I got an email, over the transom, from someone in Ireland by the name of Conor Brady.
I think me and you are very similar. Read your latest blog on vet collusion. This is a big penchant of mine as you will see from my blog and it’s nice to meet someone as mad (if not madder) than me about the whole disgusting situation! Sometimes I feel like a bit of a raving lunatic but as our followers grow and most of us pop up, you know we’re on the right track.
I am not sure how we became a "we" quite so fast, or when he or I developed "followers."
But what piqued my interest is that his URL was a bit too similar to one I have owned for many years: dogsfirst.com.
I mentioned that I owned the URL (it maps to the terrierman.com web site). Clearly he would know this if he had done even the most cursory trademark or brand search?
I got no answer on that other than "It's a great name! I've shared your stuff a few times from my FB page."
Right. Pigeon starts to slide into pigeon hole.
The Irish fellow goes on:
A couple of people were cautious, wondering why, with your loathing of the corrupt veterinary industry, you hadn't tackled the raw / dry controversy, it being one of the biggest health affecting parts of the whole thing? A couple more wondered what your connection to Purina was? I said I'd ask, it'd be disingenuous of me not to. I'm clearly a pro-fresh food guy. Thanks man.
Thanks man? My, we are chummy now! People are asking about me? In Ireland? And why have I not tackled the "raw/dry controversy"? And what was my connection to Purina?
Right. Pigeon now firmly in hole.
You see, I have written quite a bit about the cocked up brands put out by failed movie stars, soda pop and candy salesmen, fantasists, and phony lick-and-stick dog food folks. If you have been to this blog and do not know what I have said about dog food, you are not working too hard. There is a search function, after all. None-the-less I answered the question straight noting (for perhaps the 100th time) that people are free to feed what they want:
No connection to Purina at all. No connection to any food, vet, or other company. My day job is tackling frauds.... A semi-public person in the fraud fighting arena has to run clean, and I do.
I’m fine with whatever folks want to feed. For 99 percent of all couch potato dogs, it hardly matters. What matters is that about half of all dogs get fed LESS. Obesity is the #1 food health issue for dogs and people. Most working dog folks are feeding dry kibble, and it’s mostly Purina or Pedigree or something cranked out by Diamond. It’s all fine, though Purina and Pedigree have long term suppliers, feed trials, and a name to protect, and Diamond does not.
Raw diets are fine provided the meat is fresh and stored well, but it often it is not. There’s a reason humans don’t eat raw meat! That said, I am a fan of raw frozen chicken wings a few times a week as a tooth cleaner and chew activity.
Skin issues are rarely food and even more rarely grain. Most skin issues are due to fleas and dirt (wash your dog every week with pyrethrin shampoo), and the #1 food allergy is actually beef.
The Irish fellow comes back and says the key to feeding dogs is not less calories but keeping them away from GRAINS.
Right. One of those. Grains in dog food is evil because... reasons.
Never mind 100 years of fox hounds, gun dogs, sled dogs, coon hounds, running dogs, working terriers, and family pets doing very well on kibble, thank you. Make way for the man with a theory!
I wished him well, said the science was done on this, and repeated that I was happy with whatever folks wanted to feed their dogs. That said:
It’s like anything with food; fat people with diet theories, folks who smoke and drink whiskey who worry about GMO, folks who believe aromatherapy is a medicine but vaccines are a poison, etc. The good news is that science does not care either way. And mostly the dogs don’t either. I’ve been running dogs at proper weight for 50 years, and so have most of the working dog folks feeding kibble for 100 years. The pet folks are amusing to us. Cheapest entertainment there is! All good. Not much harm done either way. The working dog folks just go ahead and feed the dogs as always, vaccinate on their own, sew and glue as needed, worm without testing, cross out when it looks like it will help, and smile when everyone wonders how we end up having the hard-bodied working dogs that do the jobs talked about in the all-breed books.
Then, on a lark, I googled this fellow's name.
Guess what? He has a dog food company! Or had one. More on that in a minute. I emailed back:
Ah. I see you are in the subscription mail order dog dog food business. Good for you! I’m not. Not in any business. But I’m a little unclear as to your background. You list yourself as a Dr.?? A doctor of what? From where? What year? Accredited? By whom? Is Holistic Hound your company? Lots of gibberish on that web site. To tell you the truth it screams 'scam'. Not sure if that was the intent, but as soon as you start using the term 'holistic'.... there it is. Applied Zoopharmacognosy? No such thing. A term invented by a quack.
