Letters April 2003 Issue

So Much to Talk About

Readers respond to articles about commerical and homemade food manufacturing, and electronic containment systems.

Months have passed since we’ve run any letters from our readers; our last installment of reader responses was in our October 2002 issue. We really didn’t mean to let it go so long, especially since we’ve received so many informative and thought-provoking letters.

We’ll catch up here, with a longer-than-usual batch of letters that we think you will find most interesting. The letters include responses from several pet food makers on the topic of “secret” manufacturing facilities; additional practical tips on finding good grinders from people who make food for their dogs; and predictably strong opinions (pro and con) from readers and manufacturers about our article about electronic containment systems.

Thanks for all your input. We learned a long time ago that WDJ counts some of the most knowledgeable and passionate canine enthusiasts in its readership, and we appreciate your contributions. Next month, we’ll run letters from some of our frequent flyer readers, who have contributed even more helpful information about air travel with dogs.


As discussed in “Made in a Secret Location” (WDJ January 2003), many pet food companies do not disclose the locations of their manufacturing plants. We discussed (and rebutted) the various reasons that company representatives have offered as justification for this. The most common explanation concerns fears that consumers will shun products that are made by independent, third-party manufacturers.

In our opinion, consumers are best served when they have as much information about a product as possible. At least a few pet food makers agreed with us, and felt compelled to share information about their operations with our readers.

Recently, WDJ published an article that questioned the motives and ethics of all pet food companies that do not readily disclose their outside manufacturing partners. As industry people know, even the largest companies with huge brand names use contract manufacturers for certain products.

What was especially disturbing about the article was that it implied that some pet food manufacturers who use contract producers are not making the foods that they claim to be making, whether due to inadequate equipment or insufficient oversight. The article states that these vague claims are made on the basis of “rumors” from “sources that [the editors] . . . really trust.”

The purpose of this letter is to make it absolutely clear, without doubt or question, that the claims in the article do not and could not apply to Natura Pet Products or any of our outstanding pet foods. Everything that we make is exactly as specified, and our stringent quality management program extends both to wholly Natura-owned manufacturing facilities and contract manufacturers.

Following are descriptions of our current and new dry food and treat manufacturing facilities, including our own organic certified bakery in San Leandro, California, where all of our Innova HealthBar, California Natural HealthBar, and Everyone’s Best Friend treat products are made; our manufacturing partner of nine years in New York, Chenango Valley Pet Foods, where our dry foods are currently made; and our own extrusion plant, currently under construction in Fremont, Nebraska. In the summer of 2003 we will commission this new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant, which we feel will establish Natura Pet Products as the premier manufacturer of healthful dog and cat foods.

Natura is moving aggressively forward to support and serve our valued distributors, retailers, consumers, and, most importantly, the dogs and cats that we care for and love.

-Peter Atkins, Vice President
Natura Pet Products
San Jose, CA

We’ve had several inquiries from WDJ readers regarding where our foods are manufactured. Natural Balance Dry Dog Foods are made at Diamond Pet Foods in Lathrop, California, a state-of-the-art, $30 million manufacturing facility that has the capability to include fresh meats.

Our duck and chicken meat is processed locally, and sent to the plant in refrigerated trucks at a temperature of below 38°F. Upon arrival at the plant, the temperature is checked to make sure that it is below 38°F. If it is, it is then taken off the truck and put into a 38°F refrigerated meat inclusion room while it is mixed into dog food, which is within approximately four hours of arrival at the plant.

The plant is completely computerized and has excellent quality control in place. Control samples for protein, fat, fiber, and moisture are taken every 30 minutes.

-Frank L. Cook, Executive V.P. of Sales/Marketing,
Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc.
Pacoima, CA

You did a wonderful job with the article on manufacturing facilities. You made many excellent points and, based on your article, we have adopted the policy of full disclosure.

For some time, we had been a little uneasy about disclosing our manufacturer and, as a result, opted not to tell our customers (even when asked). Our main concern in the past was product differentiation between Back to Basics and Eagle Pet Products (our manufacturer).

