It was all over the news this week. Yet another set of dog food recalls.
In 2009, we adopted Peanut Butter Brickle. The day after he arrived to our home, I was on a mission to make him the happiest dog ever. But Brickle’s constant battle with digestive issues had me perplexed. He also had ear infections, dry skin, and lack of appetite. But I took this as just being a normal dog. He wasn’t sick all of the time, and I took him to the vet, but I was still perplexed. What was I doing wrong?
Fast forward to 2012, and Brickle’s stomach issues were getting worse. Vet appointments were made more often for little things like skin infections, colds and lethargy. But then his increasing bouts of digestive issues were enough to make me panic because they were showing up more and more often. How sick was he? After ruling out major health concerns and illnesses, it became apparent that what I was feeding him was the culprit. Why hadn’t I thought of this? On the advice of many different vets and professionals, I was on a quest to find the perfect dog food. What would be the cure all to his stomach problems? What would be the cost?
I was a banking professional and not home for many hours during the day. At this time, we had also adopted a second dog named Digby Pancake, and his ear infections were also a battle. My husband and I took turns calling in sick to stay home with them when they had a flare up. And one night, as I poured another cup of dog food in their bowls, I had one of those moments. What was I doing? Obviously, this was not working. This dog food thing.
I have always been a creative person, thinking outside of the box. But dog food was something I hadn’t given much thought to. I mean, it was dog food. Didn’t my dogs have to have dog food to LIVE? And then I took it a step further. People were telling me that these little pellets had all of the nutrition that it took for my dog to function, to be healthy. Oh, so healthy. The bags promised me healthy skin, and coats and teeth. But this was not happening. And then I just kept thinking, because you know, I was on a roll. What was the supposed, required nutrition it would take to keep me a healthy human? Why wasn’t there like, a person food or something? How was I to know what I needed to survive? How was it possible that I could think for myself and eat real food? Uh, because this was nonsense. And even if there was a magic person food, would I even want to eat it every day? What in the world was I doing to my dogs? And what did dogs eat before dog food? Now that I was thinking, I couldn’t go back. I did a quick search online for soup. Soup for dogs. Because they weren’t feeling good, and when I wasn’t feeling good, I wanted soup. They were going to have soup for dinner.
And that was it. At this point, our Facebook page was growing, and I reached out to our fans. Would they want the recipe for this soup? How about it? It went over great! It was around this time that I lost my corporate job. For the third time. I was done, and I had an idea. I could do this for a living. I could change how people thought about dog food and the way that they were feeding their dogs. I started my own company called Your Dog’s Diner and I made it my mission to change the world..or at least get people to throw away their dog food by offering them mixes like Mutt Meatballs, Mutt Soup, Kibble Mixes and even Mutt Pancakes.
I spent thousands of dollars I didn’t have attending trade shows, appearing in subscription boxes, and pretty much went crazy. I worked the hardest I ever have. There were sleepless nights that turned into days and more days. But I kept going. Because I knew that if people knew about my new concept of cooking for their dogs, and feeding them real food, that they would change their dogs’ lives and help them live longer.
They say that when you start a new business, it takes years to take off. I refused to give up on my values, and even though price was an issue in using organic ingredients, I truly could not compromise on what I knew was right. As you can imagine, Brickle and Digby’s health had improved. And the more research I did on feeding our dogs, the more I came to realize that there was no magic formula. My mixes simply offered people a more convenient alternative to their busy lifestyle, but still allowed them to feed their dogs real food. And then, after yet another meeting with a big company interested in our line, another turn down, and after yet another trade show, speaking with representatives that didn’t even have dogs in their lives, I had another moment. This was business. These weren’t people interested in me or you. No matter how I was trying to spin it in my mind, it came down to a few things on why my mixes weren’t taking off the way I wanted them to.
First off, some people simply didn’t care what they were feeding their dogs. Their dogs were second or third priority. And dog food for these consumers was always going to be there and they were always going to buy it. Then, there were dog parents who truly could not afford my mixes. Dog food was cheaper. Enough said. And I understood that. But third, and most frustrating for me was the fact that no one was thinking for themselves! Why were they listening to dog food companies trying to sell them their product? Did they not realize that vets received compensation for selling specific brands? How in the world could I alter this industry? I was one person with one supportive husband and two rescue dogs. The sales weren’t enough to keep fighting. I had to change directions. And then. I had another idea.
