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Feeding the Love (written for PetFinder)

Doggy Bag. Fresh. Natural. Nutritious.

Feeding the Love

How long has Doggy Bag been around, and what inspired you and your partner to start it?

Many years back, my dog Jonas, suffered terribly from allergies. What exactly? Nobody knew. But it changed him, physically and mentally. As a pup, I had my hands full. He was a rambunctious little fella who loved to play tug of war with dirty socks and bark at his reflection. At 4 years of age, his life slowly started to become still. His hair fell out, his whole body secreted this pungent sticky liquid. His ear canals were so swollen they practically closed up. He was becoming blind. He couldn't walk because his paws were swollen and his constant licking caused them to bleed often. He would sit in one place for hours on end and no amount of calling would send him, tail wagging, into your arms.

We took him to 3 different Vets. They all confirmed it was something he was allergic to. But what? No one could tell me exactly. A lot of questions had been raised by the vets in the process. Had I changed his environment? His food? The floor cleaner? Fabric softener? Did I re-turf my garden? No. That was the problem. Nothing had changed except that now, he was on a lot of medication and a special diet which he did not enjoy at all. His condition never did improve and he passed away due to complications.

Before this point, I never had a reason to question the dog food I was feeding my dogs, until we rescued a Golden Retriever named Max. As I was used to smaller breeds, Max helped me see everything on a bigger picture. The hair dust balls collecting on the stair and in corners of the house, his large bright orange stool that took my whole fist to collect, his itchy ear and foot which he shook, gnawed and licked constantly and loudly I might add, his breath, his hotspots and balding was Jonas all over again!

So back to the Vet we went, and again the Vet confirmed that he was allergic to something. What? He didn't know. But this time, he was pretty adamant that I start with changing his diet.

That was the first time I ever questioned dog food.

Not to say that all dog food is bad. There are some good high grade quality kibble out there but let's be honest, it all comes at a price. My dogs don't have to eat gourmet, they just have to eat food that's good for them and in a decent price bracket for me. Unfortunately, to feed two dogs on my salary at the time, meant putting them on a medium to lower grade kibble, where meat was not on the top of its ingredient list.

After a long discussion with the Vet, I went home to scour the Internet for more information. It was while researching recipes online, that my partner and I started to read about the dog food industry, the AAFCO standards, ingredient splitting, corn, meal, by-products, fortifying, recalls, the 4D's (Dead, Dying, Diseased, Disabled), the bottom line!

It's amazing what can go into our dog food and it’s no wonder some dogs suffer from terrible allergies.

It took some time, but after exhausting our internet searches on the pet food industry, I signed myself up to an online canine nutrition course in the UK. Reason being, is because there is a lot of conflicting information online and I had to be sure I was getting the right kind of information from people who are qualified in the field of Canine Nutrition. By this time, we had made the decision to feed fresh, home cooked food to our dogs, but we knew that it had to be in the right proportions. So we crafted our recipes and made contact with a Canine Nutrition Consultancy in the US to help us make sure our food met the standards of the AAFCO. It was a pretty long and costly process but the peace of mind it gave me, was 100% worth it. It was the best gift I could give Max. The difference in his coat, his stool, breath, even temperament, changed for us almost instantly and since then he has had no issues.

What started out as a search to finding alternatives to commercial dog food, ended in the creation of Doggy Bag at the end of 2011. We have been up and running for nearly 3 years.

It appears to be quite a huge leap of faith transitioning from a 2-legged audience at LiteFM to the 4-legged ones. What factors made you decide to take on this great challenge?

It was hard leaving Lite because I loved working there. However, there comes a time in your life, when you reach that fork in the road. I had been happily employed on The Lite Breakfast Show for 5 years and during that time, Doggy Bag had come to life. I was employed by one company and owner of another. Yet, I was unable to give either my full attention, so it came down to a choice and I knew, that in order to take Doggy Bag where it needed to go, I had to be on board full time. (Picture: Left picture is me at Litefm / Right picture is me at Doggy Bag)

Please tell us more on the concept, mission and vision of Doggy Bag

Doggy Bags concept is simple. Fresh. Natural. Nutritious. Food.

Ever pick up a bag of dog food and read the ingredients list? It's like deciphering a code. What exactly is meat meal? Chicken by products? Can you eat that? And why would dog food need gelling agents in it? Most of the time, the ingredients listed on a bag of dog food can make us more confused than we already are!

