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Free isn’t quite Free

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  1. Concerned

    While I don’t agree with the sharing of personal information and I’d never feed SD to my pets, I think it is reasonable for a pet food company to ask shelters to recommend their food when they’re donating $19,000 in pet food annually. I would hope that shelter employees could tell adopters something like-we recommend and feed SD, but we encourage you to do your own research on pet foods to find the food/s that are best suited for your pet. No SD isn’t the best, but it’s certainly better than a lot if other foods or nothing at all. That’s $19,000 annually that a shelter can put towards improving their facilities and program. The animals at these shelters were probably eating far worse before they came to the shelter and are only at the shelter a short time. Shelters cannot afford to feed foods that are $2 $3 $4 or $5 a pound.

    1. KAH

      There’s value in the comment above. Every idea certainly helps expand the discussion. Here’s another way of looking at the issue. Firstly, Hills SD is not necessarily an inexpensive PF. When referring PF to new owners perhaps it’s a better choice than Ol’Roy’s or Beneful. But it will still cost them. Actually, nothing is more valuable than education itself. This website should certainly be recommended to new pet owners as well. Secondly, we either draw the line at substandard PF (ones with ingredient and formula issues) or not. Practically speaking maybe, …. but is it fair to say that it’s okay for shelter dogs to eat lower quality food because it’s better than nothing, or because of what they were eating before? We certainly don’t condone prisoners, but what they eat is often of higher quality than at other government funded institutions. Nutrition is nutrition. And I think we need to uphold our standards no matter what. Finally, Hills isn’t just doing a good deed by supplying free food, it’s (trying) to improve image in the community. But obviously it’s also mining new customers at every opportunity. Why not through education and by extolling the virtures of it’s own food compared to other brands? (Well we know why not.) It could go along way by returning the Pledge to Quality and Origin. (Yet we know why not.) Also, if Hill’s really wanted to do some good, it should be allocating a portion of it’s budget to educate owners on the positives and negatives involved with shelters and ill-qualified breeding creating a surplus of pets, and helping owners at risk hang on to pets, etc.. Of course Hills doesn’t want to discourage ANY source of new customers, including ill-qualified breeders or a flock of pets eating food at shelters. Moving product, is moving product. Lastly, when I read about the expense of PF, and the mistaken assumption that homemade is more expensive, it’s really about all about “convenience”. Maybe feeding 5 (100+lb) dogs happens to be the financial breaking point … but does that automatically mean quantity has to cancel out the opportunity for quality? After all these are the lives of pets for which we’ve assumed responsibility. If I can’t afford 500lbs of dog, then maybe I need to scale back. I should only own 1, but have 2. Instead I go without certain groceries to make sure these two have whole protein, a carb, and dietary balance. I like to sleep well at night!

    2. Karla

      I completely disagree, Concerned. Take one look at the ingredients of any Science Diet formula and you will see that it is NOT “better than a lot of other foods.” I help manage a shelter (privately funded; we receive no government money) that used to feed Science Diet several years ago until we realized that we were paying a premium price for a really poor quality food. We did our research, and switched to a brand with far better ingredients … and it costs us less than $1.20/lb. You can make smart choices on any budget, but Science Diet simply isn’t a smart choice by any measure.

      Shelter animals live in a stressful environment, and they don’t need poor quality food adding to their physical and emotional burden, however long their stay. Instead, shelters should be doing everything possible to maximize their animals’ well-being so that they can better cope with shelter life.

      It would be profoundly unethical for us to save the lives of homeless animals while endorsing products that will shorten their lives. In fact, our adopting families receive an information packet about how to choose quality food, along with several brand recommendations and a list of consumer websites such as Truth About Pet Food. As the largest private shelter in our area, we have a responsibility to educate the community about ALL aspects of pet care, and food has an enormous influence on a dog’s health, behavior, and quality of life.

      Hill’s “shelter program” is nothing more than paid advertising … and they can afford such advertising because they spend so little on quality ingredients.

      1. Concerned

        By better than some others I’m referring to any of the numerous grocery store brands or house brands or farm store brands. There are a lot better foods out there than SD, but there are a lot worse. As I said, I’d never feed SD to my pets, but then again, I wouldn’t feed a lot of others either.
        Perhaps your shelter can show all the other shelters how to do whatever it is you do. Each shelter is different and each has a different budget as well as different resources and volume of pets to care for and different turnover rates and different donations and and and….

        1. SJC

          I agree with you Concerned. I have seen what my city shelter feeds the animals there. Trust me, I’d be doing back flips if they were able to feed SD, compared to what they normally do, which I believe is the generic food our local mill makes. I’ve lived here my entire life but only found out a few months ago they made, what can only loosely be called “pet food”.

