The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of fireworks and the larger illegal fireworks are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.
So there’s a lot of information bouncing around the internet recently about grain-free foods contributing to heart disease in dogs. Like most things on the internet, much of this information is good, yet some downright irritating with its bad advice and misinterpretation of the facts. I thought I’d chime in and try to distill it for anyone that it’s interested. Truthfully, all kibble feeders should be interested. Please remember, I’m not bashing kibble per se, but those that feed it should be aware of its shortfalls. The good news is that its very easy and not expensive to provide excellent protection against these shortfalls when feeding a dry kibble diet!
So here’s the thing with this recent issue:
U.C. Davis reported an increase in heart disease (specifically cardiomyopathy) in dogs eating grain free kibble, and when tested, they have low taurine levels.
Some breeds of dogs (like boxers, dobermans, cavaliers, etc) have genetic predispositions to cardiomyopathy (a serious weakening of the heart muscle making it harder to pump blood through the body), but there’s a recent increase in cardiomyopathy in other breeds as well, linked to Taurine deficiency. Golden Retrievers seem to be especially vulnerable to this. The amazing news is that recent research is showing that when you improve their taurine levels through nutrition, they rapidly and significantly improve their heart function (even with other heart problems like murmurs and arrhythmias) Yay! Here’s what we do know: This definitely points to a nutritional problem with their diets.
What we don’t know: Why does it seem to have a correlation with grain free food? When grain free kibbles came around, it was a big improvement for the pet food industry – so many of the giant companies at the time were making poor quality foods whose proteins were mainly from corn and wheat, with rendered waste meats (not suitable for human use, including diseased, decomposed meats and animals that had died otherwise than from slaughter) used to flavor the food and enable them to call the food “beef flavor”, etc. (They still do, and so are taking the opportunity with this news to bash grain free foods and smaller companies). When new companies entered the market who were focused on high quality (approved for human consumption) meats as the primary ingredient, and eliminated poorer quality, high glycemic ingredients like corn (which carries the significant risk of mycotoxins) and wheat, it made a huge difference on the health and appearance of pets eating them. Grain-free swept the industry, and is pretty much the norm now. Statistically, the reports coming in about a correlation between grain free foods and heart disease might simply be because most dogs are eating grain free these days. Just a thought.
However, there may be more to it:
All dry food needs starch to bind it and make the little round “kibbles” of dry foods. When kibbles went grain free, these binders switched from grains like corn and wheat to other starches like potato, sweet potato, tapioca, etc. None of these had very much protein, so the majority of protein was definitely coming from the meat content, as it should for dogs and cats. However, a strange thing has happened in the past 5 or so years. I remember Horizon Pet Food came to us saying they were using peas and lentils to bind their foods, which was intriguing to us – these ingredients were lower glycemic than other starches, and had some protein content of their own. We always like to recommend that people not only rotate flavors within a brand of food but to occasionally switch brands to be able to take advantage of the variety of different nutrients in their recipes, including different proteins and different binders. Nutritional variety is important for all of us. This helps to avoid developing sensitivities to certain ingredients, or deficiencies in any nutrients for that particular individual. Peas and legumes were novel at the time, so we brought it in. Shortly after, it seemed all new grain free foods started coming out with lentils, garbanzos, and especially peas as their binder. And then, almost all of the foods we already carried switched over to peas, etc as well. Talk about sweeping the industry! It’s been a huge frustration to us, as occasionally some animals seem to have a sensitivity to peas, and they have very few other choices these days in kibble. Many people are suggesting that peas and other legumes may be somehow linked to these cases of heart disease, but we definitely need more research to determine if peas/legumes themselves are somehow damaging amino acids or impacting taurine absorption. Research is underway. It might also be a less direct but still significant correlation. Read on:
What we believe might be the real problem: Because peas and other legumes have more protein than previous traditional starches used to bind grain free kibbles, too much of the total protein is derived from the vegetable proteins instead of from the meat proteins. Pea proteins are less expensive than meat proteins, but vegetable based proteins have no taurine content, and very very few other amino acids that are necessary for taurine production. In fact, research has long shown that one of the big problems with vegan dog food diets is the correlation between long term feeding of plant-based proteins and heart disease in dogs. Plant-based proteins are just not as biologically appropriate for dogs as meat-based proteins. Poorly designed/unbalanced homemade diets are also showing a correlation to heart disease, as many don’t incorporate enough meat and variety of organs to meet their long term needs. Dogs seem “fine” on these diets for some time, and small signs of deficiencies are often overlooked (poor coat quality, bad teeth, flabby body shape with poor muscle mass, etc). Remember: nutritional deficiencies can take a few years to express themselves, and by the time they do, they may have created serious chronic health problems that could have been avoided. Luckily, as stated above, problems such as taurine deficiency is pretty easy to fix (or prevent!)
