The Who, Where and Whys of Animal Wise

The Who, Where and Whys of Animal Wise

Every week we say hello with two basic lines: "Hi, this is Mike Fry, and this is Beth Nelson." And, "You are listening to Animal Wise Radio."
Neither of us is a radio professional, nor do we pretend we are experts in all things animal. Each of us, however, has long been interested in animals. Mike's connections are extensive, based in wildlife rehabilitation and companion animal welfare. My experience came primarily through nature activities and personal pets. Overall, we're just passionate about companion animal welfare, wildlife, our natural world and the many connections we all share.
Animal Wise Radio grew out of a very simple call in, pet-talk radio hour where Mike Nelson and Linda Wolf, DVM, would talk about topics related to animal care. The show began as a simple offer from a local station to fill an hour of airtime and turned into a happy partnering between Beth NelsonBeth Nelsonthat station and Animal Ark Shelter in Minnesota, where Mike holds his real job as Executive Director.
So, what does this have to do with raw feeding? I'm getting to that.
A couple of years ago, I started volunteering with Animal Wise Radio, which led to some on-air time and eventually I was brought on staff. One thing I quickly learned was that Animal Ark, although a small no-kill shelter, was a scrappy, curious and innovative organization willing to question the status quo, pitch in and work hard to get the job done!
Even early on as Mike and I brainstormed about program topics, one kept resurfacing. We both were clear about the connection between what we fed our dogs and cats, and their overall health and well-being. We wanted to share that message.
Why were we passionate about that? It's because we'd both had unhealthy pets. Ripper and Daisy were their names, and they each gave us some raw food schooling.
For years, Mike fed his short haired Tabby cat Ripper a well known brand of kibble. It was considered one of the best. At age 18, Ripper had lived a good long life — or so Mike thought — and was gravely ill. Given her history of liver failure, hyperthyroidism, lethargy, dull coat and "bag of bones" look, it seemed time to make arrangements to let her go.
Mike's cat RipperMike's cat RipperA holistic vet came to Mike's home, observed Ripper's condition and listened as Mike chronicled the health issues. Instead of euthanizing Ripper, she asked if Mike was open to trying something different. Different, as prescribed by this veterinarian, was a quick switch to raw, natural food, along with temporary use of two herbal supplements: one to stimulate appetite and one to cleanse the liver.
What happened next? Ripper resurrected! Within three days of her urgent raw food transition, she was back to naughty cat antics, counter surfing and couch jumping. Sweet Ripper was back, a renewed cat. For the next three years Ripper thrived, never even missing the litter box. When her time ultimately arrived, her health failed quickly in one day's time.
When I asked Mike about Ripper's raw food transition, I wondered what he thought of the vet's dietary advice and asked if he even understood what "raw food" meant. As he mused over my question and Ripper's amazing return to health, Mike said, "You know how we're all on our own path to learning? We already had our terrier on a raw diet for health reasons…" and, before he could finish his thought, I finished the sentence for him, "…but you know, cats are different!"
And we both laughed.
We laughed at ourselves and how tied our beliefs could be to the status quo.
My own path to learning about diet and health was similarly slow. It came through a beautiful and challenging Dalmatian named Daisy. If you're thinking, "Hmm, that doesn't sound like a cat," you're right, but I firmly believe that the general theme of healthy feeding/healthy pet crosses species. I believe it works for humans, too.
Daisy was my first dog. Every day, twice per day, I fed Daisy the same kibble. I did so because I'd been convinced by convention and advertising that it was the right thing to do. The kibble was a premium brand, touting a reputation of goodness and science, complete with minerals and vitamins, sold at veterinarians' offices, advertised on TV, and most important, it was more expensive than other brands! With all of those credentials I figured it had to be good.
As Daisy entered midlife, despite regular exercise she started to get heavy and slightly gassy. Her coat felt rough with no puppy softness and she started growing lumps, or fatty tumors. I had one or two of these lumps biopsied because I was so concerned, and one of them was causing a limp. Just as the vet suspected, the tumors were benign. I was surprised at the commonplace acceptance of these lumps from vets and regular folks. I kept hearing, "Old dogs just get those lumps."
"Really?" I thought, "Am I going to be lumpy in old age too? What kind of old age inevitability is that?"
Thankfully a friend heard me talking about Daisy's less than optimal health and shared her own experience of switching her dog to raw food. She'd already stepped out of the usual box with respect to how she viewed pet nutrition. After going to a raw diet, her purebred dog J.B. rid herself of a chronic skin condition and the side effects of regular steroid shots. And since she'd been eating a healthy raw diet, J.B. was slimmed to the right weight and sported a silky coat. My friend's cats were also beautifully healthy and sleek. It was an inspiring story, but could it work for Daisy?
Because I was ready to try Daisy on new foods anyway, I thought I'd give raw feeding a try. But first, in the spirit of true confession, I must admit to my sad slow learning curve. Unhappily for Daisy, she had to try more kibble along the way.
For a time she liked one brand pretty well, but I started noticing a rancid smell when opening new bags of food. It seemed strange, but I didn't think too hard. Poor Daisy would pace around her bowl all growl and fuss, like a child over mushy cold peas. Eventually she'd give up, stick her nose in and eat. So sorry Daisy!
