It was nearly 20 years ago when Sandy Bosben walked into a Santa Fe, New Mexico, coffee shop for a cup of joe and walked out with Marty, a rescue dog scheduled to be euthanized. He was just 6 months old and deeply scarred from brawling with other dogs.
Bosben did what any of us do when we bring a pet into the fold of our family: she nursed him back to health through a number of visits to the vet and fed him the best food possible — chicken mixed with high-quality kibble. And soon enough, Marty started to get some spring back in his step.
But four years down the road, Bosben noticed that Marty’s health seemed to be deteriorating. He ended up having ligament surgery on both hind legs, and she discovered he had a degenerative joint disorder.
Traditional medicine and surgery helped Marty, but what really changed his life was surprising.
“A friend gave me some recipes… she’d initially given them to me for my cats. I couldn’t stand the smell of the litter box, and ever since I changed the cat food the box didn’t smell,” Bosben says. “She said she thought she had something to help Marty, so we tried it, and within a week he was like a different dog.”
The friend was Zarna Carter, an internationally known animal nutrition specialist who taught Bosben how to create raw- and gently-cooked dog food. Bosben saw the difference it made in Marty’s life — he lived to be 16 — and wondered if such dietary changes could make a difference in the lives of other four-legged family members. So Bosben started Marty’s Meals in Santa Fe in May of 2013, based solely around the principle of feeding house pets a diet that more closely resembles one they would eat in the wild.
There’s no dry kibble here.
The business has been so successful Bosben was able to open a second store here in Boulder earlier this year.
Even with a second store in another state, the business model has stayed the same: create dog and cat foods made primarily with meat or poultry, organic vegetables and grains and all-natural additives like fish oil, dolomite, kelp and Vitamin C. Their meats are locally raised and antibiotic- and hormone-free. Everything in Marty’s Meals pet food is fit for human consumption.
“We think we’re doing this great loving thing, giving my dog this high-quality, grain-free food,” Bosben says. “We love our animals. We’ve taken them into our homes. But what we’ve been told is best [to feed them] is very misleading. We’re told that kibble cleans their teeth, but dental health not only happens in your mouth but in your gut.”
We’re fed messages about what we should buy for our pets as often as we’re fed messages about what we should purchase for ourselves. The pet food industry is intricately tied to the giant companies that produce processed foods for humans. In 2015, J.M. Smucker — makers of their namesake jam, Folgers coffee, Jif peanut butter, Pillsbury and Crisco — purchased Big Heart Pet Brands, maker of Meow Mix, Milk-Bone and Kibbles ‘n Bits. In 2014, Mars — yup, the candy maker — bought Iams and Eukanuba, adding to their pet-brand holdings, which already included Whiskas and Pedigree.
Dry pet foods, according to Bosben, cook the nutrients out of the food, requiring necessary nutrients to be readded.
Marty’s Meals works with holistic veterinarian Dee Blanco to develop recipes that not only provide the nutrients pets need — without added vitamins, which can be hard for animals to absorb — but also account for pets with beef or poultry allergies.
In addition to the holistic vets she works with on Marty’s Meal’s recipes, Bosben points to Juliette De Bairacli Levy’s lifetime of research, which recommended a natural diet of raw foods, not the processed foods that abound in grocery and pet stores today.
“It isn’t about spoiling your dog; it’s about feeding a species-appropriate diet,” Bosben says. “It’s about being a guardian that’s going to help them be a healthy [pet], to contribute to health and longevity.”
Bosben places as much focus on creating quality pet food as she does on keeping her business regional, which helps keep prices down. She opened a new store in Boulder because she can drive to Boulder, and because Boulder embraces a culture that understands the connection between food and health — even for their pets.
And while Bosben agrees you shouldn’t feed your pets processed cheese and beef jerky every day, the term “human food” strikes her as a little odd.
“Are wolves eating human food? Are coyotes?” she asks. “We don’t thrive on processed food. There’s a reason Whole Foods calls itself Whole Foods.”