Important Amino Acids and Kibble Diets:
Kibble is a heavily processed food. It is admittedly a convenient way to feed dogs, and the quality of ingredients for these dry foods has generally come a very long way since we opened in 2004. However, high heat processing and extrusion (the cooking method most dry foods companies use) can really damage many of the nutrients in the food, especially the quality of the essential amino acids that make up the protein content of the food. There are 22 amino acids that all carnivores need to function. 12 are considered “non-essential”, which does not mean “unimportant”, it just means that their bodies have the ability to synthesize them when the right tools are available. 10 amino acids (11 for cats) are “essential amino acids” which means that they can’t make them themselves – they must be acquired from the foods they eat. Carnivores are designed to acquire these through the ingestion of muscle meat and organs. They don’t need to synthesize them, as they are so easily accessible from their meaty prey. Taurine is vital to both cats and dogs. It’s responsible for heart muscle function, and immune and eye health, among many other things. You might know that cats cannot synthesize taurine, so it is an “essential amino acid” for them, and must be supplemented in commercial cat foods if there is not enough meat protein, or they will die. Some of the best natural sources of taurine for cats are rodent brains and insects – no wonder they often eat the heads of mice and leave the rest, or that they like to hunt bugs! Dogs thrive with natural sources of taurine, but can also synthesize taurine from two other amino acids (cysteine and methionine) which are required by AAFCO (food ingredient regulators). If dogs don’t have access to high quality amino acids, they can’t synthesize other vital amino acids like taurine efficiently. The trouble is, taurine and other amino acids are highly sensitive to heat and are easily damaged.
Let’s Explore What Happens In Real Life: When high heat processing damages the structure of the amino acids in fresh meats, the body has fewer tools to accomplish the tasks it is designed to do. Example: Our last cat, Zoe, was a kibble fed cat until she was 18. We had started transitioning her to a canned food diet to increase the moisture and help her deal with her early stage kidney disease. She was a rack of bones with almost no muscle mass in her back end, her black and white coat looked brownish and white as well as greasy and unkempt. We figured she was’t grooming herself as well. Her liver values were off, and she had a hard lump on her arm. You know – she was old, right? Nothing to be done. However, when we switched her to a commercial diet made of minimally processed fresh meats (Rad Cat), within 2 weeks her coat was jet black again and sleek like a seal. Gorgeous. Here’s why: There are certain nutrients like the amino acid Tyrosine, the mineral copper, and certain enzymes which contribute to the manufacture of melanin (color) in hair and skin. These are all found in proper amounts in muscle meats and organs, and a carnivore’s body relies on these to get these sorts of jobs done. When some of those tools are damaged, the body can’t get those jobs done efficiently. The way her coat looked wasn’t really about her age, or her ability to groom herself properly. She was missing nutrients! Even in her human-quality ingredient, low-phosphorus, high-moisture diet, she was missing nutrients that were more intact in her fresh food diet. Within 2 months her muscle mass was also greatly improved – she felt like a cat again instead of a skeleton, and she could jump up into the windows again where she hadn’t been able to in a few years. In a year her liver values were perfect, her kidney function had not decreased, and she looked more beautiful at 20 than when she was 5. She lived to be 22 when we thought we were losing her at 18. It was a big lesson to us to watch this process in action, and the roles of intact amino acids became more apparent to us. Over and over we see these sorts of transformation in our customers’ animals even when they start to just incorporate fresh foods into their processed kibble diets.
Here’s What To Do (these tips go for cats too!):
You could supplement taurine synthetically, but we don’t recommend it – you could give too much, and whole food sources of taurine provide scads of complementary, synergistic nutrients to make for better, more complete supplementation. (Think Synthetic Vitamin A supplement that you could overdose on vs. whole carrots in the diet that contain not only vitamin A from Beta carotene, but also other nutrients like B vitamins, Lutein for eye health, fiber, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants, without the risk of too much Vitamin A). We’ve long been proponents of adding some sort of whole food toppers to your kibble, for the reasons above. Luckily, toppers are all the rage these days, and tons of ready-made toppers are available at pet supply stores (ie: Honest Kitchen’s Proper Toppers and Stella and Chewy’s Mixers. You can also add real foods to diets that will have significant value, and are a less expensive way to go.
When looking for toppers to support heart health, think fresh or freeze dried or gently dehydrated muscle meats and organs. Cans don’t count – they’re high heat processed. If you’ve been using cans for flavor, try switching to something from the list below, especially fresh or freeze dried – they’ll love it! How much? If it were me I’d make sure there’s a little every day. You can overdo it on liver and raw fish (just several times a week is fine), but other muscle meats and organs are safe for every day. Mix it up! Hearts:(fresh, freeze dried, or gently dehydrated) would be your most ideal source of naturally occurring taurine. (Like feeds like!) We have a number of heart options in the store, and dogs adore them. For example, Small Batch (and Purpose Pet Food make freeze dried heart treats from a variety of pasture raised animals – these are great for snacking and training rewards. We stock 5# boxes of turkey hearts (that’s about 70 hearts) in the freezer as well as 4oz packages of chicken hearts – a few of these a week will really ensure a fabulous PERFECT taurine supplement, and your dog will look at you like, “What? Wow! Why haven’t we had these before???”
Other Meaty Treats: Muscle meats and organs are all good sources of taurine, especially when frozen raw or gently processed through freeze drying or gently dehydration. Fish, clams and mussels are one of the best sources of taurine – check out the beautiful whole sardines in our freezer – they can be given 2 or 3 times a week and also are great for Omega 3s! (for cats also check out Vital Essentials freeze dried whole minnows). Also great are the Freeze Dried “Nice Mussels” by Honest Kitchen.
