Houston couple Brantley Highfill, 36, and Cris Steward, 40, have been together for eleven years. In that time, they have grown their family to include two Catahoula “super mutts,” Olive and Emma, and started a small business called BakedBones. They specialize in the production of baked dog
treats that include cannabidiol, or CBD. And for them, business is a family affair.
“When Olive was a puppy, she had demodectic mange that spread quickly and became very painful for her. She was losing her hair and itching so badly that she was scratching her face until it bled. At that time, our preventative measures were limited mainly to the cone and prescription sedatives while we waited for the medication treating the mange to resolve the issue. She would basically just sleep and seem almost drunk while she was on those medications,” Steward says.
“We wanted more options to be able to help. CBD has played an important role in our own approach to wellness, so naturally we wanted to share that key to balance with our pet.”
“We think of our dogs as family,” adds Highfill. “Seeing them uncomfortable is a terrible feeling that other pet parents can often relate to. Armed with oven mitts and rolling pins, we’ve been helping dogs cope with everything from anxiety to arthritis, and it has been incredibly rewarding and inspiring.”
CBD has grown in popularity since becoming widely legal. According to the Harvard Medical School, it is the second-most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana). It is derived directly from the hemp plant, a “cousin” of marijuana, and it can also be manufactured in a lab. CBD by itself does not cause the “high” commonly associated with marijuana. It has been touted to help reduce afflictions like anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and even addiction cravings.
According to the men, BakedBones combines the effectiveness of CBD with other natural, organic ingredients selected for a dog’s health. Their CBD is sourced from organic full-spectrum, American-grown hemp, and is third-party lab tested.
“It really is fascinating how one plant can do so much. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD is a compound that interacts with your dog’s endocannabinoid system. That is the biological system that helps regulate major processes like pain, sleep, mood, and inflammation. People use CBD for a lot of different reasons, and the benefits for dogs are just as varied. While anxiety, pain management, and overall wellness are most common, a lot of the dogs we work with use BakedBones to reduce inflammation and increase mobility. Separation anxiety is another big reason, especially as many pandemic puppies are adjusting to their parents no longer working from home,” Highfill says.
These men come from backgrounds that one wouldn’t normally associate with their current bakery venture. Highfill is an architect who manages his own practice, and Steward has a background in oil and gas trading. He now focuses full-time on the bakery business.
“Between baking, shipping, and all of the other hats I wear on a regular basis, there’s just enough time left at the end of the day to take a walk with the girls before the sun goes down. It’s been very exciting to be able to create the opportunity to apply my business degree toward actually starting and running a business,” Steward says.
“I’ve always thought of architecture being more about building experiences and less about making buildings. Running BakedBones really isn’t that different—just at a smaller scale and with cuter clients!” Highfill laughs.
Running the business has created space for the couple to thrive together. Sometimes this can be challenging, but through those challenges they have taken advantage of the opportunity to also grow as a couple in business and in life.
“Creating the opportunity to work together was one of the reasons we decided to start BakedBones, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. We balance each other in a lot of ways and are slowly learning to set boundaries and be more intentional with our work/life balance. It’s not always easy,” Highfill notes.
“Differences might not always seem like a blessing, but when starting a small business they’re certainly an asset because we have to wear a lot of hats. Sometimes we spend too long debating over a minute detail, but we really stand behind our product and it is important that we are making something we are both proud of,” Steward adds.
They also realize that giving back is a key component of their mission to improve the lives of dogs—including those without a home. Long before the business was profitable, they committed to donating a portion of every
sale to their no-kill rescue partners, and they’ve been able to help support shelters across Harris County. That mission is a big motivator for the work they do.
BakedBones can be found in a few stores across the country, and at local retailers like Manready Mercantile in the Heights. However, the most popular way to get their product is by subscribing to their “monthly boxes” online. They release a new seasonal flavor each month, and shipping is free.
“Our extra-strength blends are the most popular. Most people come to us looking for solutions to help their dog, and the extra-strength blends always deliver. The monthly Explore Box has been a big hit. People enjoy the convenience of easy dosing and sharing the flavors of the season with their pets,” Highfill says.
Unfortunately, cat lovers will have to wait for BakedBones to expand their market to become feline-inclusive.
“We get requests for cat (and human) recipes a lot. Maybe one day. But for now, we ‘bake dogs happy.’”
For more info, visit bakedbones.com.
This article is featured in the March 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.