Editorial February 2013 Issue

End of the List?

No, but I can dream.

Like any old fight, it’s hard to recall all the details. Suffice to say that, many years ago, when we agreed to make it a convention to publish a review of dry dog foods every February, my boss (publisher of WDJ) and I argued for hours about whether or not I had to prepare a list of “approved foods” to accompany the article. It’s become the number one feature in WDJ that readers cite as their reason for subscribing, so it turns out that my boss wins the argument. But I hate the list. I really, really haaaaaate it. Why? Let me describe my top four reasons.

Nancy Kerns

1. Because I would rather teach people to fish than give them a fish. That is, I would rather people read the article accompanying the list so they understand exactly how we identify the foods we approve of – and can easily determine whether or not the food they buy would earn our approval, and why. My boss’s response: “Nance, I’m sorry to break it to you, but there are a certain number of subscribers who are never, ever going to read the article. They just want the list.”

This whole idea gives me heartburn, but after a few years, I realized he was right. For months after the publication of each article, in which I explain exactly why the products that are on “the list” are there, I receive letters that ask why foods A, B, and C are on the list, and foods X, Y, and Z are not. Since the answers to the questions are present in the article, I have to conclude that my boss is right: some people are readers; some people just want a list.

2. Because the presence of a food on WDJ’s “approved foods” list (or anyone’s list) does not mean it’s “best” for your dog. It’s a starting place, no more. It is one of many products that meet our selection criteria. But it doesn’t mean, and couldn’t possibly mean, that it’s going to suit every dog it’s fed to. If people read the article, they will understand how to identify the attributes of top-quality foods and traits of lesser-quality products, and how to determine whether a particular food is working well for their dog, and what to do if it is not. The latter is just as important as the former.

3. Because lists can never be complete. There are far more foods that meet our selection criteria and would qualify as an “approved food” than we will ever be able to discover and list. There are many more products that would qualify for a “DO NOT BUY” list (if we had one), but it would fill the entire issue. And singling out just a few (as examples) always seems unfair, because the fact is, the majority of foods on the market would meet our criteria for this. By understanding our selection criteria, a reader should be able to easily determine whether a product she sees in a store would qualify for our “approved food” list or a “DO NOT BUY” list.

4. Because stuff happens. The moment a list is published, events take place that render parts of the list incorrect. Companies fold, formulas are changed, manufacturers are switched, recalls occur. And there in print is a list saying WDJ approves of the product.

Here’s how I would love the list to be used – and, in fact, all joking aside, how it’s already used by many subscribers: As a starting place for an owner to find products she’s never seen before; as a comparison tool, to help pet food buyers identify the differences between products at different price points; and as a handy resource list, with contact numbers and manufacturing sites already listed, in case a recall happens and an owner wants to contact the maker of a certain product as quickly as possible.

This year’s list of “approved dry dog foods” can be found later in this months edition.

Comments (4)

Lists such as yours can be a jumping-off point for many people, and a neceesity for others who simply lack the time (but not the interest) to treat their pets well.

For me, I started with lists such as this from various websites. I used them to help make initial choices, but I continued to read and learn. While I have learned a LOT about pet food I still check list such as these to see if I can find vendors/maufacturers I may not have previously heard of *and then I do more research on those*. So lists such as yours provide a valuable reference for pet owners on boths sides of the spectrum.

Posted by: Michael F | February 21, 2013 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I started my subscription with your magazine because of the easy to read list of the best dog foods. Please keep it simple, I do not have the time, patience or vision to read ingredients lists. Living on a monthly Social Security check is not easy. Some months I can afford to buy Orijen but other times I must buy a less expensive brand. I do try to get the best and I usually take your list to the store with me when I shop.

Posted by: Sandy J | January 27, 2013 10:10 AM    Report this comment

All good points, but I think your boss is right: some people really do just want a list.

And since every publication needs readers, might as well give 'em what they want and take the bump in circulation figures for the "list issue." ;)

Posted by: Jennifer A | January 23, 2013 4:18 PM    Report this comment

Don't lose faith...the fact that people are reading any of the articles at all is a step in the right direction, and they are trusting you, as they should, to have the right info in the choice provided via the list. I am concerned as you said about the changes that can happen as soon as the list is out...a company is bought (or sells out) to one with a history of some recalls; and we all know how formulas are allowed to change with that window that allows old labeling to be used for a long while before it has to be changed. You do a great job of it, and I DO read the accompanying article as well, and often tell people about WDJ and the list. Not that I don't enjoy the other articles as well.
ps I got an email indicating that Victoria Stilwell is going to have a new book out within a couple months and although WDJ has their favorite trainers, she is one of mine, and I found her show on Animal Planet to be very helpful. It would be nice if you could give her a mention...

Posted by: robin r | January 23, 2013 11:47 AM    Report this comment

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