Freeze Dried Diets sprinkled over their food or fed as goodies: Stella and Chewy’s 2oz. patties, Small Batch 1oz patties, and Vital Essentials (small softer nuggets and small crunchy treats great for training treats) freeze dried can be found at our store in lots of flavors, and many other good brands are out there, like Primal and Open Farm, among many others.
A Nugget a Day of Fresh Foods From Our Freezers:
This is another one of the cheapest ways to supplement a variety of safe, whole food nutrients that don’t use damaging heat processing. We respect that some folks (especially with big dogs) feel like an entirely whole food diet is inaccessible (talk to us though – we have a lot of great ways for you to do this, often for the same price or just a little more than kibble topped with canned foods) or inconvenient (though it’s really not hard at all with preportioned patties and nuggets). Some people travel a lot, or don’t have freezer space, etc. It just doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. A bag of Small Batch chicken “sliders” (1 oz patties) is $16.99, and there are 48 nuggets in a bag. One nugget a day gives you 48 days of a fabulous whole food supplement with local pasture raised meats and organs, organic locally sourced veggies, salmon oil, herbs like dandelion, cilantro, wheat grass, oregano, and thyme, as well as bilberry and bee pollen. This is likely so much cheaper than any supplement we could sell you from our supplement shelves! Rotate into a box of Answers “nibbles” (1oz patties) and get organically raised pasture fed, certified humanely raised meats and organs, ground bone, organic eggs, organic fermented vegetables (probiotics!), fermented cod liver (probiotics!), high vitamin butter (specially raised to enhance vitamin content and is rich in gut healing butyric acid, fermented decaffeinated green tea (kombucha) or raw goat’s milk whey, Montmorillonite (natural trace minerals), organic parsley, sea salt, and natural vitamin E. You don’t even have to thaw these – your dog loves an ice cube, right? This is a fabulous meat cube and is easier to chew than an ice cube. No muss, no fuss – just toss them a nugget a day (or on each meal).
(Tips for shopping for kibble: check out baked kibbles, like Stella and Chewy’s Raw Coated or Raw Blends – baking doesn’t trash the nutrients as much as extrusion, which is how most kibbles are made. The S&C kibble also has freeze dried raw mixed in (the same mixers they sell separately), which gives a fabulous source of taurine, which ca really be more convenient and cheaper than adding anything to your diet.)
We know that for us, a diet made entirely of processed foods is a recipe for chronic health issues like obesity, diabetes, etc. It’s the same for our dogs. These recent findings are not a surprise, but hopefully they are a wakeup call to all of us that our dogs can be healthier (and cost us so much less at the vet) with the introduction of whole foods to their diet. Do we think an entirely whole food diet is best? Well, sure we do! But, any amount of whole food in their diets (or ours) is a great thing, and can really mean the difference between Surviving and Thriving!
We’re coming up on Earth Day this month, and as a Green store, this day is a major holiday for us. I wanted to post something inspirational here on this blog to mark the occasion. I want this day to be a day of celebration, as well as a call for advocacy and action, but it’s hard these days to be able to create enough hope in our hearts to actually celebrate, or to act. I want to suggest something that might help to restore your ability to hope and give you the energy to affect change, even if it is small.
These are tough times for the environment, to be sure. It can be extraordinarily overwhelming to know that massive changes are afoot; knowing that both polar ice caps are breaking apart and coastlines are becoming inundated, hearing the news that every 26 minutes an elephant is poached, that right whales haven’t reproduced this year successfully, that monarchs are disappearing rapidly due to weed killing pesticides, or that we’ve just lost our last male northern white rhino. In this country we live in, in these political times makes all this sort of news even more dire, as our leader has chosen for the heads of all of his major departments people who have specifically been committed to eliminating environmental protections. These problems all seem so unapproachable and so overwhelming, it starts to hurt our souls, and certainly can seem like nothing we do could possibly influence anything. But of course, as damage is done by the cumulative actions of many, damage may also be slowed, and policies changed. But even I, who thinks of these issues daily, who started a nonprofit conservation organization for orangutans and helped to run it for 10 years, then teamed up with my husband to start a business that attempts to educate and support positive change in the lifestyles of our customers and in our industry, these feelings of desperation send me into a paralyzing lethargy.
As I ponder how to speak to this issue, I realize that the one thing that saves my spirit every time is when I seek out adventures that bring me to places of natural beauty, visiting ecosystems that are fairly intact, and observing wildlife in ways that don’t negatively impact them. Even better is when my presence does something positive in any way to benefit the wildlife that I’m seeing. This restores my spirit in a way that nothing else can. It makes me happy, peaceful, and most importantly inspired anew to do something, anything, to make a difference. I’m here to try and encourage you to do the same, in big or small ways. We all play around in our heads with where we might like to go on our next vacation. What if you made plans not just to see an area of natural beauty, but to seek out a trip where your money not only gives you access to neat experiences or beautiful places, but actually helps to benefit the conservation of that place?
I’d like to share some stories of my most recent adventure, filled with bucket list activities that turned out to be more magical than I ever thought they’d be. It was an incredible gift that I gave myself, and the money I spent helped to support some amazing efforts to conserve what I now think of as a magical place.
