the smell of my desperation has become a stench

On Chuck, his health, and those who care so deeply about it

This post is brought to you in partnership with CANIDAE®.

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EDITED TO ADD: CANIDAE® would like to offer some coupons to you and your own pet: $5 off bags, $2 off cans, $1 off treats.

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Last week I had an appointment to have my eyebrows waxed—yes. You read that right. WAX. Simple plucking would not even make a dent in these things:

#tbt Senior photos, summer of 1992. You could use those eyebrows to upholster at least seven couches.

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

My aesthetician also happens to be a very good friend of mine whom I met at a dog park when I was pregnant with Leta. Her name is Heather as well, and her boxer Oakley and Chuck would play for hours while we chatted about life, relationships, and the latest episode of “The Sopranos.” On several occasions after Leta was born she’d offer to pick up Chuck and take him on playdates knowing that I was overwhelmed with new motherhood, and because of this Chuck developed a not-so-subtle crush on her. One time she pulled into the driveway, and when I opened the door I wasn’t quick enough. Chuck ran past my legs, out into the yard and then threw his body at her car.

It made a “thud” sound.

As Heather began prepping the wax, we started talking about Chuck’s health, and she asked how he’s holding up. I told her about the outrage certain people expressed when I traveled to California with my friends, people who left rather nasty comments on social media and in email disgusted that I would leave him. One reader said to me, “Not sure what to say to you at this point.”

I didn’t respond to that email because my energy was required elsewhere, but my answer would have been, “You don’t get to say anything.”

As important as Chuck is to so many people who have never met him, no one but Chuck and I get to have a say in his care. I realized that there are many camps around “what should happen to Chuck” and they are all very divided. I am getting bombarded with opinions about this. Some people cannot believe that I have not put him down already. No dog should have to wake up in a wet or soiled diaper, they say. That’s not a life a dog should be living.

Other’s say that they are happy that I’m giving him this care, but that I should not ever leave his side. While he’s showing very serious signs of slowing down and spends entire days in his dog bed, there are also days when he seems to be bouncing back, days when he is eager to go outside and soak in the sun, days when he lingers near the counter where the girls are eating lunch in case Marlo drops a goldfish cracker, days when his mood is clearly upbeat:

Leftover cinnamon roll dish. Sunday fun day.

A video posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

I’ve decided that I am going to listen to no one but him. He has always owned a part of my soul, and we’re communicating now more than ever. So I check in with him constantly. He and I know what’s up, and that’s all that matters. That is and has always been my commitment to him. And it is the same commitment I am offering to you, you who love him but have never met him. I am always going to do what’s best for that dog.

According to the vet, in fact, he’s healthy enough to live for years. When I mentioned this to Heather she said that her vet says the same thing about Oakley who is only a year younger than Chuck, and Oakley is demonstrating the same kind of behavior. I told her that in Chuck’s case I know for a fact that he could live on for years because of the food I feed him, CANIDAE®, and her mouth dropped open.

“Shut up,” she said. We are friendly enough that I took that the way that it was intended. “That is the only food I will feed my dogs.”

“YOU shut up,” I said in return.

“No, seriously,” she continued. “I thought I was the only person who knew about that stuff. Like, I ran out of it one time and couldn’t make it to the place where I buy it, so I had to buy this cheap stuff at the grocery store for a night. It grossed me out so bad.”

I am not making a word of this up or exaggerating for effect.

I told her that I had met with the company back in January, and that I wish she could hear how passionate they are when it comes to making the food. They clearly care about animals. They care about Chuck. They care about Oakley. I’m currently in a partnership with CANIDAE®, one, because I absolutely adore the company and their dedication to the people who work for them and the people they serve, and two, because it, too, is the only thing I will feed my dogs. That conversation got me thinking. Anyone who has a pet should hear about the current state of the food that’s being peddled as “healthy” and “organic” and “good for your animal” and why that is pretty much a bald-faced lie.

So I arranged a call with CANIDAE®’s co-owner and co-founder Scott Whipple who through the phone expressed the same fervor I witnessed earlier this year.

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Me: Let’s start with the ingredients inside a bag of pet food at the grocery store.

Scott: Let’s talk about ingredients! Yes! What is normally used in traditional pet food? Pet food is created by byproducts of other industries. For example: the potato chip industry. When they peel the potatoes to make the potato chips they’re left with tons of skins. What do you do with a million pounds of skins? You sell them off to the animal industry because they can put it in the food.

So dog food companies take these scraps, basically waste, put it all together and make pet food. The customer goes to the grocery store and buys a grocery store brand of pet food that contains those ingredients. That food is also per bag very appealing price wise. Byproducts are cheap. The consumer is used to spending that type of money.

Me: Right, they see a bag of dog food that costs $40 and are like, “What a rip off!”

Scott: Exactly! I have seen brands of dog food that sell at a price point lower than one single ingredient that we could buy. What is in that food? Figure out how much the ingredients you buy cost per pound. Times that number by a 24-pound bag? 30-pound bag? How are they selling that food for $1 per pound? What costs a dollar a pound? Go to the grocery store, walk around. NOTHING costs $1 per pound. Tomatoes are $2.50 a pound! Times that one single ingredient by 30 pounds and think about what’s in that pet food.

