It looked good on the label. And, to the best of my recollection, the product info described a loving pet owner in Colorado whose longtime canine companion died too young. The owner — let’s call him “Tom” — decided his doggie’s demise was due to poor nutrition from low quality dog food. Tom’s tale glistened on shiny placards and from full-color tri-fold brochures. And most importantly to me, the product, called Pet Promise, touted that there were no animal by-products in the ingredients.

Animal by-products are the dregs of the food chain, if you can call them food. When an animal carcass is stripped of everything commonly useful, the remaining bone, skin, hair, ligaments, eyeballs, toenails, tumors, tissues and teeth are all boiled down into a disgusting swamp of swill in one of many rendering plants across the nation. Nothing is wasted. Fat is fat. Protein is protein, the food industry figures. The raw material for this protean product is the leftovers from slaughterhouses, downer cattle, euthanized pets from humane societies, road kill, sick animals from farms — literally any remnant from any formerly living creature.

From Mad Cow to Dead Dog Animal by-products used to be added right back to the feedlot fare that cattle would get, putting on the pounds for our supermarket meat department products. With the disclosure about always-fatal mad cow disease appearing in humans who ate meat contaminated with a form of protein chain known as a prion and present in some of the rendered animal by-product, government rules were leveled to supposedly keep prions out of the human food chain. Little regulation exists to keep it out of the pet food food chain, however. I had long suspected that a form of mad cow disease was being transmitted to dogs, having seen three pets of mine display symptoms and having no veterinarian give a reasonable explanation before or after the dogs died. The culprit had to be animal by-products commonly used to increase the protein ratio in pet food.

Some of the pet food industry quietly acknowledged concern about animal by-products as ingredients or at least recognized the marketing value of omitting them. Hence, I was at first pleased with the appearance of Pet Promise on the shelves of the now-defunct Wild Oats store. With big banners blaring “No animal by-products,” I snapped it up. This was almost ten years ago. Pet Promise gave all the indications of a small, dog lover-owned company providing higher quality pet food. I was misled.

For some reason, I called the 800-number on one of the bags. I don’t even remember why. A nice lady answered the line, identified as customer service for Pet Promises. She was polite and as helpful as possible. I asked her where in Colorado the call center was located, since marketing materials indicated Tom was from somewhere there. “Oh, we’re in Pennsylvania,” she said.

That prompted my next question. Who owns Pet Promise? I thought Tom did.

“Pet Promise is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Purina,” she said with a smile in her voice.

Skepticism sponsored by Purina I was stunned. There was no mention of Purina, the St. Louis-based corporate giant, anywhere on the packaging or the materials. I asked the lady if, as was sometimes the case with small, individually owned companies, “Tom” had recently sold the company to the animal food giant Purina. She honestly didn’t know, she told me.

I was left with the hopeful, optimistic and it turns out, incorrect, thought that Pet Promise was what it looked like: a small, transparent, altruistically based company started by “Tom” that grew so large because of its values that he sold it to Purina. Nonetheless, I stopped using it.

It was a few months later that I became pals with the national director of marketing for Wild Oats. She was also a dog lover living in Long Beach. I told her my Pet Promise story and she laughed. Turns out Tom was a neighbor of hers in Long Beach, somehow linked to Purina and the whole thing — despite any idealistic quality issues Pet Promise may have truly believed in — was a well-marketed campaign by Purina to capitalize on the trend toward better pet foods minus animal byproducts.

Now Tom may indeed have been a dog lover. He may indeed have sought the most wholesome ingredients for the kibble. He may have even really existed. But Pet Promise was owned and promoted by the deep pockets of Ralston Purina and was nothing like the small, altruistic company the packaging and brochures presented. I’ve made a lot of phone calls to dog food companies since that Pet Promise fiasco.

Zappa Dogma I’ve known since long ago that if you want your dogs to eat healthful food, you have to cook for them. Napoleon Murphy Brock, former front man for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, taught me that. I called him one day to do lunch and he declined, saying he was busy cooking that week’s supply of food for his pit bulls, adding that it was crazy to feed dogs kibble that wasn’t fit for a … dog.

Over the years I have shifted back and forth from raw food diets for my dogs, cooked human food and packaged kibble. The time and convenience factor usually wins so right now I am relying on outside help. Luckily, it’s a lot easier to research dog foods with the internet.

My latest hot tip comes from a dog lover friend in Los Angeles. It’s frozen raw food shipped direct from a Seattle company called Darwin’s Pet. It’s pricey. But cheap kibble has hidden costs of shorter pet life and higher vet bills. Not to mention possible Chinese additives that can kill your pet.

To help find a middle ground among affordability, quality and convenience, check out the website

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at

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