R.J. Paddywacks 4

Keeping Pets Healthy the Way Nature Intended

For Eric Berry, the owner of R.J. Paddywacks’ Pet Supply, his parents’ keeshound and two sickly golden retrievers acquired during college provided an impetus for learning about pet nutrition. “The goldens suffered from incontinence, kidney failure, malnutrition, all kinds of problems,” he recalls. “There weren’t a lot of tools then. I did find one food that was better than what the grocery store offered, but the choices were few. The good part was that I learned about needing to supplement the body’s systems with good nutrition.”

Today, the results of what he learned are apparent in the sleek, healthy body of Soleil, the ebullient golden retriever that greets customers who come into Berry’s store seeking advice.

As Soleil wrestles with Fernando, the shop’s big gray tabby, a customer asks Berry how to best slim down her overweight terrier. When she learns that Berry’s going to be in Roaring Fork Lifestyle, she says, “Eric’s the best! Tell the folks reading the magazine that nobody where I come from, in San Diego, knows all this stuff.”

Berry knows the pet food industry from the inside out because he spent 12 years as a distributor for original Natura pet products. “My main job is to pull the wool off this five billion-a-year industry,” he says. “It’s massive, and there are huge grey areas. Corporations are using the pet food industry as a dumping ground.”

Berry started R.J. Paddywacks in 1995 with a partner, originally opening it in an 800-square-foot space. Today, 20 years later, customers are lured down from Aspen and up from Glenwood Springs both because the store, now grown to 3,600 square feet, offers so much selection and because Berry, now the sole owner, tells it like it is.

“We need to get beyond all the corporate noise,” he says. “All commercials say that their particular dog food is best, right? And they can’t all be!” Berry explains that although nearly 2,000 different pet foods are sold in the U.S., there aren’t that many recipes. Because companies that want to sell pet food go to a factory, pick a recipe out of a book and then put their own label on it, the same food can be sold by many different firms.

“The difference is the sourcing and where they buy their ingredients,” Berry advises. “Some companies are very open. You can see the ingredients and where they’re from on their websites. Smaller firms can make connections with small farms, but big Monsanto-type operations can’t work with Joe’s farm. Generally, if you’re buying food from a smaller, independent company, you’re not going to be stuck with a dried kibble made from ingredients that have been so altered that it’s hard for the body to use the nutrients.”

“Our government has extremely low standards for pet food and for what it considers survival to be,” he asserts, ticking off several pet food recalls. This year, for example, a law firm filed a class-action lawsuit after more than 3,000 pet owners complained that their dogs died or became seriously ill after eating Purina’s Beneful dry kibble. “Right now, there’s a strong interest in nutrition for people and it is transferring to pet food,” Berry comments. “Dogs don’t need gluten, and there is gluten-free dog food on the market. Of course, gluten was connected with the biggest recall of pet food in U.S. history.”

That recall began in 2007. After a Canadian pet food company reported 14 animal deaths, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA investigated many pet foods and discovered that more than 5,300 brands were contaminated with melamine, a compound used in making unbreakable dishes. The melamine had come from Chinese wheat gluten and rice protein concentrates that were added to pet foods.

“When we use whole grains, meats and ingredients that we can understand, and when they are not processed in ways that downgrade their nutritional content, we do so much better,” Berry comments. “Dogs need meat and fiber. The trend is to eliminate grain and to get that fiber from another source, but that is not right for every dog. We see too many dogs exposed to fractionalization of grain and malnourished as a result. That opens pathways for disease. We tend to see more positive results – pets with shiny coats and bright eyes – when we stick with what Mother Nature intended.”