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Dean and Tracey Ricard

In the world of BARF, Dean and Tracey Ricard of Tofield, Alta. are the king and queen of Western Canadian dogdom.

BARF—an acronym for biologically appropriate raw food—is an often-contentious school of culinary thought in which dogs are fed fare such as a combination of chicken or turkey (bones included) ground with a selection of fruit and vegetables that includes carrots, celery, yams, apples, bananas and romaine lettuce. The product is flash-frozen and sold in that form to an ever-growing audience of pet-owners who rebel against the over-processed quality of conventional dog kibble and canned foods.

Dog owners who look for a proverbial return to nature, have been reading about the move to raw since 1993, when the Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst published Give Your Dog a Bone, considered by many owners to be the bible of BARF.

The homeground approach is how the Ricards approached their Mountain Dog Food. On April Fool’s Day 2000, after developing a diet to enhance the health of their Bernese mountain dogs, they hit the market from home with a ground concoction of chicken, fruit and vegetables, frozen in 1- or 2-pound packages. Later, they added turkey to the product line-up.

Rewriting conventional thought on dog nutrition is not an easy endeavour. Many veterinarians counsel their clients not to go the raw route, as they claim it to be dangerous from the viewpoint of unbalanced nutrition, and the possibility of salmonella.

On the positive side, however, is the research by some veterinarians, such as Billinghurst. "Australia has long had a culture of feeding dogs a raw meat and bone-based diet. Commercial dog food arrived in Australia in 1966," he explains. "The unhealthy dogs I encounter as a vet are the ones consuming a diet that is cooked, based on grain, and almost entirely devoid of whole raw foods. These are the dogs that eat modern grain-based commercial dog food. At the same time, I discovered that healthy dogs eat a wide variety of foods, very few or no grain-based foods, and what they do eat is mostly raw."

For the Ricards, what proves to be the most difficult aspect of marketing is not the palatability of the food or the dogs’ ability it digest it, but the owners’ change in thinking about canine cuisine—something Dean says is closely related to how dog food is marketed.

"Too many of the advertisers try to make dogs out to be humans and they’re not," Dean says. "The first objective is to get the person to take a step back from all the advertising hype and the severe objections and to look at the issue from a more pragmatic position. And then ask the questions: ‘Would you feed yourself highly processed food from a single source in a single format for your entire life—meal-in-a-box, if you like? And if you did, how do you think you would feel from a health perspective?’"

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