Organic cooking for sick dog sprouts business

When Paul Gallant's golden retriever, Hunter, was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, he wanted to do everything he could to save him.

When a veterinarian who specialized in holistic care suggested the New Milford man pick up a wooden spoon and start cooking meals for his dog, Gallant said he was up to the task.

In addition to the homemade meals, Gallant's veterinarian gave him a mixture of Chinese herbs and medicines for Hunter.

"I made a deal with Hunter," Gallant said recently while cooking a batch of pumpkin dog cookies. "I told him that I'd keep cooking if he would keep living. He's kept up his side of the bargain, and now it's time for me to keep mine."

Despite having been given less than six months to live when first diagnosed, Hunter, who is now 7, has a clean bill of health and the cancer has disappeared.

Gallant, who not long ago moved to New Milford from his home in New Hampshire, recently started Paul's Custom Pet Food, a business that makes a variety of organic food for dogs and cats.

He said he can also provide custom meals to meet an animal's specific dietary needs.

"Some of my friends joke that Hunter eats better than I do," Gallant said. "I use locally sourced organic ingredients whenever possible, including grass-fed beef and free-range chicken."

Some of the products offered by Gallant include Hunter's Beef and Greens, a stew including beef, organic broccoli, organic kale, red kidney beans from Maine, organic mushrooms and barley.

All of the pet food is handmade by Gallant and fresh frozen in one-cup servings for dogs and half-cup servings for cats.

While Gallant has yet to turn a profit, he hopes to spread the word about his products by offering them at area farmers markets.

The entrepreneur has been considering offering his line of pet-food products through speciality retailers in the area.

"We haven't made a lot of money yet, but there has been a tremendous amount of interest," he said. "By going to the farmers markets, I'm hoping to educate the public about the benefits of organic pet food made with ingredients that don't include any synthetic chemicals, growth hormones or any unnecessary antibiotics."

Dr. Hannah Wells, the chief of staff at the Health and Wellness Animal Hospital in New Hampshire that cared for Hunter, said food can become as important as medicine or therapy in many cases when caring for animals.

The high level of processed foods for both humans and pets, she said, can weaken the immune system over time.

"It is important to understand that although this diet is not necessarily used as a sole diet, the ability to customize it for use as a supplement can be very helpful in many cases, from inflammatory conditions to allergies, diabetics and cancer, to name just a few examples," Wells said.

"As Paul has stated, clients should seek their veterinarian's advice before starting any new therapy."

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Photography by Carol Kaliff