In September of 2016, I stumbled on a tiny paragraph in the PCC catalog describing a trip to Baja Mexico where I might swim with whale sharks, help with a sea turtle banding/tracking project, and visit the friendly gray whales in their calving grounds. I swooned. These were several things I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager. The trip was put together by two cooperating organizations – SEE Turtles, and RED Travel Mexico. Both of these organizations work to bring tourists to areas of conservation interest and the money they spend supports the conservation projects on the ground. I started saving my money right away. Last summer on my 49th birthday I decided I would like to go on this trip in 2018 to celebrate my upcoming 50th. It was more amazing than I could have imagined.
Our home base was La Paz (a very pretty spot on the ocean and one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen) on the Sea of Cortez. We had a wonderful guide for the whole week that made sure everything went smoothly and educated us about the history of the places we visited, taught us about the plants, animals and geology of the places we visited, and introduced us to local people who had previously been fishermen who had taken it upon themselves to start up grassroots protection efforts to help protect their fisheries, and therefore their livelihood.
On the first day we were supposed to visit with whale sharks, but the ocean was very choppy – lucky us, we were then able to visit a National Biosphere Reserve (Rancho Ecologico Sol de Mayo), where a short hike through the desert where we learned about some of the threatened and endangered species of plants that were protected in this reserve suddenly ends in a stunning fresh water springs with a gorgeous waterfall, and we took a fabulous swim.
The next day the sea was calmer, and we were able to swim with whale sharks – a lifelong dream! I do have to say it was very different than I imagined – you see those photos and it seems like you’d get to hang out and watch them, but I’ll tell you – whale sharks are on the move, by design. The visibility is poor in these waters due to high concentrations of plankton, which is a whale shark’s food. To eat, they swim along at a steady pace with their big mouths wide open, gathering the bounty. You really have to swim your legs off to try and keep up with them and get just a few minutes to see them before they quickly outpace you. It was stupendous though to see them so close, to travel alongside them, and be in the presence of such a beautiful and enormous creature. Their spots seem illuminated from within. The best thing though was that organization we traveled with was responsible for completely revamping the whale shark tourist trade to be more responsible and to better care for the needs and safety of the whale sharks themselves. Apparently, just about everywhere else in the world that you can go see whale sharks, it’s a terrible circus. Whale sharks are crowded and stressed by boats and people, often injured by boat propellers. I would have been horrified to be a part of anything like that. RED Travel changed everything. Now, only a certain number of boats are allowed in these waters at a time, and the rest have to wait their turn. All boats must be licensed and display a flag, they must have a certified guide, and tourists pay a small fee that supports the industry and wear wrist bands as proof of payment – at one point a patrol boat came along and checked that all was in order. If another boat is near a shark, your boat may not approach that area. We only had 9 tourists in our group, and only half of us went into the water at a time. Our guide went first and signaled to us when it was time to slip in (not jump) into the water. Whale sharks don’t see well and as long as you give them room, I’m not sure that they really are very aware at all of their observers. I’ll never forget it.
Afterwards, we stopped for lunch on a little mangrove covered island, and got to know our boat captain and hear his fabulous story. He is a fisherman who fishes mainly for a species of clam that reaches sizes of over a foot long, but which had become dangerously over-fished and had almost disappeared. He slowly convinced other fishermen in the area to create a coalition to restore this clam population. They made an agreement to leave the smaller clams in place so they could actually grow large enough to reproduce. They only harvested clams after they were a certain size, and set limits for how many each could remove at a time. They each also volunteer their own time for shifts to monitor this area in their own small boats to ensure the rules were being followed, and this population is once again flourishing. This was no small feat! RED travel finds projects like these and supports and strengthens them, and also hires these people as boat captains for the tourists. This helps to supplement their income while also giving them another way to maintain their presence in the area watching out for their clams. ((Bonus for us: he also made us a fabulous ceviche for our lunch!)
This is the focus of this great organization. Many economic development activities simply aimed at income generation are likely to have negative impacts on biodiversity, unless the values of the biodiversity and related ecosystem services are factored in. If protecting habitat and the species that live there can create economic advantages for the people that live there, these areas will be well protected in order to protect this economic value. For example: Protecting mangroves creates habitat for thousands of animals, but most importantly, they are the nurseries for many species of fish. When the mangroves are protected, the fisheries can remain strong. When the residents are educated about the important role mangroves play in ensuring a healthy fishery, they are also shown the economic value of protecting it. When tourists come to see mangroves, they provide added income to residents. The tourists are given the opportunity to see these amazing places and learn about these relationships between healthy habitats and benefit to humans, they may carry this knowledge with them and see the world through this new lens. The money they bring to the area stimulates the economy thereby ensuring the area remains protected to be able to host more tourists.
On another day we visited Isla Espiritu Santo, an UNESCO world heritage site and Biosphere Reserve. It’s difficult to describe its beauty (that completely secluded beach at the top of this post is where we had lunch). This massive island was a geological wonder to me – every corner we turned looked different, geologically speaking. As a birder, traveling by a big Magnificent Frigate bird rookery and seeing the tiny fluffy white chicks through my binoculars while Blue Footed Boobies and other seabirds flew overhead was fantastic. As a treat we stopped and snorkeled near a colony of sea lions. People have been snorkeling here for more than 30 years, and the youngsters are quite happy to entertain themselves by swimming by and investigating the tourists (who are cordoned off from much of the rookery). It was amazing for me, as I once worked with captive sea lions, so it was a gift to watch them from underwater in their natural element – they are incredibly graceful and beautiful in the water.