No quick answer to the Dr. question. It was a simple question, but it was not answered simply.
On LinkedIn, Mr. Brady seems to list himself as a medical doctor.
It turns out he's not a medical doctor or a veterinarian. Perhaps "Dr. Conor Brady - MD" is an accident of being in Ireland where the abbreviation "MD" can also mean "managing director"? Still, it's an odd title since Mr. Brady is actually the founder and sole owner of the company/web site. Managing Director suggest someone else put him in charge.
So what's the story? It seems Mr. Brady got a PhD in Animal Behavior Science from University College Dublin. Excellent, but most folks with such degrees do not slap "Dr." in front of their name, at least not in this country. Mr. Brady's thesis was about what all mammals eat, which sounds a little broad. Perhaps his work is 2,000 pages long and involves tons of original research? I would like to read the thesis, but I cannot find it on line.
After getting out of college and working for a few years for Guide Dogs (he would not say what particular outfit he worked for, or what he did for them) Mr. Brady decided that all or most of the Guide Dogs he was working with were in bad health because of their food.
He later realised the cause of their lacklustre coats, obesity and other conditions was due to the highly processed food they were eating.
After experimenting creating healthy cereal-free, meat-based meals for his dogs, he realised that there was a massive market in artisan foods aimed at pet owners who love their dogs and cats....
In or around the same time Dr Brady was suffering constantly from blocked sinuses which left him bunged up all the time.
A friend talked him into going for a food allergy test and to his surprise he was diagnosed as being intolerant of gluten; which meant that beer and cakes and bread was off the menu for good.
"This got me thinking; if I couldn't digest gluten and it was causing me a whole host of problems, how are dogs that are living on it doing? In short, not so well at all! I later did some tests, and got some extremely interesting results."
Mr. Brady discovered dogs did not do well on grains after he discovered that he did not do well on grains himself?
OK. Not sure what one has to do with the other, but let's plow ahead, shall we?
I asked Mr. Brady if he had been formally diagnosed with Celiac Disease. He ignored the question, no doubt because Celiac Disease is actually a gene-based autoimmune disorder. In short, the food's not the problem -- the breeding is. That's true for humans, as well as dogs. The reason West Highland White Terriers have so many skin issues is inbreeding and genetics, not food.
Some of you folks with more than a decade or two in the world of dogs might also note a temporal coincidence. It seems Mr. Brady's dog food epiphany was timed to outside events. Almost no one had ever heard of gluten until the 2007 dog food poisonings and recalls which were initially blamed on "gluten" but which, in fact, were due to a Chinese-origin plasticizer added to boost protein content.
Was it a complete accident that Mr. Brady woke up one day deciding that the guide dogs were in rotten shape, and he had a wheat allergy, and that gluten in dog food was in the news, and that selling gluten-free dog food was going to be his (pun intended) cash cow?
One thing is for certain: Back in 2007 or 2008, Mr. Brady could not get Guide Dogs to switch away from kibble. According to Mr. Brady it was not due to bad science and weak persuasion on his part; it was due to cash, conspiracy, and chicanery on the part of whatever Guide Dog outfit he was working for (he will not say which one it was):
"They were bound to the cash donations of large dry food companies. So I gave them an ultimatum, me or the dry food. They chose the dry food. I ran away in a flood of tears and became a research hermit for three years," explains Dr Brady.
However, his years in the wilderness did not go to waste, he emerged with one of the first science reference manuals on fresh canine nutrition for vets, and began conducting seminars for canine professionals before returning home to Ireland.
"I noticed there wasn't a decent fresh dog food product available, so I started trading in 2011 making natural ready-made meals of fresh chicken, duck and salmon with steam- ed veg and herbs.
"Despite the downturn, business took off and we are now booming."
Booming? Perhaps not.
Seeking capital to expand from perhaps a few thousand units a month, Mr. Brady went on the Irish television version of "Shark Tank" to seek capital investors. The video, below, tells part of the tale:
Watch the whole thing.
