The Economics of Pet Products

I go to the local Petco store from time to time just to check out what's on the shelves. And do you know what I find on almost every aisle? Misdirection, misrepresentation, and sometimes outright deception. Most of the products in the cat care aisles are simply not appropriate for cats. When a well-intentioned person buys one of these products, they may be disappointed that their cat doesn't take to it at all. Or the product may help to create behavior issues that the cat will be blamed for.

Is this Petco's fault? No. Petco is a retailer. Their job is to stock the pet supplies that people want and to sell them in an attractive and convenient way. The marketing spin and poor product designs come from the companies who produce many of the products stocked there, and at Petsmart, Amazon, Chewy, Pet Food Direct, etc. The responsibility for what's stocked is ultimately in your hands and mine.

As I walk down the aisles of cat products I see many (MANY) products that simply are more appropriate for humans than they are for cats. For example, cats don't like hooded litter boxes but there are a dozen different versions of them here at Petco. Why? Because cats have no wallets. We've basically trained our pet supply vendors and retailers to appeal to us instead of to our cats and it's time we retrained them.

If you know anything about working with animals, even human animals, you know that it's much easier to train than to re-train, but that's exactly what we have to do. Every dollar we spend on pet supplies should be a conscious choice. Think, "Is this what my feline friend would choose?" or "Will this appeal to my cat's instincts?" instead of "Oooo, isn't that cute?" or "That package sure is pretty." Marketing experts have many people in the palm of their hands. We have to step back and think about our choices and how they'll affect the well-being of our cats. We need to see the products, not the packaging. Imagine them in our homes and imagine how our cats will truly respond.

Yes, that means retraining ourselves first and foremost to view pet supplies from the perspective of our furry friends. Then we need to convince other, less cat-savvy individuals to do the same. If we can do so, slowly, but surely, we'll see pet supply stores carry better and more species-appropriate products. Better for us and better for our cats. We just have to lead the way.

Review: Curious Cat Cube

Cats may be the toughest friends to buy for. Nine times out of ten, they prefer the boxes their gifts come in to the gifts themselves. But every now and then a product comes along that captivates them from the word go. The Curious Cat Cube (C3) is one of those special hit products and it comes at a very reasonable price too.

The C3 arrives broken down into the outer shell, the bottom floor and the bed on top. There are also a couple of dangly puff balls that are optional and can be hung outside the holes on the cube. The sides are fairly solid with a faux suede covering that's easy to clean. The inner floor is covered in the same white material that covers the bed up top, but without the extra padding found there. The lid just sits on top like a shoe box lid so it's easy to separate the bed from the box if your cats prefer that. All assembled, it's 15.5"x15.5"x16.5".

Our cats were immediately attracted to it and love to sit inside and reach for toys through the holes on the sides. Our older girl prefers to snooze on the top, especially during the winter months when we positioned the C3 next to our wall furnace.

All in all, it's a solid piece that's easily broken down for moving or storage, it's fun for the cats, and it's currently selling for less than $25. What's not to love? The Curious Cat Cube is highly recommended!


Review: The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets

I have no doubt that Dr. Barbara Royal is a fantastic veterinarian. She clearly embraces the best of both traditional and alternative treatment methods in order to help an animal's own body heal itself. I wish I lived near her and could bring my feline friends to her for treatment. Unfortunately, her book, The Royal Treatment, lacks the clear focus present in Dr. Royal's veterinary practice. It's a mashup of treatment philosophies, autobiographical storytelling and a few bits of very useful info. Some chapters are a single page while others are a little long-winded. All in all, the book could certainly benefit from a clearer objective.

From the subtitle, you might infer that this book was going to present a clear method that can help you to aid your pet in becoming the healthiest animal that she can be. I know I thought as much. But there isn't very much in the way of advice here, and what is here is mainly focused on dogs. Yes, there are a few sections devoted exclusively to cats, but they are few and far between. I'd estimate that less then 1/6 of the book is feline-centric.

The bulk of the 400 pages is a veterinary memoir. The stories are well-told and entertaining and I enjoyed Dr. Royal's writing style, but I wasn't particularly interested in reading her biography. I was more interested in learning about her care model. Her basic philosophy nis clearly communicated but much of her advice is presented anecdotally here in the form of stories. I'd personally prefer clear, species-specific advice even if it wasn't as entertaining to read.

The biggest problem I have with the book is the fact that much of the care advice given is written without a clear indication of exactly what species the advice applies to. This is a frequent occurrence in the book and an awful oversight for someone who is looking for help with caring for a particular kind of animal. It's clear that Dr. Royal likes all animals, but she loves dogs. In many cases where no species is mentioned, it's safe to assume she intends the advice for dog caregivers alone.