We traveled across to the other coast of Baja to Isla Magdalena. The bay is a major calving ground for Gray whales. There were so many whales everywhere in this bay! We stayed in an isolated tent camp on the desert island with no one else for miles around.
It was truly magical. The bright stars filled the sky from horizon to horizon. While I was walking at night in complete darkness close to the shore, I suddenly heard a whale spout and then deeply inhale, so very close to me. What chills that gave me! Coyotes who were passing through the tent grounds before dawn stopped and sang their crazy group song, right outside of my tent. We went out in the boat at night, in complete darkness, with the stars sparkling overhead and the water of our wake sparkling with bio-luminescence. We had breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, our 360 degree view unimpeded by buildings or trees.
Showing us the details of all the measurements and other observations we’d record the next day
Our primary activity at the camp besides whale watching was to participate in their Sea Turtle research. The man running our data collection project had been a fisherman who caught sea turtles and sold their meat like any other “fish”. When he encountered this project and the people at RED, he began to see turtles in a whole new light, growing to admire and respect them. He and several other local men are now employed by the project coordinating the data collection events, though funding isn’t as available to do as much data collection when tourists are not present. The more often tourists visit the camp, the more often the project can set up the nets, the more often data can be collected, and the more income they have. The turtles are tagged and the data they take sheds light on growth rates and health of the population (a few that we caught were recaptures, so they will be able to compare their data with the last time they were measured and weighed. The data is then shared with other organizations, and other projects that encounter these tagged turtles have valuable information on their movement patterns, etc. This project also regularly invites other fishermen from the area to observe data collection, as some have described a shift in perception when they see the importance of these animals through the eyes of the people studying them and the reverence that tourists have for the animals they’re interacting with. Now they make it a point to invite them when they can, and some ultimately become involved with the project themselves. It was a real privilege for us to see these beautiful animals up close, to be sure.
The 40 foot long mother, Lucrecia, and our Hugo, our fabulous guide
But Oh, the whales! Visiting the friendly gray whales of Magdalena Bay was truly the most meaningful part of the trip for me, and was one of the most special wildlife encounters I’ve had in my life. In Magdalena Bay there’s a very special situation: Starting in October gray whales leave the Arctic and travel down the coastline, arriving by late December or early January to their calving grounds in the warm waters of this protected area – the longest migration of any mammal. The females don’t feed much during this time in the bay- most of their activity centers around nursing and teaching the calves valuable survival skills in safe surroundings, so they have a fair amount of leisure time. They seem to really enjoy occasionally visiting with people who are on the little boats and the whales are the ones who choose to do it. I’ve always been strongly opposed to the idea of any human trying to get close and interact with wildlife as it carries such a risk, not just for the people involved, but more importantly for the animals, killed for behaving like the wild animals that they are. Habituation all too often leads to conflict and the wildlife always loses. Except here, in this very unique situation. It makes sense, actually. The whales are incredibly intelligent, more than we humans understand I believe. They’re enormous (40ft long) and in charge of this situation. Gray whales don’t generally engage in this behavior any other time except in this place (though occasionally our resident population of gray whales off the coast of Oregon will approach a boat and take a closer look at who’s visiting), which also makes sense. When you’re a gray whale, everywhere else there’s pressure to survive: you must feed intensely to maintain energy for the migration, especially in the intense cold of the Arctic. Orcas try to hunt your babies. There are oil rigs, fishing vessels and massive Swordfish gill nets to avoid. You have to get somewhere far far away and you can only travel at 5 miles an hour. But in Baja in the warm waters of this protected bay it’s all vacation time for them, and also have plenty of time to teach their babies basic skills they’ll need on their migration. Just like with whale sharks, there are now strict rules surrounding tourism in these waters. The whales certainly don’t approach every boat. The female and baby that approached ours traveled alongside us for about a half hour first. I hear that if they approach a boat and no one interacts with them they leave. This mother (Lucrecia) even boosted her calf (Lunar) up a bit to reach us better, so we could reach him! Our guide had told us, “We won’t follow or approach them, but if a whale reaches up to you, you may go ahead and touch it”. His nose was squishy and rubbery and I cried. We all got chances to visit with him. We also saw some behaviors that genuinely looked like training exercises (ask me in the store – I’ll glad you tell you stories about the amazing things we saw them do) and we even watched a female nurse her baby. It was transcendent. Our guide said, “This bay used to be a place of carnage for these whales. Throughout history we have treated whales horrifically, and still they forgive us.” I feel so grateful that our perception as humans towards the wildlife has changed in this beautiful, special, sacred place, and that we now honor the animals that come to Magdalena Bay and who rely on it as a sanctuary. I’m grateful that there are ways for tourists to honor and support the people who live there and who value the environmental resources that they have, so that the habitat is worth more when it’s intact than when it is destroyed. I hold that concept dear, and hope that others can visit places all over the world like this, to learn about the magic and beauty and importance of nature, and more importantly, to make sure that their activities don’t harm the species they go there to see. And it’s even better if their presence results in the economic support of efforts to protect that area for others.
