…and what they eat
by Marene Gustin
Photo by Melissa Fink
See also other OutSmart pet articles:
One Hundred Thousand Hearts
Friends of BARC
Soft and Cuddly Bedding for Your Soft and Cuddly Pets
We always had a family dog growing up in Bandera, in the Hill Country outside of San Antonio,” 49-year-old Reagan Stevens says. “They lived in the back yard and wandered around the streets. I used to get in trouble for letting them inside the house.”
That was then, this is now.
Today Stevens, owner of Premium Pet Products and the Katy pet boutique Animal Tales, can’t imagine leaving Butch outside. The four-and-a-half-year-old English bull terrier often goes to work with Stevens, and even travels with him when he’s headed to pet-friendly hotels.
“It’s funny because the valets will recognize Butch, but not me,” he laughs.
Stevens isn’t alone.
The American Pet Products Association estimates that 62 percent of U.S. homes (that’s 71.4 million households) own a pet, and Americans are expected to spend $47.7 billion on those animals this year. And $18.8 billion of that will be spent
With the boom in pet ownership, and the increasing public knowledge about natural, organic, and slow food, it makes sense that people are more and more interested in what they are feeding their beloved four-footed friends.
“It’s not just what’s in the dog food,” he says, “but what’s not in it. It used to be full of corn and soy, cheap ingredients that dogs don’t traditionally eat, as opposed to natural or organic beef, chicken, and lamb.
“If your dog has a problem—scratching, licking his feet, diarrhea—you need to look at why. Often it can be what he’s eating. Even snacks and treats should have a purpose. They should contain protein and salmon oil for skin and coat, glucosamine to help the joints. Don’t give empty treats—it’s like feeding kids candy.”
Stevens selects the products his company distributes based on the quality of ingredients and the usefulness of the foods, such as the holistic properties of the treats that aid coat and joints. While much of his product is organic (which is certified by the USDA’s National Organic Program, just like organic people food), he also sources natural foods, which may be equally high quality but not certified.
Stevens is passionate about healthy pets, as much as some folks are passionate about childhood obesity and what we feed our children. And for the same reasons. With baby boomers and young singles lavishing more money than sense on their animal babies, we’re raising a country of overweight and unhealthy pets.
“It’s about responsible pet ownership,” Stevens says. “People will walk their dogs on grass sprayed with pesticides, then run to the vet for antibiotics and spot flea treatments because the animals are licking their paws and scratching. We wear shoes, they don’t. We need to pay attention to what they are doing and what we are feeding them.”
Stevens’ 14-year-old company, Premium Pet Products, distributes natural, healthy, high-quality holistic pet foods and products to retail shops in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The company is on a steady growth pattern, thanks to increasing education about pet nutrition. But that wasn’t always the case.
A 1984 graduate of Texas A&M with a degree in health education and human physiology, Stevens spent a decade in human food service before stumbling into pet nutrition.
A friend of a friend had dealings with a natural pet food manufacturer that didn’t have a distribution arm. As a sideline, Stevens began distributing the goods, hauling individual bags of dog food to clients in his car. Today the company has logoed trucks, a full staff, and a reputation for giving back.
He prefers to fly under the radar, but admits that the company gives a lot in donations to breed rescue groups. As a sideline, two years ago Stevens bought a Katy-area pet boutique called Animal Tales that hosts a monthly Yappy Hour to benefit a different group.
“We choose a rescue group every month and donate proceeds of certain products to them,” he says. “We try to provide a fun shopping environment with fancy products and quality everyday nutritional items.”
And while some may balk at paying premium prices for premium goods, Stevens is good at convincing pet owners that nutrition for their loved ones is important.
“People will spend thousands on a Labrador, then pay someone to train him to hunt with them once or twice a year,” Stevens says. “Then they balk at paying more for their food. No one said that the dog was going to be free when you got him. And by spending more on better quality food, you’ll save a lot later on vet bills.”
Stevens likes people food as well. The Memorial-area resident loves cooking for his friends, collects wine, and enjoys hopping on one of his motorcycles and dashing off to a good restaurant—usually Barnaby’s, Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen, or The Palm, which he admits has an older clientele but a really good Wednesday happy hour.
Oh, and those bikes? He has three: one Harley and two BMWs.
“I’m too old for that,” he says, “but it’s fun!”
And yes, this dog-loving do-gooder with a sense of humor is single. Which, he says, is good some days, and some days not.
But he’s never really had problems with being gay.
“As a kid I had the bullying like we all did,” he says. “But I was always big for my age, so they didn’t mess with me. And the pet industry is very gay-friendly, so I’m proud to say it’s never been an issue in my business.”
But right now, he’s just focusing on his companies and his passion for pet health. Apparently he practices what he preaches, as the lovely white Butch has never had antibiotics or spot flea treatments.
“He’s happy and healthy and very, very sweet,” he says of his beloved dog.
So does that mean Butch never gets people food?
“Okay, he does get people food once in awhile,” Stevens admits. “I’m the worst sometimes. He loves french fries, and I’ll sneak him a few.”
But isn’t that real love? We feed our babies healthy food and watch after them, but every once in awhile we all gotta splurge. And how can you refuse those big puppy eyes and drool while you’re eating french fries?
Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.