As a reader who is primarily interested in cats, I found this and a few of her offhanded cat criticisms a tiny bit off-putting. Not enough to hamper my enjoyment of the book, but disappointing because I hoped to actually learn something new that I could apply to my work here at KHD.

If you're looking for a good, non-fiction book to read for pleasure, I can certainly recommend this one. If you're looking for specific cat care content with a focus on holistic care, I'm afraid you'll need to look elsewhere.

Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

A Street Cat Named Bob is a 2016 feature film based on the bestselling book by James Bowen. While it's well produced, it plays a bit like a made for TV Lifetime movie. The film is based on the true story of Bowen's climb out of the gutter with the help of a ginger tom cat called Bob. While the no holds barred true version straight from Bowen's pen is presented in his bestselling book of the same name, the film version is somewhat whitewashed. As far as I can tell, this was done for the sake of easier storytelling and to broaden the appeal of the feature.

The story revolves around Bowen, played by Luke Treadaway, and his fight with heroin addiction and homelessness on the streets of London. After years of struggling alone, the presence of a generous social worker, here played by Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt, and the titular cat help him to realize that he has more to live for than his next fix. The film is harmless enough but it never really opens up any of the characters beyond what's needed by the very basic plot.

All of the performances are sound, not the least of which is Bob's. He's given star billing and we're expected to believe that the real Bob is the only cat we see in the movie. He isn't. The crew used a cadre of lookalike stunt-cats alongside the real feline star in order to get all the shots they needed.

Make no mistake - this film, though it is based on Bowen's true story, includes a lot of fabricated elements to try and force it to conform to the warm-hearted, rags-to-riches plot it so desperately wants to embody. In that regard, the film is entirely predictable.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bowen's very honest account in his 2012 book. I enjoyed the film less, and only partially because of the watered-down tone. Any time a cat is used on set, I cringe a little. I've worked on film sets myself so I know how impatient people can be when time is running short. It's no place for an animal, least of all a cat. 

Worse yet is the film's portrayal of James feeding Bob nothing but human food from the corner store. He's shown giving Bob milk, tuna, and other canned fish products along with what looks like a little bit of dry kibble. While most cats will gladly eat canned tuna, it lacks many of the nutrients they require, especially taurine. If James was still feeding Bob this inadequate diet, I've no doubt that Bob would not have survived. The fact that this is never mentioned in the film shows just how cat-unfriendly the production really is.

While I have no doubt that James Bowen loves Bob and cares for him as well as he can, the fact remains that Bowen, his publishers and the producers of the film are all exploiting Bob's popularity for money. There are now several Bob books, including a children's book (which begins with Bob's elderly caregiver dying - another convenient omission from the film), a Christmas book, and a sequel to the original bestseller. If this adds to people's love of cats, I'm all for it, but I know that Bob really only cares about being safe and warm and fed with his human. Fortunately, books don't require Bob's presence, but this film did.

The Real Bowen and Bob

The Real Bowen and Bob

Rather than a rags-to-riches story, I'd have preferred the filmmakers focus on Bowen's awakening to the fact that Bob is a sentient being who isn't that different from all us other mammals. That's the part of the story that's present in the book but is missing from the film.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a harmless enough entertainment, albeit a shallow one. It's just too bad that's all it is.

Review: Pet Fooled

If you pay any attention to pet food labels (and you should), you know what a mix of information and hyperbole they are. Even the most diligent consumers can quickly become overwhelmed by the maze of misinformation that's put out there by the big pet food brands. Add in the fact that most of these are owned and operated by just a handful of huge conglomerates and you have a real mess.

Pet Fooled is a documentary that challenges the status quo and tells it like it is. No matter how many pretty pictures of happy animals they put on their packages, most pet food companies are selling garbage and telling us that it's the best thing to feed our furry family members. In essence, they're lying to all of us, and it's high time they were called on it.

That's not to say that all pet food is bad. It isn't. There are some conscientious companies out there (see THIS POST for our top recommendations and links to some great resources). If there's a shortcoming to this documentary, it's that not enough good alternatives are specified. That's a minor nit, but a genuine cause for concern when you've spent the bulk of your short 70 minute running time telling us just how bad the situation is. Most consumers want to know what their best options are in spite of the misleading pet food manufacturers' claims.

The film, written and directed by Kohl Harrington, is well produced and features veterinary noteworthies Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Barbara Royal, along with activist Susan Thixton of and others. They all have very important insights into the pet food industry and I feel it's important for more people to hear them. The only way commercial pet foods will change is if people change their buying habits.

Pet Fooled is a fantastic first step for many consumers. It's that first ray of light in the darkness. The second step is up to you. Do your research and pick the best foods you can afford. After all, your feline friends are depending on you!