It's an amusing and illuminating video on several fronts if you pay attention. As I noted to Mr. Brady:
The video of you pitching your dog food on “Dragon's Den” shows an 11-month old Great Dane. That’s a breed that is typically dead at age 6 due to rotten genetics. I assume that’s not your dog, but a loaner or a customer’s?
Normally dogs in dog food commercials are not fed for 24- or 36-hours before the shoot. Wet food, high in fat, is typically hoovered up by the dog. You and I were both amazed when the bowl went down and not a bite was taken up. Sorry about that. Truly, I doubt it reflects on the food. That said, I wonder if it reflects inexperience with dogs? It’s not hard to train or get a dog to eat wet food, even if bottle rockets are getting fired off!
Imagine trying to sell dog food that your hand-picked dog won't touch. Ouch!
And if you are picking a dog to promote canine health, why a Great Dane?
Also notice the dance on price. The potential investors want to know what it's going to cost the average dog owner to feed their dog on this product? He says a Euro a day, but that price triples pretty quickly when a specific (and very common) breed is mentioned.
The investors should have smelled trouble by now -- it had crossed their faces at least twice already. But, as the video makes clear, one of the investors was in a lot of pressure to invest in something after turning down everything on every other show. He ended up taking the plunge; perhaps because he was told by the TV show producers that he must. More on that in a second.
After seeing this video, I went on to ask Mr. Brady more questions, most of which were never answered:
Why did you name your site “dogsfirst?” Surely a for-profit company is profit first? That’s why I registered the dogsfirst.org URL — because dogs deserve more than profiteers and registries based on failed eugenics theories. Failed genetics is what kills and cripples dogs. Obesity is what kills and cripples dogs. Any part of those two statements you disagree with?
In your “Dragons Den” pitch you say your food is made of “human grade” meat. Is that a legally defined term or just a marketing term? You say you also add organs and herbal supplements. So your food is NOT made from scraps of meat left over from butchering for the human food trade? That’s what most dog food meat is made of; it’s not ground up steak about to be served in a restaurant, but cow neck, udder bags, chicken and pig offal, fat, and meat mechanically separated from bone.
And what were the green peas to be seen on top of the bowl? Peas are typically added to dog food as a low cost filler to boost protein. Nothing wrong with it, but then there’s nothing wrong with corn either. But the peas were not mentioned.
And you also sell “salmon and vegetable” dog food? Starting to sound like every other dog food company now.
I assume you are familiar with two things: the science and the history. The science is here from Science magazine. I assume you know this?
“Dogs had four to 30 copies of the gene for amylase, a protein that starts the breakdown of starch in the intestine. Wolves have only two copies, one on each chromosome. As a result, that gene was 28-fold more active in dogs, the researchers found. More copies means more protein, and test-tube studies indicate that dogs should be fivefold better than wolves at digesting starch, the chief nutrient in agricultural grains such as wheat and rice. The number of copies of this gene also varies in people: Those eating high carbohydrate diets—such as the Japanese and European Americans—have more copies than people with starch-poor diets, such as the Mbuti in Africa. "We have adapted in a very similar way to the dramatic changes that happened when agriculture was developed," Axelsson says.
“Dogs and wolves have the same number of copies of another gene, MGAM, which codes for maltase, another enzyme important in starch digestion. But there are four key differences between the sequence in dogs and wolves. One difference causes dogs to produce longer versions of maltase. That longer protein is also seen in herbivores, such as cows and rabbits, and omnivores, such as mouse lemurs and rats, but not in other mammals, suggesting length is important to plant-eaters. These differences make the dog maltase more efficient, the researchers report.”
In short, dogs are dogs and not wolves. Dogs and wolves communicate differently, mate differently, mark differently, and think differently. They are also different at the level of gut and gene, and provably so. This research has not been closely hidden.
And, of course, wolves (if you insist) eat plenty of plant material as do lions, leopards, bears, and wild dogs the world over. Let me know if you want the links, but I assume you know them?
You know what zoos feed their wolves? Bagged kibble dog food. True stuff.
Genetics and science through a microscope is interesting, but experience trumps anything short of a double blind study.
And, as I am sure you know, there have been no long-term, peer-reviewed, double-blind studies which show that ANY dog food is better than another. And this is a multi-billion dollar industry! Makes you wonder...