If I worked at SHOWING people how they could feed their dogs real food by being an example, and give them the information that they needed in order to start, this was my best way to begin a change. So I made a decision. If I wanted to truly improve our dogs’ lives and change the industry, this was how to start. Not by selling it. But by living it. And I will continue to do this until there is a place for our products again. And I won’t stop until that time.
So many times, I am asked for a one fail proof dog food recipe. I don’t have it. Why? If I had that, it would again be telling you that you can’t think for yourself, that all dogs are the same. Depending on my dogs’ moods and health day by day, I use some raw ingredients, some cooked ingredients, and some supplements. That isn’t very specific though, is it? That, I believe is the beauty in a lightbulb moment. I had to use common sense, I found out. And after throwing away that dog food bag, they are thriving after 6 years. Not just living. Thriving.
BUT if you want to start on the real food path I have some suggestions because everyone needs somewhere to start. And since I was in the industry, here is my disclaimer, y’all. I am not a veterinarian. I am not a nutritionist. But Dr. Karen Becker really is my “go to”. I feel that she, as a holistic vet, has a different approach to how we feed our dogs. Do I follow every recipe and article she has? No, but I found her information to be a great reference and starting point for my own journey. And here is a recipe that I think will start you on your way.
So many of you have asked what my basic, go to recipe is for Brickle and Digby. I will give that to you as well. We are all busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook up a great dinner for your dog. We use this recipe for our boys and make a couple batches a week. This makes a whole pot of deliciousness. Check with your veterinarian for specific caloric needs and diet advice.
3 pounds ground turkey or other lean meat of your choice
2 cups kale
2 cups organic brown rice
1 chopped organic red pepper
1/2 cup chopped organic broccoli
3 ground whole eggshells for calcium
2 tablespoons organic coconut oil
5 cups water or unsalted broth
Mix all ingredients together and bring to low boil. Cook until water is absorbed and meat is fully cooked. Let cool completely. Never serve your dog hot food.
Will last for 3 days in the refrigerator or frozen for up to two months.
We also feed them a raw diet as well on alternate days, substituting the cooked meat for 4 whole, raw, organic chicken wings. Yes. With the bones. What supplements do we add? Milk thistle, turmeric and hemp oil. Then, once a week, we substitute the meat with sardines. And yep. Some days we forget what day it is and that works too.
I didn’t write this article to start a debate on why you think your dog food is the best, or the pros and cons of raw or cooked food. Truth is, we all have to make our own decisions. And if you are reading this, you care about your dog. And you will make the best decisions for your family. Also, I recognize that dog food is cheap, and not everyone is in a position to buy organic ingredients. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t care for your dog. Providing a home, love, and the basic necessities for our animals and family is hard. Maybe one day, if your economic situation improves, you will consider throwing away that dog food bag. And until then, even adding some fresh food to your dog food when you can has been proven to reduce canine cancer drastically.
Do I feel I lost my battle with changing the way people feed their dogs when I put our dog food business and manufacturing on hold? Yes, I was tired of the excuses from people about not having enough time to make their dogs’ food. I was tired of staying up for 48 hours straight to make food that I wasn’t even sure people would buy. Yes, I was tired of talking to pet food companies that only cared about their profits. But I don’t feel that I lost my battle. I just think that it is going to be a long one. And even though right now I am not fighting it with producing dog food, I fight it by being YOUR example. I fight it by keeping a positive attitude that one day YOU will be part of the change in the industry. We have to demand it. We have to think for ourselves. And we have to work at it. Work at it? Yep. You will have to do research, find recipes, go shopping. But if you truly want to be with your dog as long as possible, you will do it. We all make changes if they are important to us. Don’t wait until your dog gets sick again or when they get cancer. Don’t wait for the next recall. The time is now, the time is today.
And maybe one day, you will see Your Dog’s Diner on your store shelves, or our recipes in your bookstore. Yes, even the recipes for the mixes we sold are available for free on our website. Find ALL of our recipes at www.yourdogsdiner.com and our Daytime NBC appearances on our YouTube channel.
-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person and Owner of 2 Traveling Dogs