July 15, 2011
If you think dogs can eat whatever they deem edible, you are not alone. It’s certainly my policy with my 3-year-old golden retriever Hobie.
Debra Long, owner of Salinas-based company Happy Dog Food, takes a different tack. And makes it her business.
“Dogs need a variety of things in their food," she says. "Also, most name-brand pet food must have a shelf life of 10 years. That’s just not natural.”
Long and her husband, Robbie, purchased the company in 2008. At the time, Long was a stay-at-home mom who had previously worked in produce, and Robbie owned a flooring company.
Not surprisingly, buying Happy Dog was not Debra’s first encounter with the canine kind. Growing up, dogs would follow her home from school. She began to volunteer for the Salinas Animal Shelter at age 16 and has since served with its animal commission. She also volunteers with Animal Friends Rescue, as she has for the last 13 years.
An experience with her dog Knuckles, who was haunted by intestinal problems, inspired their purchase of the company—once they fed him the all-natural puppy grub, his stomach pains subsided.
Now her passion and profession are one and the same.
“There are a lot of positive things about owning Happy Dog,” she says. “I’ve seen the benefits of whole food for my personal dogs and it’s really important to educate people. Also, it gives me the opportunity to continue in my rescue efforts.”
Debra has received dozens of testimonials from dog-owners across the country who have observed changes in their dogs’ behavior and health like she did.
“I have a customer in Aptos with an 180-pound mastiff," she says. "He has been able to come off all his medication since he started eating Happy Dog.”
Other dog owners report shinier coats, brighter eyes, and all around more energy.
The Monterey Peninsula seems to have embraced Happy Dog, as Pacific Grove Stone’s Pet Shop manager Tom Radcliffe observes. (The two above pictures are of actual happy dogs pleased with the product, or at least happy enough for their owners to send in shots.)
“Happy Dog’s pretty popular and it sells," he says. "[Debra] has a steady base of customers and we endorse it as much as we can. We appreciate when our customers shop locally and so we want to support local brands.”
The area’s dog-friendly policies are good for business, but Long claims her true success is because of residents’ diet awareness.
“Where people are more food conscious,” she says, “they’re more food conscious for their pets as well.”
Those dog owners like the difference between Happy's inputs—nine ingredients, all of which are grains and vegetables, dehydrated in the San Fernando and Central Valleys, and later mixed together by Debra and her husband, Robbie. By contrast, Purina Dog Chow is made up of 41 ingredients, including preservatives such as mixed tocopherols and artificial coloring.
The prep is also a totally different process than the ol' scoop and dump in the dish. The "Happy Dog" Original Blend is mixed with water and "your dog's choice of ground meat." The food is brought to a boil, left to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
A taste test was the only natural next step, so I switched Hobie’s diet to Happy Dog for a few days. Expecting a dramatic moment where he vacuumed up the food in a burst of energy, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with seemingly normal consumption.
And yet, I was able to say with confidence that I was providing my dog a more natural meal.
Not all dog-owners are at the point of treating their pets as a furry child, but Long encourages them to think twice before shoving that bowl of kibble under their canines’ snout. Given proper education about the right diet, she claims, dog owners “can add years to their pets life and life to their pet’s years.”
Three different recipes range in price from $5.95 for the 16-ounce original recipe to $111.95 for the 15-pound grain-free recipe.
Happy Dog can be found at Stone’s Pet Shop in Pacific Grove and Star Market in Salinas. For more information, visit the Happy Dog Food Website.