by Natalie Sequeira (photo by Jessica Lee)
Forget everything you have ever learnt about dogs, because you are probably wrong. Follow Whitby dog rescuer Susan Steiner and you could just throw away the high veterinary bills and never look back on the entire pet care industry.
According to Steiner, a raw food diet will stop a dog’s allergies, put an end to its need for most medication and make it healthier. Raw food diets for dogs have been around for ages, but the mainstream pet industry will not advocate for them.
The diet would cut not just vet fees but wheat from a dog’s diet – an ingredient in all commercial food that Steiner maintains a dog is not built to live on.
“It’s a $4-billion dollar industry, and everybody jealously guards their little niche,” Steiner said in an interview Wednesday at Centennial College in Toronto. “They take advantage of you…and I don’t like it.
“If I can keep you out of the pet stores, you could save a fortune!”
Steiner is the owner of Camp LotsaDogs, a boarding and adoption facility near Oshawa.
The camp provides 25 acres of land, including forest, stream and pond. She wants dogs to be what they are, so lets them run around and play all day. An exhausted dog is a happy dog, she says. The camp also runs dog behaviour modification classes and provides homeopathy, reiki and massages.
Love My Dog is the name of Steiner’s raw food brand, which took her about two years to perfect.
People usually think that commercial dog food is better because it is fast, convenient and persistently marketed, but Steiner likens it to McDonald’s.
“It’s processed food,” she says. “There is no way that can be healthy.”
She blames the manufacturers because they know what goes into the food. In one case, she said, the equivalent of motor oil and an old work boot passed as dog food because it met the minimal nutritional requirements.
Asked why people are still afraid of switching their dogs to a raw food diet, Steiner faulted the pet industry and vets. People think that their dogs will get salmonella and botulism, and that they will contract it if the dog licks them.
“Hello!? A dog has antiseptic in its mouth,” she said. “But they don’t tell you that. They still lick their bums and eat poop, so they can kill bacteria.”
Steiner did not start out in dog care. A graduate of Seneca College’s Law Enforcement program, she first became a private investigator. She moved on to rent collecting, working at several businesses before ending at Wigwamen, a Native housing provider.
When her father died, she decided to use the money he left her to spend her time with dogs – although she knew he probably would not approve.
Steiner had once taken her own dog to a daycare. She recalled how he came home limping after getting into a fight, and she realized that this daycare, like many, could not control their dogs. She decided she could do better and came up with a plan to start her own daycare, which evolved into the camp.
“I started the whole thing with owning two dogs,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh I know everything about dogs.’ Boy was I ever wrong.”
What she thought would be semi-retirement turned out to be a lot more work.
The camp gets a lot of volunteers who want to spend time with the dogs, but are not always prepared to do the dirty work.
“My back hurts, too, and I have to do it,” she said. “People think that dogs are easy and it’s not. This is serious work, it really is.”
But for Steiner, it is all worth it.
“Seeing…the dogs being happy, watching them change; from the minute they walk in the door, they change within 24 hours into a pack,” she said. “Really it’s…educating [people]. That’s been the most rewarding.
“I started the boarding as a place for dogs not to get hit by a car and just have fun and it really turned into a whole bunch of [things]…It’s endlessly fascinating.”
Steiner hopes to keep the camp running for years to come, but with seven of her own dogs, will not be expanding her own personal pack.
“You can’t save ‘em all,” she says, laughing.