By Eileen Weber
Have you ever tasted a dog cookie? Until recently, I could honestly say no. That is no longer the case.
I had the privilege of meeting Paul and Lynn Gallant, owners of Paul’s Custom Pet Food in New Milford. As a parting gift, I received a package of pumpkin dog cookies. With an ingredient list of organic brown rice flour, organic pumpkin, organic eggs, dried goat’s milk, organic parsley, and sea salt, I gave one a try. Although it was a touch bland for my taste, I could see serving it with smoked salmon, chives, and some crème fraîche for a killer appetizer. Essentially, it’s people food made for dogs.
The Gallants also shared with me their story of why they started a whole food pet food service, fresh and custom made to order. Over five years ago, their Golden Retriever, Hunter, was diagnosed with cancer after his groomer found a lump under his jawbone. After consulting with the veterinarian, an aggressive prognosis was offered that included invasive surgery with radiation and chemotherapy. Hoping for an alternative, the Gallants found Dr. Hannah Wells in New Hampshire where they were living at the time.
Wells is a holistic veterinarian who prescribed the Gallants with cooking for their dog and supplementing with Chinese herbs. It did the trick. The tumor shrank and, after being given six months to live, he is alive and well today.
The Gallants realized that this kind of care could benefit more than just their own dog. More pet owners needed to know that feeding your furry family members should include clean food, not processed and filled with chemicals.
“We were those people, too, before our dog got sick five and a half years ago” Paul said of the brand name dog food they were buying then. “We never thought anything of it. The food looked good. It was what we were supposed to buy and we never really paid attention to the ingredients.”
The real problem with dog food is that 97% of it is manufactured by the same conglomerates. They use the cheapest ingredients because it’s all about the bottom line. It’s not about the pet’s health, says Dr. Judy Morgan a holistic veterinarian in New Jersey that Paul’s Custom Pet Food works with as an on-call consultant.
“There is no one-size-fits-all diet,” said Dr. Morgan. “Every pet is different with unique needs.”
She said any food that lists “meat by-product” might have road kill in it as well as traces of chemicals like phenobarbital—the same material injected into pets when they are euthanized. Pets will metabolize this through their livers. Then when it is their time to go, it takes more and more phenobarbital to euthanize them because their systems are immune to it. It is not unlike the overuse of antibiotics with both pets and humans. Too much in your system and the same level of medication doesn’t work anymore.
With that, they started on their quest to create a menu dogs and cats alike would eat and enjoy. They source their produce from local, organic farms including Fort Hill Farm, Sullivan Farm, and Sport Hill Farm and use pastured meats from Fleisher’s Craft Butchery in Westport and Ox Hollow Farm.
But all of those ingredients are expensive. And, Paul and Lynn were very honest about the fact that it will translate to the customer. Paul shrugged and said, “The big nut in this whole food world is how do we make healthy food affordable for everyone?”
But, they were quick to point out that the customers who come to them are willing to pay for top quality food, for themselves and their pets.
That passion comes through loud and clear. He related a time when he had a thirty-minute conversation with a man who called about his dying dog. Paul was his last-ditch effort to save his furry sidekick. He spoke with him at length and expressed his deep sympathy. The man thanked him for the conversation and the time they had spent. He never did buy any food. Paul didn’t seem to mind.
Paul agreed and said that his vision for the future of the company was not to get so big that the customer lost that personal touch. They not only provide clean food made with many organic ingredients sourced locally; they deliver. Christine Knuth, a Fairfield customer, uses her own glass containers for the food she gives Darla, her six-year-old Staffordshire terrier. Paul fills them and drops them off in a reusable, insulated Whole Foods Market bag.
“She has had some relatively minor health issues, but all things considered, is overall healthy,” she said. “And I want to keep her that way!”
Knuth makes an important point that Lynn wants every pet owner to know: waiting until your dog has a problem is not the right time to start a wellness regimen. Starting pets young on a healthy diet saves money in the long run. You won’t have to spend oodles of cash on vet bills and high-priced medicine if your dog never gets sick in the first place. And, they’ll have a greater chance of staying healthy with good nutrition. As Lynn puts it, Paul’s Custom Pet Food isn’t just a food choice, “We’re selling a lifestyle.”
Theresa Bartovic feels the same way about her three-year-old Italian Spinone, Enzo. But, Enzo got sick. With severe gastroenteritis, he lost twelve pounds in a week. When Bartovic met up with Paul at the Westport Farmer’s Market, she told him about Enzo’s troubles and he suggested trying some of the food and not just the cookies she had been buying from him.
“It’s worth the money. Enzo loves it and we use it all the time,” said Bartovic. “You wouldn’t think a dog would love kale, but he does!”
Knuth couldn’t agree more with Bartovic. “Darla loved Paul’s food from meal one–licked the bowl clean!” she said. “And after a few months, her skin was clear, her energy has been great, and her weight is ideal. A number of people have commented on how great she looks…constantly mistake her for being younger than she is.”
Like the fountain of youth! Who wouldn’t want that? Beside the Pumpkin Dog Cookies, their regular line—named for some of the pets they have cared for—includes Casey’s Chicken and Brown Rice, Hunter’s Beef and Greens, and Spud’s Beef and Veggies. Then again, you can always create your own menu.
As Lynn said, “As long as pets and people are healthy, that’s all we want!” You can order online at paulscustompetfood.com. They can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, call them directly at 603-706-0739.
Paul’s Custom Pet Food will be an exhibitor at the 2015 Sustainable Food and Farm Expo on May 31 at Audubon Greenwich. Click here for complete details. They are a regular vendor at the Westport Farmers Market, which reopens on May 21.