It all started when Braeden Ruud nearly ate some food meant for the family farm dog.
He had just walked into the kitchen after school in search of something to eat. And there on the counter was some freshly cooked food that looked delicious and smelled even better.
Ignoring the family rule of sitting down to dinner together — he was, after all, a growing 16-year-old boy, and of course, starving — Braeden tried to sneak himself a small plate.
But he wasn’t quite sneaky enough. One plate banged into another, and his mother stormed into the kitchen.
“That food’s not for you!” said Mary Ann Ruud. “It’s for the pets!”
“Are you serious?” her incredulous son asked.
She was. “There’s a massive outbreak of pet food contamination today. Thousands of pets got sick and died. We’re not risking it — we’re feeding them all our own food going forward so we know exactly what’s going in it.”
As time went on, people began to hear about the Ruuds’ farm-fresh pet food, and wanted home-cooked meals for their own pets, too.
And Raised Right Human-Grade Pet Food was born.
“We wanted to create a pet food company that people can trust by placing a strong emphasis on both safety and transparency,” Braeden said at the family ranch near Vermilion during a recent Alberta Farm Writers’ Association tour.
“I grew up around animals my whole life, and we were disgusted by the ethics of the industry. There’s recalls happening all the time. So we just really wanted to create a company that held itself to a higher standard.”
Officially launched last year, Raised Right makes home-cooked whole foods for dogs and cats, as well as liver treats. The products are produced in a human-grade food facility in Nebraska from whole, traceable ingredients — something that sets it apart in an industry that has grown at double-digit rates in recent years.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that most of the pet food on the market today isn’t produced to the same standards as the food you and I eat,” said Braeden, the company’s CEO.
“To be a true human-grade pet food company, every single ingredient must pass the same standards necessary for human consumption, and all the food must be made in a human-grade facility.
“In visiting a lot of these feed-grade facilities, it’s not even close to the same standards as human-grade facilities.”
Part of the reason for that is few human-grade facilities want to produce pet food.
“That was probably the hardest part — finding a human-grade facility that would make pet food. It took over 500 phone calls to find our facility,” said Braeden.
“There’s a stigma. They don’t want pet food made in their human grade facilities, even though every ingredient is human-grade.”
Because of that, most pet food companies don’t place the same emphasis on food safety as they would if they were producing food for people. That’s not the case at Raised Right, said Braeden.
All of the food is gently cooked to kill any pathogens while still maintaining the nutrients and moisture of the ingredients. Even so, every single batch is lab tested for E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, with results of each test posted to the Raised Right website. If the food doesn’t pass the safety test, it doesn’t get shipped.
Everything is shipped frozen and distributed in 175 pet stores in northeast mid-Atlantic states or through home delivery service across the country. Braeden has been working to bring the product into Canada as well.
“Because it’s real, human-grade food, we’ve had some issues getting it across the border, but we think we’ve got it figured out,” he said.
Braeden has also worked with veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker and pet food formulation expert Steve Brown to create stage-of-life recipes using limited ingredients, making the food ideal for animals with health issues.
“We don’t use any preservatives in any of our recipes, and all of our recipes have less than 3.5 per cent carbohydrates,” he said. “In comparison, most kibble has between 30 to 40 per cent carbs, which is way more than dogs and cats need.
“Their bodies aren’t designed to take in kibble. It’s completely foreign to what they’re supposed to be eating. We wanted our recipes to be as close to the ancestral diet of dogs and cats as possible.”
But that level of quality comes at a cost.
“Because we don’t use any fillers, it’s expensive,” said Braeden, adding that feeding a cat or smaller dog for a month might cost anywhere between $100 and $150.
“Compared to kibble, it’s more expensive. But either you’re going to pay the vet eventually for these health issues or you’re going to pay a little more along the way to create a healthier lifestyle. And people really love their pets.”
That shows in the food bowl, he added. Raised Right is made from things like ground beef and turkey, with fruits and vegetables for added nutrients and moisture.
“Basically, it looks like ground beef with a bit of carrots,” said Braeden. “It’s food that you and I can eat.”
And Braeden would know. Just like that day over a decade ago in his mother’s kitchen, he hasn’t been able to resist the allure of a home-cooked meal, even if it is meant for the pets.
“I’ve competed with over 25 dogs and cats in food races to see who could eat their bowl of Raised Right first, and I’m still chasing my first win against a dog,” he said with a laugh.
“But I’m undefeated against cats, so I guess there’s that.”