      2. ellie

        It’s great that your shelter has found a better way than bowing to the pet food industry. I find the idea of “beggars can’t be choosers” very insulting and degrading. Some see the stray and the cast away as expendable beggars. They have the attitude that they are “lucky” to get anything at all. We can feed our pets better food for less money. The only cost is having to spend some additional time looking into how to do it and then actually implementing the plan.
        Shelter animals are in the situation they are in because of the carelessness of human beings. I think we owe them decent food at the very least.

        1. Brittany Dean

          Well, if that is the case why don’t you go to all the local shelters in your area and donate 50 pounds of some high quality kibble daily. See how your pocketbook fares after a week. Oh, and keep this up for months and years. See how well that works. It’s up to these pets forever families to decide what they eat. The shelters do what they can. Science Diet is a lot better than what most people donate to shelters. SD>Gravy Train, Kibbles and Bits, Ol’ Roy. Most county run facilities aren’t even lucky enough to feed something at Ol’ Roy’s level. The county shelter feeds a food called “Doggy Bag” that is nothing but wood shavings and bone meal. But, I guess since most of these pets get euthanized due to the fact humane societies are running on financial minimums and can’t afford to save many animals due to the economy and lack of support, it doesn’t matter what they eat right? Oh, wait, the Humane Societies should be feeding Orijen or raw foods, that way they can save even less animals! This comment is ridiculous. “We ‘owe’ these pets high quality food”. I guess we owe them not to save many at all then either.

          1. ellie

            I don’t feed kibble. I feed raw. When shelters realize that it can be much less expensive to feed raw I would be more than happy to help them.
            The whole premise that kibble is food is a lie. Every nutrient that was once in the goop they make into kibble is destroyed during the high temp processes used to create the highly processed “food.” Then synthetic vitamins from China are added.
            If you feel comfortable feeding your pet in such a way …then fine. I don’t.
            Pet food companies using shelters to promote the garbage they exterminate our pets with is a deplorable act.
            The sooner “humane” agencies realize what they are doing the better.
            You assume way too much. I have done more than my share for homeless pets. I won’t be a party to feeding them a slow poison.

      3. Tammy Baugh

        I have to agree with you. That SD is not a quality food. I know you all will think this is dumb, but first of all it is too easy to get free coupons from them. Number two the ingredients listed is crap. And the third reason is my cats don’t like it. When I told my mom I can’t feed corn to my cats anymore her response to me, ” even humans should not eat corn”.

      4. SJC

        All you guys need to actually pay attention to what Concerned has written, not what you THINK she is saying. She’s not advocating SD as a great food, just saying that it’s better than some of the other crap out there, and I agree with her 100%. Some of you have never seen the no-name generic foods, many coming from feed mills, that most shelter pets might be getting, because that is all they will spend money on, or it is what is donated. When money could very well make the difference in how long an animal is kept, before it is euthanized, I would do ANYTHING to extend that time, even suck it up and use SD. There are far FAR worse things out there. Namely death. I was just at our shelter, after the tornado’s here in OK. They typically use whatever is donated, or purchase the cheapest thing they can find. Most is the no-name stuff I mentioned. Most of these poor animals only have 2 days before gassed. If money was being saved by all food coming from SD and they could extend that to even a week. I would do back-flips (and since I have a spinal injury, that means a bit more) :o). You gotta understand what is going on in the trenches of animal rescue before poo-pooing something like this completely. I’d take SD’s food, then not say anything to future adopters.

        1. KAH

          Amen. This discussion has gotten so far off of Susan’s original point. Simply saying, when “Free isn’t quite free.” Meaning that it’s entirely one thing to be charitable. Heaven knows Hill’s can afford to be. And there is an endless supply of need. But the idea that the charity has strings attached (the PF needs to be recommended, and the company is using a private mailing list) is a commentary on the desperation of how the PFI operates!
          The particular discussion about the merits of using SD in shelters (particularly during times of natural disasters) is like using “gun control” and “Sandy Hook” in the same paragraph. Both are extremely emotional issues! Both phrases will immediately evoke a built in bias within the listener, which continues the ongoing polarization. We’ve lost the ability here to modify our thinking to fit differing circumstances. Because nothing in this world is black or white.
          For example, nobody is saying that feeding SD is worse than a dog being in a Shelter too long. The point is, in fact, that the PFI should take a MUCH more active – AND constructive – role in the support and the process of enhancing the welfare of a pet, long before it reaches a Shelter!! Why don’t they? Education is a liability. They don’t want questioning or discriminating customers. They don’t want to engage in conversation with the consumer. What they want to do, is generate a “maintenance” level product, and collect premium revenue for it. They will do so through multiple channels and opportunities. In fact, Pedigree does the same thing, as do so many others, including those which sponsor major media dog sporting events! The problem *IS*, a PF company gets their name so far out into the community, that people associate “presence” with absolutely “qualified.” They assume that because the word “prescription” comes before the word “diet,” that the food might as well be a “cure all”. And if the company is in the business of “curing”, then that company must also be the experts in total nutrition. I think TAPF Readers understand the difference however, between unhealthy, acceptable and optimal long term dietary choices. They also get the point, that not everyone, even has the luxury of — choices.

