The Dog Mafia is trying to gain a foothold in Israel. But there’s no cause for alarm: it’s not an organized crime group but a company selling sugar-free, preservative-free dog biscuits loaded with vitamins and ingredients such as natural peanut butter and fresh pumpkin. In Hebrew, ma’afia means “bakery.”

“It’s a fun and functional food; a boutique product,” says Dog Mafia founder Richard Saffern, who moved to Israel 14 years ago from Teaneck, New Jersey.

“I want to build a community around people who consider a dog the closest thing to a member of the family, and just as they’re eating healthier they want the same for their dogs. It’s like giving your child a carrot instead of a chocolate bar.”

Dog Mafia treats contain fresh, all-natural ingredients. Photo: courtesy

Saffern, an accountant, has 20 years of sales, operations and product development experience in large bakery businesses in the United States.

Dog Mafia, which combines his love for dogs and for baking, was incubated in TheNest, a business accelerator for recent immigrants to Israel operated by Gvahim, a subsidiary nonprofit association of the Rashi Foundation.

At TheNest’s pitch event last July, Dog Mafia won the people’s choice award for best pitch and best product.

Richard Saffern feeding Dog Mafia treats to his bichon frise, Phoebe. Photo by Dror Sithakol/Gvahim

For now, Saffern is baking the treats at home in Modi’in and offering them in Israel through his ecommerce site. He hopes to develop additional products and sell them in pet stores and natural food stores after securing a license from the Agriculture Ministry.

Another American émigré, Beth Arnstein, has been licensed by the Agriculture Ministry for the past two years to market her healthful dog treats under the brand DogBarie (barie means “healthy” in Hebrew).

Arnstein, who lives in Rishon LeZion, launched DogBarie in December 2014. She had been making her own natural treats anyway for her pet, because such products were unheard of in Israel. They can be ordered via website, iOS and Android app or Facebook.

All nine DogBarie varieties (Peanut-Butter Bones are the most popular) feature ingredients such as flax seeds, berries and whole-wheat flour. Seven treats are vegan, two are also gluten free and two are vegetarian – neatly tapping into Israel’s love for dogs and plant-based cuisine.

On August 26, Arnstein will be giving out samples of her new gluten-free sweet-potato treat at Tel Aviv’s second annual Dog Day.