Potato chips, I always use this one. Look at what a potato chip bag costs. It’s potatoes, it’s oil, it’s salt. Take that potato chip bag and figure out how many ounces it is. Figure out the price per ounce. Multiply that by 30. Figure out how much it would cost to buy 30 pounds of potato chips. It would cost you $300 for a bag of potato chips! Potatoes, oil and salt!

How is pet food $30 per bag when the same amount of potato chips is $300? If you do even more math it costs you, what? $1 per day to feed your dog? What is your dog worth? I have a Chihuahua and a Yorkie, and I would gladly pay $5 per dog to feed them every day if it’s going to make them live a happy, healthy life.

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Me: How is CANIDAE® different from what you see on the shelf at the grocery store?

Scott: 19 years ago we said, let’s make a product using whole, pure ingredients. We believe in using only the most natural and raw natural ingredients in their purest form rather than scraps.

99% of pet food companies are owned by huge conglomerates who own many businesses in other channels. They’re already making potato chips and crackers and bread with huge amounts of leftover waste. And what do they do with it? Put in the pet food. That is not food in it’s purest form. It’s been processed. There’s no nutrition left in that ingredient.

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Me: So would you say that the idea to start CANIDAE® come from a love of animals?

Scott: Absolutely. When John and I started it we worked at a feed store. We sold all these brands, we sold other people’s products, we heard what they did and how they acted and it just wasn’t right. Pets… you know, these are people’s babies, these are people’s family members.

Each one of these huge entities that owns a pet food brand is driven by margin and profit, right? What’s the one way you can increase margin and profit? Ingredients. If they can save 5% here, 10% there buying cheaper, inferior ingredients, they can increase profit.

Corporations are held to one standard: creating margin and profit for the stockholders. The health of your pet is never brought up in the meetings with those stockholders.

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Me: And the health of my pet is important to me.

Scott: Of course it is! As a private, family-held company we don’t have to have those difficult meetings. We’re not driven by private equity money. We don’t have stockholders in a board room going, “How are you going to make us 20% more margin?” We aren’t faced with that. That’s not a concern for us.

We think totally opposite of that. We make the best product we can, and where the price point ends up it ends up. The quality of the food is what will make us successful, period. These massive companies aren’t even using the food that is on their labels. And consumers should be furious. I don’t know why this isn’t getting more attention than it is. They have the money for the marketing to hide it. It goes on every day.

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Me: You’re thinking about the health of my pet?

Scott: I’d like to say we care more. People’s trust has been put upon us, and I would not ever want to be part of harming or making even one animal sick. Our protocols are around food safety and quality.

We are one of the last surviving independently owned pet food companies, and we’re fighting every day to remain that way. That keeps us in control of the ingredients, supply chains, and more importantly, testing. In our plant we put in a lab that tests every single incoming ingredient before it ever gets unloaded into our facility. There are toxins that grow naturally in grains, and if no one is searching for these things, then they get into the pet food and can harm your animal. If you’re not testing for bacteria and it gets into the food it can actually kill your pet.

Me: I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a bit and come at you from someone who doesn’t understand why anyone would let an animal sleep in their house. Dogs and wolves? They scavenged. Why would a dog need healthy food?

Scott: The answer to that? Dogs are domesticated. They are not wild. A wild animal only eats every three-five days in the wild and lives about 10% the lifespan of a domesticated animal. We want our domesticated animals to have healthy nutrition on a daily basis so that they live for long periods of time. Comparing the way wolves eat and dogs eat is a twist of reality.

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Me: Do you ever hear from consumers? Like, I told you guys in our first meeting that the smell of my puppy completely changed once I switched to CANIDAE®.

Scott: Every day we hear the most amazing stories. We get so many emails a week thanking us for changing the lives of people’s pets. You can see the difference. Their coats glistened, their eyes got brighter, teeth got whiter. These are huge noticeable differences when you switch from an inferior product to a product like ours.

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Me: What would you say to a pet owner about what you are trying to do for them?

Scott: What’s important to us and should be to the consumer is knowing who is behind the brand. That’s probably more important than reading a bag.

There’s lots of great marketing messages, brilliant marketing firms who spin out these beautiful packages and tell such beautiful stories, right? But what’s really in the food? Who’s behind the brand?

We use better digestible ingredients, period. That’s where the proof is. It’s not in the marketing, the TV commercials, not in the fancy packaging. All of that is a façade.

We want to ensure that our consumer’s pets are healthy and safe. And that’s a huge responsibility. That is the number one most important thing to us. I mean, if we can’t do that then I don’t want to be in this business.

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EDITED TO ADD: CANIDAE® would like to offer some coupons to you and your own pet: $5 off bags, $2 off cans, $1 off treats.

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Thank you, CANIDAE, for making food that has nourished my dogs their entire lives and your commitment to every animal you feed. #HealthyPetHappyPet

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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