Inspired by dog, Paul’s Custom Pet Food opens in New Milford

NEW MILFORD — Paul Gallant and Lynn Felici-Gallant of Paul’s Custom Pet Food in town said they were inspired by their former dog, a Golden Retriever named Hunter, to open their business.

Fifteen years ago, when Hunter became very sick, the diet they were advised to put him on improved his health and extended his life, they said. Through their new business, they now want to share what they learned about healthy pet food in the hopes of keeping all pets healthy.

The business, formerly occupied by Green Granary at 84 Railroad St., makes all its pet food with fresh, real ingredients.

Along with bags of single-ingredient pet treats, including Chicken Brittle, Beef Liver Bits and Total Yam – the business sells containers of six fresh, handmade full-batch foods for dogs as well as a handful of cat food toppers. T

The six full-balanced meals include Arlie’s Lamb, Casey’s Chicken, Darla’s Turkey, Hunter’s Beef, Spud’s Beef, Jessie’s Beef and Turkey Jambalaya and Zeke’s Chicken and Turkey. Many of the meals are named after dogs the Gallant’s have owned.

“The only thing that goes into the recipes that’s designed for pets is a vitamin — Chef’s Canine Complete,” Felici-Gallant said. “The rest is human grade food.”

Hunter’s path to wellness

In 2010, Hunter was diagnosed with fibrosarcoma in his jaw. The couple went to Angell Animal Medical Hospital in Boston, which performed surgery on Hunter’s jaw, followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

“For us, we just didn’t think that was the way to go for quality of life for a 3-year-old dog,” Gallant said.

The couple returned to New Hampshire, where they were living at the time and connected with Dr. Hannah Wells, a veterinarian who practices holistic veterinary medicine and Western traditional Chinese veterinary medicines.

Gallant said Wells asked them if they cooked for Hunter, and the couple began removing all the processed food from Hunter’s diet and cooking the meals Wells recommended, adding powdered Chinese herbs and medication to the meals.

Within two years, Gallant said the cancer was out of Hunter’s system. Hunter lived 10 more years, until the age of 13.

Though Hunter inspired the couple to get into the fresh food world, Gallant said they were also motivated by the health issues related to pet food that were previously unknown to them.

“That’s the problem with commercial food on a large scale,” he said. “People trust the manufacturers and people should really look into what is the processed food that we buy. Fresh food is still expensive, but any fresh food in a pet diet is better than none, so we recommend people read the bag when they get any food for their pets.”

Opening the business

The couple moved from New Hampshire to Connecticut in 2013 after Felici-Gallant was offered an opportunity to work at Fine Gardening Magazine in Newtown. While Gallant had a masonry job lined up, he said he and Felici-Gallant started thinking about their idea of ​​opening a fresh pet food business.

At that time, Gallant said they had some pet food recipes, cookies and Hunter’s recipe, though he said their recipes were only toppers. Toppers, according to Felici-Gallant, are small batches of food that people can mix with dry food to slowly introduce their pets to fresh food; however, toppers don’t contain the vitamins needed to make them a full-balanced meal.

“Our big question was, ‘Where do we want to go with our food and who do we want to reach?’” Gallant said.

Instead of selling their pet food in a wholesale environment like a supermarket, Gallant said they thought about selling at a farmer’s market where people go to purchase healthful food for their family. By providing healthful food for animals at a farmer’s market, he said they could complete the circle of providing food for the whole family.

Over time, the couple began selling their pet food at farmers’ markets, eventually growing into a full-time winter and summer market vendor. As they continued developing their pet food recipes, they sent their recipes through a veterinary nutritionist, Rebecca Rebillard, who helped balance their recipes into full balanced meals.

Because Hunter’s recipe had been a prescription diet when they first started cooking pet food, Gallant said they wanted to offer a service to veterinarians where he and Felici-Gallant would cook the prescription foods for the veterinarians’ clients. What they didn’t know at the time, Gallant said, was how time-consuming it’d be to win the veterinarian community’s trust.

Nevertheless, Gallant said 50 percent of their work today is making custom prescription diets for clients. As a side note, he said if people are going to look into prescription diets for their pets, most pet insurance companies will be able to cover the cost of the prescription.

Felici-Gallant said it’s a big bonus to their customers to offer fresh prescription pet food, adding, “We are the fresh alternative.”

“There’s a proportion of vitamins and minerals that balance the recipe,” Felici-Gallant said. “People can make food at home, but it’s often not balanced.”

Today, Gallant said they get their pet food recipes from veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists from across the country, who send their clients to Paul’s Custom Pet Food. Along with selling their products in the store, they offer shipping and delivery services.

For eight years, the couple cooked their custom pet food out of a commercial kitchen before pursuing their plan of opening a kitchen that’d be open to the public. As they switched the space from a cafe to a production facility, she said it took them four months to get the space up and running.

With their business setting down roots in town, she said they’re going to co-brand a coffee blend called Catherine’s Blend with BD Provisions in New Milford. The blend is named after Catherine Violet Hubbard, who was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, and 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary’s Senior Paw Project, which provides critically needed pet food, veterinary care assistance and foster /respite care to senior pet owners struggling to keep or care for their animals.

For more information, visit Paul’s Custom Pet Food at paulscustompetfood.com or calling 860-912-2910.