Luckily, we can learn about and have magical moments experiencing the wild places close to home, often for free.
There are a myriad of organizations here and all over the world that seek to help visitors do this. Having a guide really enriches the whole experience of exploring a new place – you wouldn’t imagine how many things you otherwise might miss that someone who knows the habitat can teach you. You’ll come to appreciate the complexity and inter-connectedness of all of the plants and animals that share that beautiful place. If you have kids, it’s critical in this day and age to teach them about the people and wildlife of the region they’re visiting, and of the environment we all share. Next time you want to get outdoors on the weekend, check out some of the local resources below. Many guided experiences are free, but perhaps you’ll make a small donation to the organization that’s hosting you, to support their work. Next time you want to take a bigger vacation, Google words like “conservation ecotours”, or “volunteering in Costa Rica”, for example. You never know what magical experiences you’ll find! Here are just a few:
SEE Turtles (the Baja trip I took even allowed kids as young as 7 to participate)
RED Travel Mexico – there are day trips and multi day experiences, including each of the activities I described above. They’ll even set up a tent camp for small to large groups.
Friends Of The Gorge outings – With 100+ guided outings a year to choose from, there is something for everyone! Whether it be wildflower walks, kayak trips, geology tours, or bike rides they’ve made it easy for you to enjoy unique outings in all areas of the Columbia Gorge. Each outing has an educational theme and is led by knowledgeable volunteer hike leaders and shepherds. Many are free.
Audubon Society – “On short hikes and easy walks, we’ll focus our attention on trees, wildflowers, reptiles and amphibians, butterflies and other insects, and geology. And as always, we’ll be on the lookout for birds and other wildlife!”
They offer Eco trips all over Oregon, Alaska, Olympic Peninsula, New Mexico, etc, as well as spring summer and winter break camps for K-12
Green Life volunteers – solar power project, parrot rehab on the Osa Peninsula (an amazing place), turtle projects, and even dog rescue!
You might be glad to know that we’ve uncovered some drop off sites for recycling soft plastic in our area! (baggies, produce bags, bread bags, toilet paper wrap, etc). You might remember that China stopped accepting mixed plastics due to contamination issues, and just like that, our ability to recycle many kinds of plastic dried up overnight. (More about that here). We recently stumbled on a site that helps you find convenient drop-off locations for soft plastics in the area, and then did some more digging to make sure it was true. We were skeptical, as we’d heard recent stories on NPR about what a backlog Portland still has of recycled material with no buyers, and that they might have to landfill a lot of the curbside plastic they’ve collected. Turns out, there are processing capabilities for film in the U.S. by companies that have always bought and continue to buy retailer films (and also those recycled by customers). The type of materials that are backlogged in Portland had always been shipped to China and that’s why there is such urgency to find a solution for those now that that market has dried up. Not all plastic is the same to a market or processor— much of the material that China was taking was in mixed bales of several types of harder plastic (like clamshells and plastic lids). There are few markets for that in the U.S., thus the backlog. However, segregated materials like film, PET bottles and HDPE bottles/containers, because they each are a single resin and collected separately, are easier to market here in the US. This is great news! So, here’s a link for where you can find a drop off spot in your area! (the closest one to the store is Safeway on NE Fremont St.) Don’t miss the link describing examples of the type of plastic you can bring to recycle. Make sure it’s clean and dry, and if you’re unsure of whether you can recycle it, leave it out. We don’t want to lose this recycling opportunity due to contamination.
I’m sure you have started to hear some things about a class action lawsuit filed against Champion Pet Foods, the makers of Acana and Orijen pet foods. We believe the claims asserted in the lawsuit are merit-less and Champion Pet Foods does intend to vigorously defend itself in the litigation. The Class Action Complaint makes reference to the Clean Label Project, which claims to be an initiative that tests pet foods for heavy metals and other contaminants. It appears the group has relied upon opaque testing methods to generate erroneous claims, but unfortunately, the group does not disclose its testing methodologies or procedures used, making it difficult to determine how the results were reached.
We first learned of this issue almost a year ago, when a news story covered the Clean Label Project’s allegations against Champion foods. On first look the Clean Label Project looks to be the organization we’ve always wanted; an independent testing organization that would help to monitor pet food for contaminants like aflatoxins, lead, nutritional quality, etc. However (more…)
This week we had to tell our customers about another voluntary recall of raw pet food. The Rad Cat Company was notified by the FDA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture after several tubs of multiple varieties of Rad Cat Raw Diet were purchased and tested. All samples tested negative for E. Coli and Salmonella but two tested positive for Listeria Monocytogenes.
Outdoor cats likely encounter Listeria frequently, as Listeria is a common presence in nature, found widely in such places as water and soil, leafy vegetables and animal products. It could however be a danger to some animals who eat it, and especially to the people that might handle the food without washing their hands or the surfaces exposed to it after feeding it.