      5. Joyce Randall

        Karla, thank you so much for your wonderful post. I’m sorry any dog or cat has to spend time in a shelter, but the animals in your shelter are blessed to have you as their caretaker. Keep up the great work !

    3. Concerned

      One option for smaller shelters-make friends with your local, independently owned feed store. While pet food has a very small margin for retailers, especially independent ones, they may be willing to work a deal. Deals they can get are pallet pricing (you buy by the pallet or buy half a pallet which helps them to buy by the pallet and get better pricing), their distributors have monthly promotions that perhaps they could alert you of and pass those discounts onto you. Also, while pet food reps aren’t given the budget to work directly with shelters, they can work with stores and those promotions can be passed on. The best pet food companies to do this with are ones that are only in independent stores, not big chain stores. A good store would be willing to do these things for you if in return you recommended adopters to purchase their pet food and supplies at that store. It benefits everyone, you get good food at otherwise untouchable pricing, the pet adopter is able to buy the food the pet is currently eating-at a convenient,local store (along with everything else they need), and the store gets business it perhaps wouldn’t have had before. A little foot work and good relationships can go a long way. Also ask those stores to do an adoption day at their store. It brings awareness to the shelter and the store. Something everyone wants.

      1. sebs

        I have dreams of opening a store of my own one day & one of the things i’m planning on is having food drives several times a year for our local humane society. Also when adopting a pet from animalert (where i adopted my boys from:)) bring in your adoption papers & recieve a percentage off your initial purchase. I would be very interested in working with our local humane society to provide quality food. I agree with the earlier comment; shelter life is stressful enough & food plays a big role in temperment & behavior.

  2. Linda

    Iams, Eukanuba, Halo, 9 lives, all have shelter programs with “free” food. There are also many breeder programs too….all wanting our business

  3. Jennifer Garcia

    I don’t think this is a bad deal for the shelter…they need all the financial assistance they can get. Stating that “we promote Hills however there are many other foods out there and learning about nutrition on your own is recommended”. If they say “feed Hills and only Hills” then that is bad on their part.

    I never care what a dog in need gets as far as food, they are surviving but I do care what their forever family chooses.

  4. ellie

    Hills and other pet food companies have had this “arrangement” with veterinary colleges and vet practices for years. They give them money and product and the vets use their products and recommend them to their customers for decades. Is it any wonder why so many vets have no problem with feeding our pets such highly processed “foods?” Quite a cozy relationship.
    These companies care noting about animals or their owners.Their only desire is to sell more low grade garbage to unsuspecting pet owners.

    1. jan

      I agree. After I started reading Truth About Pet Food, I asked my vet what he fed his cat. HE WOULDN’T TELL ME (!!), but he stocked Iam’s and told me to feed the prescription urinary one to my cat after the poor thing had a .5″ x 1″ stone removed!! And this vet had been previously awarded the BEST OF THE BEST that our local newspaper does every year! What happened to ethics?! I need to find a vet who’s up front on everything. Is there such a thing?

  5. Becky

    The ‘free food’ comes with high freight charges. A volunteer with a pickup truck and a pocket full of ‘freight money’ can buy the equivalent amount of food locally. It is NOT all it is cracked up to be…been there, done that.

  6. APB

    I’m curious to know if the staff at the Santa Clara shelter would recommended Hill’s SD if they weren’t compelled to do so. Have they done their due diligence so they can honestly tell clients that they think it’s excellent food? (I doubt it; anyone who does that research correctly will arrive at a very different conclusion.) Shelters and other nonprofits should have an educational mission as well as a rescue one — to educate and encourage new owners to provide the best possible care for their pets. (And there are foods that are better and cheaper for cats, at least, than SD.) So that educational mission would conflict with recommending food with suspect, inappropriate, and low-quality ingredients. It’s one thing for shelters to feed free, crappy food for the short-term to save money and more lives. It’s quite another to encourage unenlightened new owners to feed that stuff for an animal’s lifetime.