The good news is that we have experience, and that has shown us that what dogs eat matters very little, while how much they eat matters a great deal. A billion years of working dog lives have been raised on kibble. Fox hounds, bird dogs, and running dogs raised on whatever was around and easy, and that’s mostly kibble. Imagine having 50 fox hounds and spending 100 Euro a month feeding each one! Not happening.
That said, I am all for people feeding their dogs whatever they want. Huge profits in the dog food business, which is why everyone is trying to break in with a “special” recipe. But no one actually has a better product at a better price, which is why it’s all about story. And, of course, no recipe can be copyrighted or patented.
Your business model seems to be selling a frozen tubed meat product online through the mail. How is it kept frozen while shipped? What’s the delivered cost per pound? If it’s tubed meat, you’re mostly shipping water weight, which is why dry kibble has an advantage.
Here in the US, small producers have had a hard time avoiding salmonella and other contamination. Again, let me know if you want the links to the stories there, as the stories of what the FDA finds when it visits are always illuminating. I have no idea what regulation there is in Ireland, so perhaps there is not as much inspection. That said, the slaughter and grinding up of carcasses is a problematic thing from a sanitary perspective, which is why we cook meats for ourselves and why fired kibble has an advantage.
Who actually produces the dog food for you? Based on your capitalization, you cannot own the machinery for slaughter, grinding, packaging, flash freezing, etc. Are you actually on site everyday when the food is made? This is a real problem in the dog food world where “lick and stick” companies are designing packaging and story boards, but the actual production is contracted out to nameless, faceless folks 200 miles, or more, away. I am always amazed at how little day-to-day oversight of product goes into all these boutique dog foods. Say what you want about Pedigree and Purina, but they own their own equipment, dry-fire their kibble to kill contaminants, and have vertical control of longtime suppliers. It’s not perfect, but it helps.
Mr. Brady fired back, not answering any of my questions, but incredulous that zoos feed kibbled dog food to wolves. Surely that couldn't be true? Prove it he said!
[H]ow about this, tell me one reputable zoo in the US that feeds cereal-based kibble to wolves and I'll verify it?
Do they have the Google in Ireland? I wonder. I do know they do not have wolves! I wrote back:
You are from a small island without wolves. I’m from a big country with many wolves. So many wolves, some states hunt them to control numbers
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums Nutrition Advisory Group offers the following advice on the feeding of red wolves:
“Feeding requirements of red wolves have generally not been a problem in the RWSSP, as long as good quality commercial (dry) dog food is provided. Because of the number of commercial foods made, their availability, and cost it is difficult to recommend a specific brand. Wolves maintained in Tacoma have done well on food with label guarantees ranging from 22-28% protein, 8-18% fat, and 2-4% fiber. Vitamin supplements for red wolves are normally not required. Adding commercial carnivore log to dry chow may be needed to encourage some wolves to eat, although should not be the primary component of their feed.”
So what do they feed wolves in zoos? Dog food. And what kind? It does not really matter (though Purina ProPlan gets a shout-out here and Mazuri makes a wolf-specific food).
And how long do these zoo wolves live? A hell of a lot longer than those in the wild (and with better teeth too).
So feed your dog like a wild wolf (with the diseased rectum of a downer cow) or feed it like a zoo wolf (with Purina), but either way it will be fine.
Mr. Brady then goes on to say it's all a conspiracy of cash and chicanery and that the Association of Zoos & Aquariums "is a heavily INDUSTRY-SPONSORED organization (and thus lose all credibility)" (his capitalization).
Right. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums is, to my knowledge, the largest zoo and wild animal park organization in the world, with thousands of conservation projects all over the world and thousands of books, book chapters, journal articles, conference proceeding papers, posters and theses or dissertations published every year.
And who are their corporate sponsors? Not hard to find. And no, they're not dog food companies. Go ahead and look.
Mr. Brady challenged me to show him one zoo feeding their wolves kibble. I showed him it was a pretty common occurrence. In fact, I invited him to come to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Zoo, across the river, where the Smithsonian Institution feeds their Grey Wolves kibble.
So, to circle back as I promised I would: Whatever happened to Mr. Brady's dog food company?
I asked him several times, and he never answered, but it appears to have gone bankrupt. The closest he came to admitting this was when he said he had "moved it on."