We believe Rad Cat when they say that their third party inspections have come back clean. We’ve been in their kitchens and have never seen a facility so tightly controlled for cleanliness and safety. Their sourcing is impeccable. They use High Pressure Pasteurization to kill any bacteria that might be found on the poultry products before they are processed into their formulas, and they test the finished product with a third party lab, doing a full aerobic plate count. They then hold the food for a time before shipping it and it is tested again before releasing it to the distributor. The temperature is controlled through every step of its journey and even tested here at the store upon receipt to ensure that it was maintained as it traveled to us. More details here. If only our human foods were handled and controlled for safety as strictly as the foods made at Rad Cat! We feed it with confidence to Otis, our senior cat. If I were pressed to name my favorite of the more than 4,500 items we carry, Rad Cat would be in my top two.
It might be an opportune time to mention our frustration with the disparity between how the FDA treats raw foods vs. how they treat other pet foods like kibble. Raw food is under intense scrutiny, but the facts point to a significant lack of scrutiny towards kibble based foods, despite the fact that in past years dry food recalls have far outpaced raw food recalls, and the most significant recalls, complaints of illnesses, and death have all resulted from contaminated dry pet foods.
A Few Examples: Over 100 dogs died in 2005 from aflatoxin Poisoning (a very dangerous, carcinogenic grain mold, most commonly found in corn but is also possible in ingredients like peas). Surveys done in 2016 show that aflatoxin has been found in higher amounts than ever (A total of 387 corn samples and 79 distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) samples from across the U.S. were tested. Results revealed that 90 percent of corn samples and 100 percent of DDGS samples were contaminated by at least one mycotoxin, and 96 percent of the DDGS samples contained more than one), yet there have been no aflatoxin recalls since 2013. We must assume that FDA must not be testing regularly for aflatoxins.
Judging from the number of recalls for Salmonella in raw foods, it
would lead you to believe that there is a significant risk of salmonella in raw foods, and in fact the FDA even issued a warning about the risks of salmonella in raw pet food. However, from 2010 – 2015, 78 types of kibble pet food were recalled due to salmonella contamination, vs. 27 for raw foods. What this number doesn’t even capture is the sheer quantity of kibble that was recalled during this time, vs. raw foods with single lot numbers/single flavors. In the 2013 the Natura recall was massive – millions of pounds – and included all of its many formulas including treats (“All Lot Codes, All UPC’s, All package sizes, All expiration dates”). The recall for salmonella in the Diamond foods that were produced at their South Carolina Plant in 2012 resulted in the recall of all of their brands and stopped ALL production for a time. The Taste of the Wild part of this recall alone resulted in over 10 million pounds of food being pulled from store shelves.
No Warnings About Dry Foods
Neither the FDA or the AVMA has ever issued a formal warning about the risk of salmonella in all pet foods. In fact, the same week that the AVMA issued a warning to consumers about the risk of salmonella in raw pet foods, there were (according to the CDC) a total of 49 individuals (47 individuals in 20 states and two individuals in Canada) infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis related to this salmonella recall at Diamond foods. This included at least 10 people hospitalized. The FDA has announced regular testing for raw foods, but not for dry pet foods. In fact, they have not appeared to test any dry pet foods recently, as there have been no salmonella recalls for dry pet food since 2015, which is in stark contrast to many years before this time.
A class action suit was dropped against Beneful in 2016 stating, “The Court rejects Plaintiffs’ position that a reasonable jury could find Beneful unsafe based on the mere fact that 1,400 dogs ate Beneful and got sick or died thereafter. This is insufficient evidence of causation.” So many complaints of illness and death had been reported by Beneful consumers to the FDA that they did do some testing. Some samples came back positive for Melamine (the same thing found in that terrible 2007 recall that resulted in hundreds, possibly thousands of deaths), and some samples came back positive for ethoxyquin, a euthanasia drug so recently implicated in that Evanger’s recall that killed a dog. Beneful also refused access to the FDA to records and didn’t allow them to photograph their manufacturing plant. Yet the FDA did not issue any warning nor was there any sort of a recall. Can you imagine a brand of raw food with 1,400 allegations of sickness and deaths without repercussions?
We certainly do not mean to minimize the risks of any pathogen in any form of pet food, especially to the humans that handle these foods and are not as well equipped as their carnivorous pets to stay healthy when exposed. We just wish the FDA, AVMA, and Big Pet Food would hold all pet foods to the same standards of safety.
Woo Hoo! What we do want to shout from the rooftops is how awesome our customers are for donating this food to the Pongo Fund, and what a fantastic job the Pongo Fund does to help people and pets in need all over Oregon, from food to lifesaving veterinary care. The most important thing they offer is dignity, recognizing the humanity in every person, understanding that asking for help is often difficult, and that life can deal unexpected blows. Most importantly, that a pet is so often a lifeline for people who have very little else. We want to keep people and pets that love and rely on each other together, and we couldn’t help to do that without the generosity of our wonderful customers. This year’s drive resulted in almost 3,000lb of food – that’s a ton and a half! Thanks y’all!
The Pongo Fund Posted this on their Facebook page yesterday:
Hint: It’s not the truck. This photo speaks volumes, Pongo volumes, that is. Your eye goes to the bright Ryder logo, right? But that’s not it. No, it’s the pallet of NutriSource Pet Foods coming up the ramp. That’s the big deal here. And that’s just one of dozens of pallets donated by Green Dog Pet Supply over the years, literally tens of thousands of lifesaving meals they’ve given, thanks to their pet food drives and their generous customers. With a big assist from Nutrisource and Animal Supply Company too.
