Field Research

Sometimes, seeing is believing.


I gotta get outta the office more often!

In September, I attended the annual meeting of the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association (AHVMA), and then got to spend a few days hunting around Missouri, sniffing for background information for a number of future articles. As a result, I’ve got enough “scoops” to last the next six issues or so!

At the conference, I feasted on information from two brilliant doctors – W. Jean Dodds, DVM, and Ronald D. Schultz, Ph.D. – about the latest on canine vaccines. I was also fascinated with Dr. Dodds’ presentation on canine behavioral problems related to thyroiditis, as well as her casual observation that the nutritional approach of a veterinarian who was attending the conference, John Symes of Mobile, Alabama, seemed to improve the health and behavior of many dogs, including dogs with thyroid problems. I’m planning articles on all of these topics.

At the AHVMA trade show, I got a chance to talk with a number of representatives for premium dog food companies. I learned about some new products from some of our favorite companies, fantastic products coming from companies I should have known about before now, and got to hear everyone’s opinion about what’s wrong with WDJ’s food reviews. Believe it or not, that’s the part I like best! It’s my goal to shake up the reviews in 2005, taking our selection criteria to an even higher level.

To that end, much of the rest of my trip was about dog food. I’ve been writing about pet food manufacturing for years, but I’ve never gotten to see it. On this trip, to the middle of the grain belt, I figured I’d get that chance.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that none of the largest dog food companies in the country wanted to have anything to do with me! The public relations person for Hill’s pretty much said, “Sorry, we don’t do tours.” Purina’s reps wouldn’t even return my dozen or so calls. I had a long, good talk with a rep from Doane, the country’s largest private label pet food manufacturer … who regretted not being “able” to help me this time. One of the largest pet food canneries in the country, which makes a number of the foods on our “approved” food lists, was similarly unable to help. A maker of dog chews let me come to its corporate offices, but didn’t really want me to visit its manufacturing plant.

I kept thinking, “What don’t they want people to see?”

Fortunately, a couple of small companies did welcome me into their production facilities. In Kansas City, the folks from Three Dog Bakery bent over backward to show me how their treats are made, and even let me sample fresh, hot cookies from the ovens (all the ingredients are human-grade). I can’t tell you how impressed I was with their products and the company itself. Spectrum Pet Care, of Montgomery City, let me spend half a day standing over a steamy extruding machine as a batch of organic turkey dog food cooked. I happily reeked of dog food for the rest of the day.

I also started researching pet food feeding trials, by visiting a contract research laboratory where feeding trials are conducted – the very one, in fact, that was infiltrated by a PETA “investigator” and accused of cruelty in a huge media campaign. Stay tuned! All I can say now is that things are never quite what they seem at first glance.


-Nancy Kerns