That's where Doggy Bag comes in. Pick us up and read our ingredients with ease, because it will say 'chicken, beef, mutton, carrots, pumpkin, liver, gizzard, eggs, spinach, cabbage, sweet potato, peas, broccoli', the list goes on.

We won't feed your dog anything we wouldn't eat ourselves or feed our own dogs. We won't use produce that is not fit for human consumption. We won't cook and store food for long periods of time because we want to keep our food as fresh as possible. Our stoves never fire up until an order comes in.

On top of that, Doggy Bag is reasonably priced! Since we began, we have spent a considerable amount of time, working with our Canine Nutrition Consultant in the US, to fine tune our recipe to a specific budget, that still offered a fresh meal, packed with a nutritional punch and as natural as possible.

When we began Doggy Bag, we never wanted our food to be an "exclusive" product. We wanted it to be affordable because we really want it to make a change to as many dog’s lives as possible, and that's our mission.

What are the benefits of your food, and can you include some supporting facts and figures?

The benefits of Doggy Bag has been the driving force behind the company. On the surface, the benefits are quite obvious, better breath, smaller stool, nicer temperament, smooth coat, less moulting, but at the roots, the benefits are backed up by science.

Someone once asked us "how come you've been around so long and I've never heard of you?" To be honest, we were learning the ropes as first time business owners but more importantly, liaising with our Canine Nutrition Consultant in the US to make sure Doggy Bag was balanced properly before we offered it to anyone.

We want to offer what every bag of dog food on the shelf of any pet shop offers; Balanced dog food. The exceptions being, our food is not fortified, there are no additives in it and we use one preservative, a fridge! That’s because our food is fresh!

As we personally deliver to most of our customers, we always get a chance to get updated by the owner and check out the dog. We use that time as an opportunity to notice changes in them, if any, we may recommend a food gain or reduction, we might talk to them about healthy snacks or advise them about certain conditions in their coat and so forth, and they in turn ask us a few questions as well. To me, that's a big benefit, because we realized after starting Doggy Bag, that owners had a lot of unanswered questions about their dog’s diet.

Apart from my own dogs being a constant reminder of how well they are doing on Doggy Bag, it's through our customers that we know our food is doing their dogs a world of good too.

TV Host, Jay Menon is the owner of Alfie, a Jack Russell Terrier. “We all know that processed food, day in, day out, is not the best food for humans. So how can it be for our dogs? I’m a firm believer of fresh, healthy food that’s most importantly, balanced. That’s why I believe in Doggy Bag”.

Doggy Bag was created to help dogs. To give them a fuller, longer life, through their diet. Had I known then, what I know now, I believe I could have improved Jonas’s quality of life, with good nutrition. In turn, Doggy Bag aims to help all dogs, even those who suffer from bad allergies.  

It’s very important for us to stress that we are not Vets and any problem with your dog should first be seen to by a Vet and they should be consulted before making the switch to fresh food.

In certain instances where dogs were not eating or depressed with their diet, or suffered from terrible allergies that no amount of food made better, we work closely with our customers, to help in any way we can. We offer fresh food elimination diets that help weed out allergy triggers and we have helped customers realise that their dogs are allergic to chicken or beef, carrots or spinach, even the oil used made a difference in one dog’s life!

Retired expat Joan Allen, owner of Beagle, Jazzabelle said “Jazz developed a very bad allergy to meat in her diet. Her coat lost its lustre and she scratched in places until she would bleed. She was a miserable and unhappy dog and I was just as bad! Since contacting Doggy Bag and talking to them about appropriate foods and elimination diets, the transformation has been amazing! She’s back to her old self again and although she has a few itchy days, she’s no longer suffering from bad allergies. I’m just so grateful Doggy Bag was able to help me and Jazz”. (Picture - Left: before Doggy Bag / Right: After Doggy Bag)

What are the food options and pricings available, and how does the purchasing and delivery process work?

At Dog Bag we have created 4 (soon to be 5) recipes. This is so your pet has variety in flavors and they are never bored of the same tasting food. It's also to keep your pet from developing allergies to a particular food. Our new customers usually receive a Trial Pack. It’s a weeks’ worth of all our flavors. This is so dog, as well as owner, get used to the new feeding process. No more opening up a can or dipping your hand into kibble and dishing it out into their bowl. Our food is frozen, defrosted, reheated (in many different ways) to room temperature and served. Once it's been tried and tested, we discuss with the owner the amount of packs to feed and pricing per delivery.