Like the pallet, Green Dog doesn’t grab for attention. They make a difference quietly, respectfully; doing what they can without shouting that they did it. And that’s why we love them. Because The Pongo Fund does it like that too. Simply, respectfully, quietly, always focused on making a difference. Because doing it is more important than talking about it.
With our Pet Food Bank that’s provided more than 10 million high-quality meals or with our Emergency Kibble Response Team that hits the road near and far or with our Lifesaving Veterinary Care Team or with our Pop-Up Pongo Team, we do our best to save lives and keep animals safe in their homes and out of the shelters.
We’ve helped more than 100,000 animals since we began this effort a little more than eight years ago, Saving lives and keeping animals out of shelters; keeping pets and their people together, that’s our thing. And we thank you, because we couldn’t do it without you.
Chronic overgrowth of yeast can result in a bad smell from a dog’s skin and chronically infected ears causing terrible discomfort and hair loss, as well as digestive issues. Unfortunately it can be very challenging to treat. Healing from yeast takes time and a whole body approach. Two key parts of the solution are to remove what’s feeding the overgrowth of yeast and to heal and support the lining of the gut, as this is where 80% of their immune system lives. Antibiotics, immunosuppressive drugs like prednisone, and anti inflammatory drugs can help some symptoms of itching temporarily, but can actually create chronic yeast overgrowth and start a vicious cycle by damaging the lining of the gut and the good flora normally found within it. Without beneficial bacteria and a healthy gut lining, the yeast can take hold and grow out of control quickly. Here are some quick tips:
Diet Tips for Chronic Yeast
Eliminate as many carbs as possible
Yeast is fed by starchy sugars – a fresh raw diet is ideal as it doesn’t need the starchy binders that all kibbles use, and it will best support healing of the skin. Find a balanced raw food that focuses mainly on meat, bone and organs without a great deal of additional veggies and fruits (perhaps something like Vital Essentials or Answers brand) Get tips on making a safe balanced diet at home here. Starve that yeast!
We generate a lot of waste on Christmas morning, so here are some tips for ways to keep waste in check:
Ribbons Are Not Recyclable Pro Tip:Keep a small bag of ribbons you’ve received in the place you store your wrapping paper – they can come in so handy when you need to wrap a quick present at other times of the year. If a friend is down in the dumps, cookies wrapped in foil with a reused ribbon or a Ball Jar filled with nuts with a reused ribbon around the neck of the jar makes a really quick thoughtful quick gesture of support!
Any paper or envelope with decorative foil has to go in the garbage (though all other wrapping paper, tissue paper, cards and envelopes can go in your blue recycle bin, minus the ribbons).
Pro Tip:On Christmas morning, set up two collection bags ahead of time when it’s time to unwrap gifts. One for wrapping paper, tissue and cards, and the other for ribbons and foil.It can be fun for kids to be in charge of things, so make one little elf in charge of bringing presents to people to unwrap, and another little elf that can be in charge of grabbing that wrapping paper and getting it into the right bag. You’ll be amazed at how much tidier the living room looks after present opening! Don’t forget: Those foil covered papers and ribbons are great for kids’ craft projects. Keep some pretty pieces for yourself for gift wrapping reuse throughout the year. A brown paper shopping bag used as wrapping paper can look beautiful with a decorative accent cut out of foil paper attached to the top.
As our world’s population grows, our demand for resources becomes more difficult to sustain. This especially goes for meat production, which requires significant land use, incredible amounts of water and food needed to raise the animals, creates conflict with wildlife concerns, and is responsible for so much pollution, especially surrounding large-scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Better known as Factory Farming, these CAFOs also force animals to live in inhumane conditions by anyone’s standards, and are also responsible for contributing to problems with antibiotic resistance for us humans.
Consider cutting back or eliminating meat in your own diet as “Carbon Credits for Owning Carnivores”. We love the carnivores we’ve chosen as our cherished furry family members, and they need large quantities of high quality animal proteins to thrive, so what to do? One part of the solution, of course, is for all of us to eat less meat, and to choose to only eat meat raised in humane conditions by farms that use sustainable farming and ranching practices (especially those you might find at your local Farmer’s Market or Food Coop).
Another interesting part of this solution may be found in insect protein! Before you saw EEEWWWWW! and close this page, realize that many insects such as crickets, termites and mealworms are already a staple protein in as many 80% of other countries. (Don’t forget: Lobsters and Shrimp are some of our most cherished delicacies, but it wasn’t until the 1880s that people thought of lobsters as anything but ugly cockroaches of the sea, good only for fertilizer and prison food. In fact, both crickets and lobsters are from the same family, arthropods.)
Crickets are making their way into the U.S. as novelty treats. Did you catch Salt and Straw’s Halloween ice cream flavors? One of them was “Creepy Crawly Critters”, which featured chocolate covered crickets and coconut toffee-brittle covered mealworms blended into a matcha ice cream.
Funny stuff, but from both a sustainability and nutritional standpoint, insects actually make big sense! Check this out – Crickets have: