For more than a decade, Sandra Scarr has bred Labrador retrievers and poodles on her Holualoa coffee farm. In the beginning, Scarr fed the dogs commercial kibble, deemed “premium quality” and “100 percent complete and balanced.”
She spent hundreds of dollars on medications and trips to veterinarians to treat “allergies” and joint problems that plagued several of the dogs. When nothing else worked to alleviate her animals’ itchy skin, ear infections, poor coats and soreness, Scarr switched them to a raw meat and bones diet, though it was discouraged by most of the people she consulted with at the time. However, an alternative veterinarian in Kohala encouraged her and gave recommendations. The difference was noticeable.
“Almost immediately, the dogs’ ‘allergies’ disappeared, and they became notably healthier and happier,” Scarr said.
Scarr now feeds all 18 dogs, as well as a cat, this diet. She also runs Kona Raw Pet Food Co-op, a not-for-profit organization that’s making raw feeding available to interested pet owners at wholesale prices and helping meet a growing demand. “The best part is being able to educate pet owners on how to feed species-appropriate, raw-meaty-bones and to enable them to do so economically,” she said.
Scarr said Kona Raw Pet Food Co-op is part of an international movement to improve pet health by feeding them the diet carnivorous pets evolved to eat. Through word-of-mouth, this co-op has grown from a handful of members to nearly 200 in three and a half years. Its membership is seeing steady growth, with three to four new members joining each month. Members reside throughout Hawaii Island, including three in Hilo.
Jan MacMillan, a dog trainer and kennel assistant, chose this diet for her pets after seeing the difference raw feeding made for Scarr’s animals. MacMillan’s dog does agility. She likes how the diet has improved her dog’s energy, health and overall well-being, as well as its teeth and coat.
There’s a one-time $5 fee to join the co-op. Members place their orders online or by phone and Scarr compiles them. The prices change frequently and are based upon price fluctuations in the wholesale meat markets. There is a 5 percent markup to cover the co-op’s expenses, such as purchasing supplies needed to repackage products, maintaining the website, and record keeping, Scarr said. Prices range from 65 cents per pound for beef kidneys to $2.99 per pound of ground beef.
Members are required to volunteer and their duties include meat cutting and sorting of orders. Typically, four members are needed to volunteer for two to four hours weekly, Scarr said. Members pick up their orders on Tuesdays, she added.
The co-op gets U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected meat from Costco, Safeway and Hawaii Beef Producers. Raw pet food has become an important part of Hawaii Beef Producer’s business, Scarr said.
“Before the co-op, Hawaii Beef Producers was paying to dispose of about half of every cow into the landfill. Now many parts of the cow that used to go to waste are being sold to us and other pet owners around the island as pet food,” she said. “Pet food allows Hawaii Beef Producers to pay ranchers more for their cows, reduces waste going to the landfill and improves the diet of hundreds of carnivorous pets. It’s a win-win-win for ranchers, the environment and pets.”
The cuts of beef members buy are heart, kidney, tongues, tripe, trachea, cheek meat, neck bones, ribs and lungs. Scarr is grateful for the USDA inspector at the Hawaii Beef Producers plant who voluntarily checks the raw pet food the co-op receives.
On occasion, the co-op buys from hunters feral goat, sheep and cow meat and bones, all of which are deep-freezed for at least a week to eliminate any parasites. Scarr would accept more feral meat and bones from hunters.
Besides raw meat and bones, the co-op also carries some Wysong and Honest Kitchen products, ranging from $2.30 for a large can of all-meat pet food to $429.96 for 160 pounds of rehydrated grain- and gluten-free dog food.
Scarr said many members use these products as backups when their supply has run out before their next order. Others choose to feed their pets Wysong or Honest Kitchen products along with the raw meat and bones as a part of a varied diet.
Scarr said several misconceptions exist pertaining to raw feeding for pets, particularly in regards to bones and pathogens. The bones fed to the members’ pets are uncooked. She explained cooked bones splinter into dangerous sharp pieces that can puncture intestines while raw bones don’t splinter and instead crumble. As for bacteria, she said most factory-raised poultry is teeming with Salmonella, but dogs and cats’ highly acidic digestive systems can deal with it. “Raw chicken that would sicken pet owners is no problem for healthy pets,” she added.
A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine “identified a potential health risk for the pets eating the raw food, and for the owners handling the product,” saying they “may have a higher risk of getting infected with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.” Recognizing some people prefer this type of diet for their pets, the center has infection prevention tips online at fda.gov/animalveterinary.
On the other hand, commercial pet food can be contaminated with Salmonella, evident by the recalls. Last week, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. voluntarily recalled 62 bags of Science Diet Adult & Toy Breed dry dog food because of the potential of being contaminated with Salmonella.
Whatever pet owners prefer for their beloved family companion, Scarr said she’s glad to be able to offer them another option and share her knowledge. Eventually, she would like to expand and have a larger facility — possibly one in a more centralized spot that’s easier to access. For more information or to join the co-op, go to konaraw.org.