However, after a long meeting, we decided that the points you made were too sensible to discount. We are proud of our manufacturer and always have been. Thank you very much for making a difficult decision a little easier.

-Nicholas Everett, Director of Sales
Beowulf Natural Feeds, Inc.
Syracuse, NY


We quizzed experienced “raw feeders” about their selection and use of meat grinding machines for the home manufacture of dog food (“Good Grinders,” January 2002). They offered tips on machine purchasing and maintenance, and described what sorts of foods they processed. Below, the retailer of the machines that were most frequently recommended by our reader/experts suggests its tools are being used beyond their capability, and more significantly, beyond the scope of their warranty.

Please be advised that the meat grinders from Northern Tool & Equipment should NOT be used to grind chicken backs, as stated in one of your recent issues. We have confirmed with the manufacturer that the grinder blade cannot handle this type of application.

-David Chen
Customer Services Manager
Northern Tool & Equipment
Burnsville, MN

I was surprised that the grinder I have was not mentioned in your article. It’s the American Eagle, also from Pierce Equipment (pierceequipment.com or 877-354-1265). I’m so glad I went with it instead of a cheaper one. It has performed very well and two of my friends have bought one for themselves.

-Ellen Pauly
via e-mail

Months ago, I purchased an electric meat grinder from Harbor Freight Tools (harborfreight.com or 800-423-2567) for $20 on sale. It has been an excellent investment, and would be even at the regular price of $40. It’s a 300-watt machine and comes with a sausage maker and two grinding plates as well as a tray and plunger.

While I don’t grind bones (my German Shepherds get their chicken backs and other bones intact) and would be leery of doing so in any machine such as this one that is primarily PVC, it has done a great job with all kinds of meat, garlic, pills, etc. The only problem occurs after cleaning; if you put the cutting blade in backward (easy to do and not obvious), it doesn’t work well.

-Rolf U. Engelfried
Wilton Manors, FL

You guys are mind readers! Often, I think about something and then it shows up in the next issue. I decided to start making my dog’s food – and there was an article on grinders!

Thanks for a great newsletter. I tell people about it all the time. I received a blind advertisement for it and liked it so much that I have subscribed for a couple of years.

-Sandy Berry
via e-mail


The use of electronic collars for training and/or containment continues to be a hot-button issue for WDJ readers. We received an approximately equal number of letters expressing strong support for and strong condemnation of our view that the risks of using electronic containment systems outweigh the potential benefits (“Simply Shocking,” February 2003). No other topic spurs as many reader letters, pro and con, as this one.

Your article was not about the use, but only about the misuse of electronic containment products. The Instant Fence has been a blessing to me and my dogs. I own a Siberian Husky. Dogs of this breed are extremely difficult to keep in a yard; they are expert escape artists. Now that we have the Instant Fence, my Siberian can go out by himself instead of being on a leash all the time.

With proper precautions and training, this type of fence can be safe. It’s unfortunate that articles like yours and the lack of proper instructions and warnings from the fence company will probably prevent owners who could safely use this product from being able to view it as an option.

However, these fences are not good for every owner. I would have to agree that the fence companies are not very forthcoming about the realistic use of the products nor do they have very good instructions. Also, this type of fence should never be used when you are not at home. Like any electronic devices they could malfunction.

-Brenda, Atlanta, GA
via e-mail

It might have been more helpful to your readers to have a more balanced article (about electronic containment systems) rather than a string of horror stories about dogs who didn’t respond well or weren’t trained properly to the fence.

My experience with an electronic containment system has been nothing but positive. Our Boxer is less aggressive and rarely barks at passers-by with this fence compared to the traditional physical fence in which he spent his first seven years. It’s not for every dog or family. However, it is a great option for some families, a fact that your article fails to address.

-Angel Vannoy
via e-mail

I can understand why, based on author Pat Miller’s experiences with electronic containment systems, she is biased against using shock collars. She made some cogent arguments that prospective fence buyers need to either counter or deal with. But our experience with the Invisible Fence brand fence is far different from what Miller describes. Our German Shorthaired Pointer learned the system with little difficulty. The product contains her beautifully and she remains the same friendly, gentle, happy dog who now has the run of our suburban yard.

