Farm To Floor: A New Milford Couple's Mission to Make Real Food for Pets
Six months to live. That was the prognosis Lynn and Paul Gallant received in 2010 after bringing Hunter, their vibrant, three-year-old Golden Retriever, to the vet to investigate a lump on his lower jaw. The tumor diagnosis was canine fibrosarcoma. Without surgery, Hunter’s future was in jeopardy. Even with the invasive procedure, the beautiful retriever would lose a good portion of his jaw (especially heartbreaking for the ball-loving Golden) and might require additional radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
“We felt it wasn’t fair to put a three-year-old dog under that kind of stress,” recalls Paul. Instead, the couple sought out a veterinarian who embraced a holistic approach, combining both western and eastern philosophies.
They landed in the office of Dr. Hannah Wells, former chief of staff and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine at Health and Wellness Animal Hospital in North Hampton, New Hampshire. After reviewing Hunter’s biopsy and oncology reports and performing her own examination, she concluded he needed a complete change in diet, exercise regimen, and herbal medication. Dr. Wells determined that Hunter’s chi ran hot, the same as the tumor and cancer. To help Hunter recover, he needed to consume food that would cool his body. Freshly prepared foods including beef, organ meat, kale, and barley were combined with Chinese herbs and exercise to counter the cancer’s growth.
This required a commitment from Paul and Lynn to cook fresh food for Hunter each day. “I made a deal with Hunter,” recalls Paul. “If you keep living, I’ll keep cooking.” Seven year later, Hunter’s tumor is gone, the cancer is in remission, and he possesses the energy of dogs half his age.
The dedication and vigor Paul brought to cooking for Hunter did not go unnoticed by friends or Dr. Wells, and it wasn’t long before people encouraged Paul to start his own pet food company. At that time, Paul was comfortably enjoying a 30-year career in the masonry industry, when his company suddenly went out of business. He had the option of taking a new position with a different firm but decided, instead, to pursue his passion and make a meaningful difference in the lives of pets and their owners.
Paul’s Custom Pet Food was born in April 2014, about four years after Hunter’s diagnosis. From day one, the company has been on a mission to improve pet nutrition by creating products in small batches with locally sourced ingredients and ethically raised meats. Nearly all of the ingredients are sourced from Fairfield and Litchfield County farms, with remaining raw materials coming from nearby New York farms.
“We source our ingredients as locally as possible, so you know exactly what your pet is eating,” says Lynn. “We consider ourselves to be an extension of the local food movement. We support the same local agriculture infrastructure, we just have a different end consumer.” They employ a direct-to-consumer distribution model and rely upon local farmers markets to raise awareness, build relationships with customers and farmers, and to sell their products.
The company offers several recipes and will work with veterinarians and pet nutritionists to customize food based on specific nutritional needs of pets. They also offer freshly baked dog cookies made from organic pumpkin, organic brown rice, and local eggs. They will soon add dehydrated, single-ingredient treats to their menu.
The direct-to-consumer model affords the couple opportunities to build close relationships with their customers. “We’re asking you to let us feed your pet, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” Paul says. “Nothing is more gratifying than customers telling us how their pets respond to our foods, whether it’s a better coat, better health, or more energy.”
Fresh and nutritious foods are increasingly understood as a requisite part of a healthy human diet, and the notion of providing the same sort of “real” food for pets is a movement that is gaining traction alongside it. The Companion Animal Nutrition & Wellness Institute is about to field pioneering research to study the difference between fresh food versus dry and canned pet food. One might predict that fresh food will fare better, but the study should shed light on just how much better.
As for Hunter, he is going strong seven years later. He is beautiful, maintaining a healthy weight, and demonstrating a youthful exuberance that hints he will be around for some time. “He’s not going to die,” says Paul. “There can’t possibly be anything better on the other side than what he has here.”
Paul’s Custom Pet Food, LLC: P.O. Box 794, New Milford; 603-706-0739