So I bought another brand. I fell for slick advertising from a direct mail campaign. The mailer asked, "Did I know this amazing kibble was the most nutritious? Did I know that my dog would thrive on this food? Do you see these healthy happy dogs?" There were even pictures of vegetables on the label. I just needed to go get some of that!
This brand quickly caused our home to be zoned a hazardous waste site. The toxic effects of Daisy's gas were swift and sure. We were done with that food in one week's time. At least I connected those dots.
Beth with her beloved Daisy.Beth with her beloved Daisy.Since Daisy hadn't yet given up on us, we persisted and finally got to the raw food. Hallelujah and pass the biscuits! Daisy liked her new juicy food. I understood the ingredients on the label. She slimmed down, gladly ate her meals, fatty tumors nearly disappeared, no new tumors sprouted, her coat became smooth and glossy and there was no more nasty gas.
The benefits of Daisy's new diet were obvious, and since then three other dogs have been grateful. They all have thrived on natural raw foods. All were rescue dogs in different states of health, from emaciated to chubby. They reached healthy weights, got great coats and smiled with clean teeth. Even my allergy prone friends told us they had few to no pet allergy issues when visiting my home.
But that gets me back to Animal Wise Radio, being curious and looking past the status quo.
One of my favorite things about producing Animal Wise Radio is finding a variety of guests for the show. Because we've had great results with natural raw diets for our pets, we look for ways to share this information with listeners. Along the way we've met some terrific folks challenging industry norms.
Two guests especially stand out in this field. When they published their recent book, Not Fit for a Dog! The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food, we featured co-authors Dr. Michael W. Fox and Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins. Both are scientists and veterinarians, and both have a deep understanding of corporate interests in pet food manufacturing and marketing. Their book was clearly researched, cited and substantiated. For years these folks, along with others, have been challenging the status quo. It doesn't make sense for our pets that this information still seems new. Their voices aren't quite as loud as food industry's pockets are deep.
At the Animal Ark shelter, small groups of cats are housed in our Cat Condos, closet-sized separate rooms.At the Animal Ark shelter, small groups of cats are housed in our Cat Condos, closet-sized separate rooms.The book's three authors, including Marion Smart, DVM, and others quoted in the book, all echoed the same sentiment: what we feed our pets is likely the cause of most chronic conditions.
Wow! Such a simple — and somewhat painful — concept! Why is it so hard to trust that food can be the foundation for health? I don't know. Conversely, why, in the past, hadn't I connected the idea that an animal fed a poor diet is more likely to get sick? I'm not sure.
I guess I wanted to trust that all pet food manufacturers were making only the best, healthiest foods for my pet. I believed that disease was a simply a matter of fate, or poor genetics. I could hardly process the idea that I was perhaps, daily dishing up foods that might perpetuate underlying chronic conditions. I'm so glad I got over it. I think my pets are, too.
Even at Animal Ark Shelter, where we rely on donations for our expenses, we push to improve the overall health and diet of animals in our care. While we typically feed most animals a "shelter mix" of various kibble with some wet food added for cats, in some cases we use special diets. Special, these days, as we learn more about whole nutrition, doesn't automatically mean a traditional prescription diet. It may simply mean that an obese, diabetic cat will transition to a low carb/high protein raw diet with great results.
The foods we sell in our shelter store also reflect our growing awareness. We don't look for the highest profit margin per bag. Instead, we have a range of quality foods available: some frozen, some canned, some kibble and some dehydrated raw mixes. The foods provide staff an opportunity to talk nutrition with adopting families.
At both Animal Ark Shelter and Animal Wise Radio, we do our best to spread the word about health and food, but it is ultimately a personal journey. Mike Fry said it well: "…we're all on our own path to learning…"
Thankfully, we humans are trainable. It is good for us pet stewards to dig in, accept that we've got brains and can do a little homework, even just a little bit, to see more clearly what we're really feeding our pets.
The good news is that the mystery behind pet food labels is fading. If we're open to it, we can research which ingredients or byproducts might actually aggravate common diseases and conditions, and which are essential for good health. Most importantly, we can get informed and make better choices.
Many great resources suggest how and why feeding raw, nutritious meals can be an excellent start towards health. Now more than ever, we can sniff out the good players and the not so good players in the pet food world. We can even mix our own! Well researched books and organizations like the Feline Nutrition Education Society are there to help us network and learn.
Luckily for me and on a personal note, the animals in my life have done their best to train me! I'm grateful that their different needs have challenged me to look beyond the usual. They, along with great colleagues and radio guests, keep pushing me on my own learning path.
I will end by boldly sharing some of the most basic health and nutritional truths from my raw food journey: old dogs and cats don't have to get lumpy, dull and gassy, and I don't have to be that way in my old age either.
Hope to see you on the radio!
Beth Nelson is a dedicated animal advocate and the Outreach Coordinator at Animal Ark Shelter, Minnesota's largest no-kill animal welfare organization. In addition to being producer and co-host of Animal Wise Radio, Beth is a part time artist, working with steel and stained glass. She lives happily with her husband and two raw fed dogs, Buddy and Zoey, in Minnesota.
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