snatched it away from her at the first opportunity. After sending him outside, she was able to enjoy her treat on her own time. 

Because the treats are made without preservatives, they have a shorter shelf life then regular store bought treats. Peavler recommends using them within two weeks. 

Peavler is a one woman show. She is the owner, CEO, supply shopper, market researcher, delivery person, and baker. Eventually, she'd like to have her own storefront. 

For now, you can find Pura Vida Pets at The Hive in Mahomet, Schitt's and Giggles in Rantoul, and Pekara Bakery and Bistro and Harvest Market in Champaign. You can also order from her full range of products online, and she will deliver to C-U and Savoy for free. In February she'll be setting up at the Love Local Maker's Market at Destihl in Normal on the 13th, and will be at the Cultivate Women's Retreat the 18th-20th. 

Top photo from Pura Vida Pets Facebook page.