A Giant Step Forward for Canine Nutrition
Burt Ward, founder and president of Gentle Giants Dog and Puppy Food, explains the company’s commitment to helping canines live longer, healthier lives.
What inspired you to get involved with rescue dogs, and Great Danes, in particular? We moved to our current home in Norco, Calif., in 1994. We wanted to get a Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound as a member of our family. We heard about a Great Dane needing rescue, so we rescued the dog—our first Great Dane. We heard about other Great Danes needing rescue that were going to shelters, where they were dying if they weren’t adopted. We couldn’t stand the thought of these beautiful, sweet “Gentle Giants” being put to death because they had no home to go to. Soon, we had more than 100 rescued Great Danes living in our home with us, plus 62 puppies under six weeks of age, along with their mothers. Taking care of all of them instantly required a massive effort from my wife, Tracy, and myself. All of our rescued dogs were spayed or neutered, and we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vet bills.
How did rescuing dogs in need turn into a pet food business? We have saved the lives of more than 15,500 dogs during the past 25 years, and all of those dogs lived in our home until they were adopted. We were devastated by the pain of seeing some of our rescued dogs die at a young age. We cried and cried. Great Danes traditionally have a short lifespan of seven to nine years. After several years of caring for so many dogs 24/7/365, two Great Danes that we didn’t adopt died at nine to 10 years old, and we were incredibly devastated. We vowed that we would find a way to help them live longer, healthier, happier lives.
Caring for so many dogs night and day (never less than 50 Great Danes living in our home with us), we learned a tremendous amount with so much hands-on experience, and over several years, we developed our Special Feeding and Care Program, which fabulously added on an average of three or more additional years to each dog’s life. Our Danes were then living 10 to 12 years, which was tremendous in and of itself, but we really wanted them to live many years longer.
Eventually, we realized that the only new thing that we could do to help these wonderful loving dogs live longer was to create what we believed to be the finest dog food that we could make to keep our rescued Gentle Giants with us years longer. After multiple nutritionists, enormous amounts of money (well spent), and combining the dynamic duo of science and common sense, we finally created our unique formula—Gentle Giants Dog and Puppy Food.
We never intended to sell our dog food, we just couldn’t stand that our Danes were only living 10 to 12 years, which was still a wonderful, much longer life for Great Danes, but it wasn’t good enough for us! As we were adopting our Danes and many other breeds, the adopters began noticing that we had Great Danes that were 16 and 17 years old, as well as other breeds that were in their late teens, and all of them were only eating the special dog food that we made. Our adopters were both amazed and insistent that they would only adopt a dog from us if we sold them the special formulated food that we had made for our own dogs. Suddenly, we had to properly label our bags of Gentle Giants Dog and Puppy Food. Because our total focus has always been on developing a food for dogs that was designed solely to help them live longer, healthier, active lives with a wonderful quality of life, and not for profit (we have never taken a salary from the sales of our dog food), our Gentle Giants Dog and Puppy Food is significantly different from other dog foods. We have a lower fat content and our dog food is not greasy on the outside of each kibble.
What has been the biggest challenge in growing your food brand? Our biggest challenge has been educating pet parents about both our Gentle Giants Dog and Puppy Food, as well as our Gentle Giants Special Feeding and Care Program. We receive thousands of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages, and we do our best to personally talk to people and answer their questions. Our phone number is printed on the back of every product, and we answer our phones and the questions ourselves.
What are your goals for Gentle Giants? In our Batman movie, we faced four heinous villains at the same time. Commissioner Gordon asked Batman what their objective might be. Batman answered, “I think their minimum objective is the entire world.” Our objective is to help every dog in the entire world live the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible with the best quality of life! PB