Sometimes you have to make hard decisions as a small business owner. For years, BONeJOUR has carried Dogswell brand Jerky Treats (Happy Hips, Vitality, etc), and they've always been popular sellers. Recently, however, I have decided not to continue carrying them anymore. Here's why.
In 2006-2008, and again in 2011-2012, FDA saw an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China. They issued a cautionary warning against feeding these treats. They NEVER issued a recall. Their reasoning is that they couldn't detect a specific contaminant. This didn't sit well with me. If dogs are getting sick at such a high rate (over 800 complaints in 2012 alone as of June), something is obviously wrong.
About a year ago, when the number of complaints first began to rise again, I called Dogswell, the only brand of Made-in-China jerky treats we carry. I asked the company about their Chinese factories, their testing procedures, and their involvement in the complaints. They assured me that their treats continue to be of the highest quality, that their factories in China are inspected often, and that they test treats upon arrival in the USA. As we have carried this brand for years, I accepted this explanation and did not pull the treats from the shelves at that time, but I did continue to keep a close eye on the situation. I also began my search for replacement jerky treats that are made in the USA. In 2007, Dogswell was one of the brands tested by the FDA, and they were found to be in compliance at that time.
In the last year, the complaints have not stopped, but the number has continued to rise. In July 2012, Dogswell recalled some of their cat chicken jerky treats (Catswell - VitaKitty) because of possible high levels of propylene glycol. To give Dogswell credit, they were the FIRST company to issue a voluntary recall of made in China chicken jerky treats.
One way to look at this recall is as a reassurance - Dogswell is testing their products, and if anything is found to be wrong with them, they would issue a voluntary recall. Therefore the rest of their products (i.e., the Dogswell Chicken Jerky and others) must be fine, right?
However, the idea of my customers' dogs getting sick because of a treat that I sold them kept haunting me... Was is really worth it to keep selling these treats? At BONeJOUR, I pride myself on my high-quality stock. I only sell things I personally research and believe in. I would be a terrible used car salesperson - if I know something sucks, I will never be able to sell it! But I have no problem selling high quality products that I believe in. I'm just not 100% sure I believe in Dogswell products anymore.
I searched the web near and far for more information about the situation, and one of the resources I found was Tracie Hotchner's Dog Talk Blog entry. I emailed Tracie personally and explained my situation - I asked for her advice. Tracie responded quickly and we began a great email conversation, culminating with me being a guest on her weekly NPR radio show "Dog Talk" (we taped the show on Thursday 9/6, so as of 9/10 the show is not online for listening yet, but it should be soon! I believe it will be the 9/14 episode. Unfortunately, Philadelphia Public Radio doesn't carry this show, so local listeners will have to get it online.) Talking with Tracie helped me solidify my understanding and beliefs about carrying products that are made in China, especially chicken jerky.
The Whole Dog Journal (Sept 2012) stated that top-quality dog treats should share the following two traits: They should be appealing to dogs by virtue of the quality of their food ingredients, and they should pose zero risk of killing your dog. When I first read this, I thought, wow, that's extreme! KILLLING your dog? But the more I think about it, this is one of those DUH ideas... treats are just that... TREATS! They're fun extras, to be used in training, or as a little extra "I love you!", but they're not necessary for dogs to live healthy, happy lives. Giving them a treat that could make them sick is completely, utterly, unnecessary.
I know my customers are going to come in and ask for the Dogswell treats. They're going to tell me, "But my dog LOVES them! They're the only treat he will eat! They weren't recalled, don't you think you're being a little too cautious?" Even worse, they're going to tell me, "Fine, if you don't carry chicken jerky, I'll go get it somewhere else." I'm afraid of having to deal with this. But the thing is, I can't morally continue to sell these treats if there is even the distinct possibility that they will make my canine customers sick, or worse. If I lose a customer because of this situation, I can only hope that I will gain another customer who trusts me to only stock high-quality treats and make sure their pets are protected from bad products.
So there you go. Some of you might be upset about this decision, and just like when I decided to discontinue pet foods produced from Proctor and Gamble, I'll let you know that I'm happy to special order ANY products for you. You know your dog, and you are the one responsible for making decisions regarding their health. If you think I'm crazy, and your dog just can't live without his Dogswell Chicken Jerky, I'll get it for you! I will NEVER tell you what to feed or what not to feed your dog. However, my job is to help you make informed decisions, stock high-quality products, and be able to answer your questions regarding the products I carry. This is something I've done a lot of research and spent a lot of time thinking about, and I stand by my final decision to discontinue Dogswell products.
You have NO IDEA how hard it is to find good quality chicken jerky treats that are sourced and made in the USA! Seriously, if I had the means, I would start a new company right now and start manufacturing this stuff - it's super popular, impossible to find, and (my prediction) all the Chinese-produced competitors will likely be recalled, so it could be a HUGE moneymaker! I actually explained the situation to Wild Meadow Farms, and told them to start making treats similar to Dogswell. They are currently discussing the idea.
As of right now, I carry True Chews Chicken Jerky, which is made in the USA. The only thing about the True Chews is they now contain sugar! A little bit of sugar isn't horrible for dogs, but if you're making a treat that is pretty much pure chicken, it's unnecessary! Dogs LOVE meat, and it's very healthy for them. I called True Chews and asked about their decision to start adding sugar, and they said that customers had complained that the treats were too hard and tough, so they had to add sugar to make them softer. This seems ridiculous to me - there are plenty of other natural ways to soften treats. Anyway, I am going to carry True Chews until I find something better, but I will warn against giving too many of these because of the sugar.
I have a lot of other treats that you can switch to while I continue looking for a suitable replacement:
- True Chews Chicken Jerky - this is only a temporary solution because (as written above) it contains sugar. Use sparingly as a special treat.
- Crumps has great single-ingredient freeze-dried chicken and beef treats that are family-made in Canada. They also make Sweet Potato "Rawhide" that is similar to chicken jerky in size and time it takes to eat them.
- Wholesome Hide has beef and pork rawhide chips, chunks, rolls that are naturally produced in the USA.
- Wild Meadow Farms has beef and chicken jerky squares that are produced in Lancaster, PA.
- The Honest Kitchen Beams are wild-caught Atlantic Catfish Skins that are very similar to the chicken jerky treats in size and length of time it takes to eat them. They smell a little fishy, but dogs absolutely LOVE them, and they're USA made. We should have these in very soon.
- Zuke's just came out with their Lil' Links sausage treats in 3 different flavors. Zuke's treats are always made in the USA.
- TONS of other stuff - stop by and we'd be happy to show you!
Do you have questions? Please feel free to call or email me, or stop by the shop to chat.