Bikkies for the bow wows
MANY kinds of animal testing are frowned upon these days, and rightly so, but there’s a select group of Featherston dogs that had no problems with being part of Karyn Carter’s testing panel.
Carter is creator, manufacturer and marketer of doggytreats, a range of dog biscuits made from locally sourced all-natural ingredients, free of grain and other things not good for dogs, and safe even for humans to eat.
Carter herself has done the taste test.
‘‘They’re a bit tough and quite chewy,’’ she says. ‘‘And, I have to admit, I needed a glass of Wairarapa’s finest to wash down the beef liver sample.’’
Dogs however are happy to chow down without the benefit of a side bowl of chardonnay.
As well as beef liver, there’s chicken liver and a mixture of bacon and parmesan to tempt the most sophisticated canine palate. The biscuits also contain vitamins and minerals to keep coats glossy and owners coming back for more.
Carter came up with the idea after relocating from Wellington to Featherston.
‘‘I was inspired by the number of people making all their own things here – like olive oils, lavender products and so on – and I’d just won a food processor and cake mixer, so I thought surely there was something I could do with them.’’
Noticing the large number of canine companions in the area was the eureka moment, Carter says.
‘‘Wherever you go, there are dogs. They’re everywhere. So I came up with a way to combine the creative urge with doing something for them.’’
Carter set about researching what might make a healthy treat for dogs, and then had to develop recipes, which proved to be a challenge.
‘‘I wanted them to be grain-free, but grain-free dough without gluten is a nightmare,’’ Carter says. ‘‘I’d never baked before – anything – so to get the ingredients to stick together and then be able to cut them out into a precise shape, and make sure they taste good . . . it was a lot of trial and error.’’
With the prototypes out of the oven, a testing panel was required.
‘‘A friend of mine operates a doggy day care centre, so she had lots of mutts to test the biscuits,’’ Carter says. ‘‘And then anyone I knew who had a dog was roped in.’’
Initial feedback was very favourable. ‘‘I could tell by the wagging tails,’’ Carter says.
‘‘So I moved into proper production. At the start I was literally hand rolling the dough, and quickly realised that wasn’t going to be feasible so I ended up investing in some proper commercial baking equipment.’’
Although the dough is done in a machine, the biscuits are cut out by hand using a bone-shaped stamper.
‘‘And then they have to be cooked,’’ says Carter. ‘‘That takes about 18 hours – it’s slow but helps keep all the goodness in and maintains the integrity of the biscuit.’’
To market her product, Carter has taken her product to the markets – one in Featherston on Saturdays and others throughout the Wairarapa.
‘‘The stalls are a great way to get the brand out there,’’ she says.
‘‘People get to meet me and see it’s an honest person producing an honest product as it were – and only for honest dogs.
‘‘I sell them online as well – I had to make my own website which I had no experience in – and I’ve got them into supermarkets, in New World in Thorndon and also at Greytown Fresh Choice, along with Vet Services Wairarapa.’’
Persuading supermarkets to stock goods is never easy, Carter says.
‘‘There were certain conditions to meet – I had to buy barcodes and be part of the product recall register, so there were quite a few hurdles to get over.’’
‘‘Initially the supermarkets were unsure how they’d go, but I’ve spoken to the grocery manager in the Wellington store and he was really impressed, and the people in Greytown are quite big local supporters so they were quite happy to stock the biscuits because of that.’’
Carter’s background is not what you’d expect from someone in the pet food business. A former associate producer on game show Sale of the Century, she was working for the Department of Immigration in the capital before the move over the hill.
Earlier, Carter had been in Sydney working in event management, returning to Wellington to take up a role with the Immigration Service before moving to the Department of Labour.
‘‘They were rebranding the immigration service,’’ Carter says.
‘‘And I was involved in the implementation of that. It was all very busy with long hours, but I really enjoyed it . . . and then I got sick.’’
Carter had developed a bone disease, which required one hip to be replaced.
‘‘The other’s due to be done next year,’’ she says. ‘‘On top of that I also have chronic fatigue syndrome – so to cut a long story short – I had this great normal life and then I got sick, and I wasn’t able to work.’’
The shift to Featherston has been beneficial on more than one level, she says.
‘‘The Wairarapa is warmer and that’s helped immensely. But I came to the realisation that I could no longer do what I’d used to do – a busy full-on job, running around in heels looking fabulous and trying to perform – so I needed to find something else. And something I could do from home.’’
Carter has a couple of other products currently under wraps that will hit the stalls next year.
‘‘They’re two quite different products – not biscuits – that are for dogs’ wellness,’’ she says.
‘‘Strangely enough – after all that corporate prancing about – I actually enjoy making these biscuits. I do get a tremendous amount of satisfaction, and I’ve certainly utilised my skills, particularly with branding, developing the brand from scratch, designing the logo, packaging, even the gazebo – it’s all mine.’’
For more information go to: www.doggytreats.nz
Karyn Carter runs Doggy Treats from her home in Featherston. Here she is giving a sample of her high-end dog biscuits to Kobi the labrador. Photos: JOHN NICHOLSON/FAIRFAX NZ