Right. Nothing wrong with failure -- at least he tried. But let's not use too many euphemisms in case we lose meaning.
I wish Mr. Brady well. That said, might I offer a few free pointers about the business of food, and especially dog food:
- Fresh dog food is mostly water weight. You are mostly selling water, and shipping water, when you are in the ready-made raw food business.
- Raw food has NOT been proven to be better than kibble (and vice versa). In fact, as I have noted many times, no dog food has ever been shown to be better than any other dog food. This is a multi-billion dollar market and folks have tried to prove their claim of having a better product. So far, no one has been able to do it.
- A fresh dog food company is always going to be a problem because meat spoils rather quickly, and refrigeration is expensive. If you have never been in the fresh bulk food meat business before, you are going to hit every pole coming into the harbor and every ding is going to be expensive.
- Dog food manufacturing requires steady suppliers and a known price point from those suppliers. The meat market is notoriously unstable as trade embargoes are tossed up and let down, as seasons change, and as herds are slaughtered to improve market conditions, reduce debt, or cope with disease. It's very hard for a small dog food maker to secure a large enough contract, and store enough fixings, to guarantee quantity, quality, and price.
- Meat slaughter is notoriously filthy, which is why there is a great deal of costs associated with inspection, licensing, and refrigeration. In the dog food arena, things are liable to fall down, especially if the meat is being bought as "overage" from a slaughter house, and everyone at that slaughter house knows that the excess necks, feet, udders, and mechanically separated meat is "going to the dogs."
- A single contamination is likely to be stirred into the mass.This is less of an issue with fire-treated kibble or cooked hamburger, but with fresh dog meat things tend to go bad, without obvious cure. There's a reason salami in the supermarket is very expensive.
- Starting a proper dog food company requires a certain level of capitalization, not only for the food processing equipment (grinders, ovens, storage houses, shipping and distribution services) but also to cover liability insurance costs, inspections costs, staff payroll. The "short cut" too often used to make dog food is to contract it all out to a third party. I call this "lick and stick" dog food, as the only thing actually being made by the "dog food company" is the label stuck on the bag and the marketing story stuck on the web site. The problem with contract dog food is that unless you are actually at the factory when the stuff is being made, there is every reason in the world for the contracting company to substitute inferior stock. In fact, that is exactly what happens again and again in the world of "boutique" dog food.
- Not all markets are the same. Just as a coffee shop can thrive selling a $5 cup of coffee in San Francisco, but go broke with the same business plan in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, so too is the market for "artisanal" dog food limited by geography, economy, and common sense.
- Fresh dog food is not only more expensive, but it also takes up considerable space in the refrigerator and is more difficult to prepare, serve, and keep free of vermin (such as ants).
Am I surprised Mr. Brady's dog food company was... "moved on?" Nope. It's a tough business, and without proper capitalization and distribution partners, it was not likely to succeed.
So what's Mr. Brady doing now? He seem to give a lecture or two, and he's available for telephone dog food "consultations" at 25 pounds a pop. His web site sells a lot of woo-woo products that are strangely at odds with his thesis. Apparently the pure meat-eating wolf-dogs that he imagines live among us also need seaweed to "assist in the fight against cancer." They also seem to needs a litany of flower petals, seeds, and oils when they get upset stomachs. His web site notes a host of ills which my own dogs have never had and which, according to him, are all due to the wrong food. Not too surprisingly some essential oil, flower petal, or magical additive that he is selling is the cure.
Your results may differ, of course.
In conclusion, as I have said, before, feed your dog whatever you want and whatever makes you and your dog happy. That said, my advice is always to look for:
- Companies that have been in business longer than two decades; these are companies with a name to protect and with stable suppliers.
- Companies that actually make their own dog food directly, and do not contract it out. Good food will never be made by nameless faceless people in factories that do not have an address.
- Fired kibble. Fire takes care of a lot of problems in the production chain, which is why we ourselves eat cooked chicken and beef, and not raw flesh.
- A food that has passed an AAFCO feed trial. Yes, it's a very minimal standard, but don't your dogs deserve at least the minimal standard?
- Stay away from any company that uses the word holistic, homeopathy, or essential oils. Nothing good starts with a lie or an insult to your intelligence.
Want to know my other four rules for dog food? Read those here.