photo by Michael Miller

PORTLAND Even in the midst of a deep economic recession, dog owners still want to pamper their pooches

That seemed to be the message Monday when Portland-based, which runs an online shopping and social networking site, announced that it had closed a $4 million round of financing. The company – whose co-founders include actress Glenn Close and her husband, David Shaw, who started Westbrook-headquartered Idexx Laboratories – expects the funding to help the company take a bigger bite out of the growing pet-supply market.

"People who buy from us are passionate about their dogs," said Gretchen Kruysman, the company's president.

R.J. Hottovy, a Morningstar Inc. analyst, agreed. American consumers think of their pets as members of the family, he said, and these "parents" will still spend on their animals during economically challenging times.

The new funding, led by Borealis Capital Partners and Harbor Light Capital Partners, both based in New Hampshire, represents the first outside financing for the privately held

Launched in October 2007, the site aims to be the online destination for dog lovers by bringing together high-end dog products, informational resources and opportunities for owners to interact. Shaw, the company chairman, said the funding will be used to expand those offerings.

Shaw also said he's hopeful that can become a $100 million business after about five years. Company officials described their first year's financial performance as strong, but did not provide specific revenue figures.

The venture capital investment in is the largest in a Maine-based company in some time, said Joseph Kumiszcza, executive director of TechMaine, the statewide trade association for technology industries. He said there is "a bit of a hold" in the marketplace now.

"Four million is a good amount for where they're moving to right now," Kumiszcza said.

Even with the recession, the pet products market remains strong. Last year, consumers spent an estimated $43.4 billion on their pets, up 5 percent from the year before and up 88 percent from 1998, according to American Pet Products Association Inc.

"It really has been surprising how well it's held up in this environment," Hottovy said.

Pet food accounts for a large portion of pet-related expenses – nearly 39 percent, according to the products association – but spending on pet accessories has held up better than other areas of consumption, such as human apparel, Hottovy said.

Close, an Emmy-winning actress, is enthusiastic about how the funding will help's philanthropic efforts. The business donates a portion of its sales to dog-related charities, some of which are highlighted by celebrities and other dog lovers whom Close interviews for her "Lively Licks" blog.

Close's subjects have included Lauren Bacall, who recommended Animal Care & Control of New York City, and Bill Campbell, an Iraqi war veteran with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder who received a service dog through a program called Dog Tags. "I get all excited about what my tiny contribution can be," Close, a big believer in dogs' ability to add to quality of life, said during an interview at the company's offices.

In the future, visitors to the site should expect a more seamless experience, with better connections between content and products, as well as more information from experts and more blogs, Kruysman said.

The company also will begin to develop its own products and expand its offerings to include more items that are environmentally friendly and fit into upscale homes, she said.

The company now has 20 full-time employees in Maine and expects to add five more this quarter, said Ben Shaw, one of the co-founders and David Shaw's son. New hires are expected in Web development, programming and creative areas such as writing and design.

The new financing also allows for the expansion of the management team. The company announced Monday that Claude P. Sheer will serve as chief executive officer. Sheer has been an executive at Ziff Davis Media, which is focused on technology, and Beliefnet, a Web site about spirituality.

"This could be a business many, many times this size," David Shaw said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: