By Scott Etkin
The past year has been great for Barry. He went from living on his own in Montana to being taken in by a new family on the Upper West Side. He’s already made some friends in the neighborhood, and even though he lives rent free he feels no pressure to find a job.
Now is a good time to mention that Barry is a dog – a “super-mutt” rescue who still has plenty of puppy energy.
So, could Barry’s life get much better? If you asked someone at Just Food For Dogs – now in its soft opening on the corner of 70th Street and Broadway – they would say, yes, Barry’s diet could use an upgrade.
The company’s sales pitch is that fresh, high-quality food will improve your dog’s health and longevity. The meals at Just Food For Dogs are “human-grade,” said Richard Wold, senior vice president of retail operations & development, and formulated through an evidence-based approach, meaning they are put through feeding trials to determine the health benefits.
Barry, like me, is highly food motivated, so we stopped by the new store on 70th Street this past Wednesday. The space, which used to be an HSBC, has large refrigerators and a long display case like what you’d see in a deli. Behind the counter are stoves that will be used to prepare the dog food on-site, as well as two walk-in freezers. The shelves below the windows are lined with shelf-stable, individual meals that are geared toward traveling.
A pet nutritionist, who was on-hand to help customers find the right formula for their dog, offered Barry a treat. “Does he eat chicken?”
Barry will eat any semi-edible substance found on the sidewalk. I answered in the affirmative.
On a table were jars of other dehydrated foods. Richard gave us a sweet potato chip. I broke off a piece for Barry and ate the rest myself. It tasted like an unsalted Terra chip.
Joe, a brand ambassador for Just Food For Dogs, explained that kibble from the traditional dog food companies like Alpo are basically all the same. Only eating dry dog food would be like if we lived only on cereal, he said. “You can survive on it, but you’re not going to thrive.”
Traditional dry food is cooked at high temperatures so that it turns into a pellet, then vitamins are added back in. Just Food For Dogs lightly cooks the food and then freezes it, so a week’s worth of food for a mid-sized dog comes as four large frozen rectangles.
The pet nutritionists at Just Food For Dogs aren’t vets – they go through training with the company in order to make recommendations to pet parents. Joe asked about Barry’s “story” and also about his breed, age, what we feed him and if he has any allergies.
Richard said that many customers who come into Just Food For Dogs’ stores are looking to have a debate about one type of diet over another. Others are pet parents whose dog is sick or has a complication. Dogs with heart and kidney conditions are common, he said. For complex cases, the pet nutritionist will call the dog’s vet to discuss their recommendation.
As you might expect, Just Food For Dogs is more expensive than the traditional kibble options. A 23.6 lbs box of Just Food For Dog’s Turkey & Whole Wheat Macaroni formula, which was recommended for Barry when I filled out the Feeding Calculator survey online, is $177 ($6.34 per day). On Amazon, a 22 lbs bag of Homestead Turkey & Ancient Grains from Open Farm, the brand we’ve been using, costs $74. A 27.5 lb bag of Turkey and Venison from Purina One costs $31.
I’m no Cesar Millan, but Barry seems pretty healthy to me as it is. Richard said that making the switch would pay off with fewer vet bills over time, though I’m still unsure if a more natural diet is worth the extra scratch.
Barry, having exhausted himself from badgering the pet nutritionists, lay prone on the floor. If I’m lucky, maybe one day I’ll be reincarnated as him.