  7. Allison

    I have a similar experience but in Canada working at the Winnipeg Humane Society. Iams supplies their food for free and they are ONLY allowed to sell Iams in their retail store. Iams coupons were given out in adoption packages and we were told to recommend the food. As an adoption supervisor I did start telling clients to research food ingredients and would recommend other brands. I know I wasn’t supposed to but these pets deserved to eat something better than Iams! New pet owners did rely on us for a food recommendation. Not only that but we had to tell clients to do a slow transition to a new diet if they decided to do so…so they still had to buy a small bag of Iams even if they wanted to switch foods. Here’s when it gets really bad. Iams cut back on the amount of food they were sending the shelter so the humane society started feeding the pets less! Iams recommended daily feeding amounts and they were posted all over the place to make sure we would only feed that amount. It made me SO mad!! Some of the pets did need more food than others due to higher energy levels or recovering from disease. I hate you Iams. You aren’t really helping shelters as much as you can. If you want to sponsor a shelter don’t tell them how much they should be feeding to rescued animals! The shelters do so much advertising and referring people to buy your stupid food so you should be able to donate a proper supply with all the money you are actually making off of the advertising from shelters.

  8. carol

    Try to get Halo. They offered us a 20% discount! Our rescue only fed premium foods in the beginning but donations plumited with the economy. We have many special cases not yet adoptable.May never be. Our choice-kill animals or feed garbage. We don’t have sufficient adoptions to qualify for help yet feed 50+#s a day.We feed Petigree and dogs live. Not a great choice but we will NEVER kill.

    1. Brittany Dean

      So true! I think these people are totally missing the point. It is already expensive to feed that many animals, and yet they think it’s unacceptable to feed Science Diet and recommend their food because it’s “Garbage”. Well, this “garbage” helps these shelters keep saving lives, so I don’t see a problem with it.

  9. Brittany Dean

    Why is this seen as unacceptable? If a company is donating food to you and saving you that much money, it shouldn’t be a problem recommending the food. Also, there is a difference between recommending a food and pushing a food. All they would have to say is “We recommend Science Diet, it’s what they were eating here. It’s up to you to choose your food though.” What is the harm in that? I would say that to get 19,000$ in free food for shelter animals. Sure. I volunteer at the local humane society and I can say Science Diet is a lot better than what we usually get donated to us. i.e. Ol’ Roy, Kibbles and Bits, etc. I think I will have my local humane society try to get some kind of funding like this, because it’s better than nothing. Also, to the person saying that it’s sad to feed shelter animals less that 5 star foods, why don’t you run a shelter and provide that kind of nutrition for 50+ dogs. Or, better yet, why don’t you tell these “quality” companies to donate free food to shelters? Hmm….

  10. Allison

    I really don’t think SD is giving the food to shelters for “free”. They make shelters push their products…see my comment above about Iams only allowing my local shelter to sell their products…I’m sure it’s the same for SD. Pretty much new pet owners are buying the product so the company is making money…and then donating some of that money (aka. “free” food) back to the shelter. Look at how much money these companies are making…the least they can do is give some money back to shelters!! I don’t like how some of these comments are making it seem like SD is really doing a great thing donating this food. On another note my local shelter used to have all it’s food supplied by Acana which was definitely better quality than Iams but eventually the company decided to longer support the shelter… which was very disappointing…though I’m sure Acana doesn’t even make half the money SD or Iams does. What I’m saying here is these companies have an excess of money due to using such low grade by-product type ingredients. Maybe since Acana actually uses better quality ingredients more of their money actually goes into continuing to use those ingredients instead of constantly downgrading like SD or Iams. Raw would be the best option but it’s very hard to convince a shelter to give that a chance…believe me I’ve tried. Our local shelter actually wasn’t even allowed to use donated food because of Iams agreement so it was sold to staff…and some people would donate better quality food…too bad the pets never got to try any of it…as per Iams. GRRR to you SD and Iams tricking people into thinking you’re doing a good thing…when you have millions of dollars and give shelters maybe a few thousand…yeah thanks.

  11. Tina Farnsworth

    Because of the arrangement for Santa Clara receiving free food, it has allowed a very helpful program to come about. The shelter received donations but can’t use them due to the arrangement. Some wonderful 2 ladies started a pet pantry and it can help a person who may be considering surrendering their pet because they can’t afford to feed it due to job loss and such. And they helped me with a 15# bag of a great quality brand name grain free bag for my feral colony that I feed every day. I was so thankful for that bag because I still had a week to go before my next unemployment check came in and I was out of food.

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