Some customers prefer weekly deliveries as they lack freezer space, most prefer every 15 days and some take monthly. The minimum order is 15 packs of Doggy Bag.

Currently, Doggy Bags are packed into a 200gm container which are priced at Rm4. One pack can usually feed a mini poodle or Shihtzu, a day. Two packs would feed a medium sized dog a day and 4 packs would feed a bigger breed. We are currently looking into introducing a new size for the larger breeds. We also track your food so we know when you will be needing another order and at the same time schedule a delivery day. Delivery charges vary depending on where you live. Otherwise we offer curb side service from our main kitchen in Ara Damansara.

Do you plan to incorporate some CSR / welfare elements into Doggy Bag, and what would they be?

As our 'Master of trade' is fresh food, the best way for us to help is through our food. Understandably though, a lot of shelters that we have contacted, don't have the freezer space or even a microwave, nor the time to feed a lot of hungry dog’s fresh food. So we try to help in other ways, by showing our support and getting involved in adoption drives and worthwhile events.

What are the biggest challenges / obstacles?

The biggest challenge is sometimes convincing people, the need for change. When a dog is young, vibrant and active, it’s hard to believe and see that the low grade dog food might not be good for them. Most of the times, it’s only when they are older, that a deficiency in their diet will come to light or an allergy will spark. We believe a dog’s diet should be similar to a humans. As kids, if we ate nothing but processed foods, we would definitely be paying the price for it, health wise, as an adult. We believe the same thing happens for dogs.

Another obstacle is something even Cesar Milan (Dog Whisperer) experiences, which is “people humanize their dogs too much”. So in certain examples, if their dog doesn’t take to the fresh food straight away, then there are certain customers who will give up immediately. If your dog has a funny tummy from making the switch (which can sometimes happen) then customers think it’s hurting the dog. When in actual fact, their tummies are just not used to anything fresh. It’s understandable and hard to tell them to keep going, because transition periods vary from dog to dog, but the benefits of sticking it out, far outweigh the teething problems in the beginning. We liken the situation to changing a human’s deep fried chicken nuggets and potato chip dinner to a grilled chicken salad. I personally know a couple of humans who would object to that!

Convenience plays a big role in society, as well as dog food! If the switch to fresh food is too tedious, then it becomes an obstacle. Truth be told, everyone loves the convenience of tinned or dry food. It can keep for ages and not go off. But that’s in no way, a good thing!

We get a lot of comments when new customers make the transition to fresh food. They are usually surprised how much their dogs love the food and wolf it down. They remark on the lack of water intake, as our food is very high in moisture. Their hyperactivity levels become more manageable, particularly in the younger dogs. Certain owners have mentioned a change in temperament, which we certainly didn’t expect.

We sometimes feel like we are on an uphill climb to create an awareness about fresh food for dogs, but everything has its challenges and in no way, does it deters us. Doggy Bag is in this for the long run and when new clients make the switch from dry, processed to fresh food and they tell us how good their dog is doing on it? That’s something you just can’t put a price on.

What are your future plans for both expanding the company and improving animal welfare?

Since the beginning of 2014, we have moved into a bigger kitchen to deal with a larger customer base. We subscribe to many other fresh dog food makers around the world and recently, one that had opened in 2010 in the States, announced that they were the World’s First Dog Kitchen. As we began Doggy Bag in 2011, I would like to think that we are pioneering the way for fresh, natural, nutritious dog food in South East Asia.

So far, we have had order requests coming all the way in from the UEA to Ipoh to Penang. So we hope to start delivering outside of KL in the near future.

We hope to work with Holistic Animal Healing centres in aiding their clients, with a fresh, natural, diet and at the moment, we already feed some Doggy Bag clients who suffer from diabetes and kidney disease.

What message or advice would you like to share with the animal lovers out there?

Whether it’s store bought, home cooked or raw, the best thing you can do for your pet is to understand what goes into their food, by reading and understanding its ingredients. 

“If good nutrition is the basis of human health, why should it be any different for your dog”

Doggy Bag