Photo courtesy of Samantha Higginbotham.
1012 Freek on a Leesh
FREEK on a LEESH owners and their pups: MichaelThomas, Ellie Mae, Teeta, Samantha Higginbothamand Zeke.
With her dry wit, clear devotion to dogs and a rare kind of customer service, FREEK on a LEESH co-owner Samantha Higginbotham is poised to redefine the pet merchandising market.
“FREEK on a LEESH is deliberately different from other pet specialty shops in the area,” she said. “We are not a prissy, polished boutique. We are rougher around the edges, more functional and practical, with a flare of hip and funky.”
Indeed. Owner shirts emblazoned with sayings such as, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a collar,” and “I like big mutts and I cannot lie” are the norm here.
“As a pet owner, I sought out places to shop, places that had fun, unique items that the big chain stores didn’t have,” Higginbotham said. “There aren’t many in the Birmingham area, so I knew people who are passionate about their furbabies like I am would welcome a fresh alternative.”
She said the community has responded well to the business, which she co-owns with Michael Thomas. Higginbotham has nearly 500 addresses on her newsletter list, more than 1,000 likes on Facebook and positive relationships with local rescue groups.
So what’s with the name?
Higginbotham said a female boxer named Lulu was the original “freak on a leash.” She was a stray – little more than skin and bones – who wandered into her neighborhood wearing a collar without ID.
Lulu was extremely wary of people and, unsurprisingly, had a bigger problem with leashes. Initially, her behavior on a leash would either include bucking and wiggling to free herself, or refusing to move as long as the leash was attached. Hence, her nickname.
“Over time, she began to trust us, and her transition was truly remarkable,” Higginbotham said. “With love, direction and patience, she went from a skinny, scared and untrusting soul to a healthy, loving lap dog.”
Rescue work is a priority for Higginbotham, whose store has supported local rescue groups with everything from fundraisers to professional photo shoots to micro-chipping events. She and Thomas also distinguish themselves from other pet-catering retailers by offering services that most are unwilling to do, like sedation-free grooming for cats.
“Most grooming shops won’t groom cats,” she said. “They refer the pet parent to a vet clinic where they are typically put under.”
Higginbotham’s sense of humor is a trait that serves her well in this business, citing it’s not the pets, but their humans, who can sometimes leave her scratching her head in awe. Things like:
• “I’m a nudist.”
• “My ex-wife ran over me with the car and left me on the side of the road.”
• “My dog passed away a few weeks ago and I had her cremated. She’s in the car, goes everywhere with me.”
Higginbotham said a couple months ago she received a phone call from a man asking if the store rented snakes. He said he needed one for a demonstration.
“Umm, no,” she replied.
Although she can’t help you with your reptile rental needs, Higginbotham’s store does provide both professional and self-serve grooming, a professional photography studio complete with props and backdrops, organic food and treats, travel and safety products and a wide variety of toys, collars, leashes, harnesses and clothing.
The store is located off Highway 31 the side of the Publix Shopping Center next to Nail Image.