However, we feel that all dogs should have a watchful owner’s eye on them when they are outside, no matter what style of fencing contains the dog.

-Mary Kay Dessaffy and Dan Anthony
Middleburg, OH

I was very pleased to read “Simply Shocking.” I run a Wheaten Terrier rescue and have taken many Wheatens into rescue whose owners said they were aggressive or biting. My first question always is, “Do you have an electric fence?” Without fail, every single dog has stopped the behavior after being removed from the electric fencing. Our rescue now has a “no electric fencing” policy and it is now in our adoption contract that the rescue dogs can never be kept in such an enclosure.

-Wendy Wheaton, Director
S’Wheat Rescues, Inc., Kansas City, MO

On the surface, electronic containment systems appear to be the homeowner’s answer to containing the dog, a beautiful landscape, and deed restriction compliance. An in-depth evaluation of these devices show them to be far less effective than claimed.

While there are some notable differences in function and hardware, all electronic pet containment systems are based on punishment training – that is, the use of an aversive stimulus to decrease the probability of a behavior. In simpler terms, “punishment” is used to create fear in order to prevent a behavior from recurring.

While this approach can possibly be justified in certain applications, its effectiveness is severely limited by its specificity and list of potential problems. Many dogs will learn to run through or otherwise negate the systems. My years in a behavior consultation practice has shown a much more serious issue to exist with a large number of dogs who exhibit both short- and long- term behavior prob-lems, either caused or exacerbated by the intim-idation and strong shock produced by these systems.

Some of these changes are subtle, involving avoidance behavior, fear, and anxiety, while others involve potentially dangerous aggressive behaviors. The most serious of these problems involves a greatly magnified increase in territorial aggression. Some dogs may be temperamentally suited to handle the punishment training, but many are not.

Electronic containment systems are big business. However, I have yet to see one sentence written in their product literature that addresses the unsuitability of these systems for many dogs. I believe it is the responsibility of the marketers of these systems to be more communicative about the products’ potential problems and limitations. A means to evaluate each dog’s suitability – while not an easy task – should also be provided to each owner.

I distribute a handout to my clients that outlines potential problems associated with electronic containment systems, including:

1) They may not work as promised. Equipment failure or improper use (e.g., collar too loose) can render them ineffective. The dog may burst through the barrier in pursuit of something without any forethought, or the dog may simply learn to tolerate the shock and run through the barrier. One mistake could be disastrous.

2) Most of the systems correct the dog for coming back through if he gets out. The result is a dog who doesn’t come back.

3) The systems don’t keep anything out. Dogs should be supervised by an adult whenever outside in an unfenced area.

4) They frighten some dogs to the degree that it affects their overall demeanor. Some dogs will even refuse to go out in the yard or will change their elimination habits.

5) They may create a generalized fear of anything that looks like a training flag.

6) They may create a generalized fear of any new place or location that reminds them of their yard, resulting in a reluctance to “move,” i.e., crossing the electronic barrier.

7) They make some dogs extremely aggressive at the territorial boundary. The dog can’t “get out” but feels vulnerable to a person or animal that can “get in.” Dogs who are already territorial may exhibit an exaggerated response. This aggressiveness can generalize to other situations.

8) The dog may perceive a person or animal on the other side of the barrier as the source of his discomfort, and direct aggression toward this individual if access becomes available.

9) Because aggressive territoriality is generally self-rewarding, the dog may learn to use an aggressive response to other stressful stimuli.

10) The collar can be activated by other equipment on the same frequency, shocking the dog without warning or reason.

11) The collar probes can cause physical injury to the dog’s neck if the collar is left on for long periods of time.

12) The dog may start exhibiting compulsive displacement behaviors such as rubbing its face on the ground.

13) Those who use remote trainers may find that an electronic fence may negate their effectiveness by creating a negative “place” response.

There are always alternatives for those who choose to reject an electronic barrier. I strongly suggest that each owner objectively evaluate the facts, their dog, and their specific situation before making a decision.

-Steve Robinson, owner
Common Scents Canine Center
Ortonville, MI

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