Following the afternoon speakers, it was time to go visit the Hill’s Pet Partners. These are the dogs and cats that test the food, both for taste and how it nourishes their bodies at different stages of their lives. I was not happy to know that 400+ dogs and 500 cats lived at the Hill’s facility spending their entire lives testing food. I was very skeptical as we approached the Pet Partner’s living quarters and not shy about voicing my displeasure at such a concept.
I was expecting a scene out of one of the PETA promos or something resembling a shelter. I envisioned long rows of cages in a one story concrete block building with outdoor runs having dirt floors. I was ready for the overwhelming din of hundreds of barking dogs…something like the shelter in my home county only 400 times as bad. I was so very, very wrong.
I limit my comments to the dog areas and to the dogs in particular, because I don’t really know what makes cats happy or what they expect out of living quarters. I do know that dogs are pack animals and since these animals were part of a large group, living in areas of 20 dogs each with very spacious sleeping quarters and plenty of room to play, it was not surprising that they seemed happy. There were no metal fences, no cages, no squalid runs with dirt floors and even the barking sounded happy and communicative. Most of the dogs are beagles, why I never really understood, but they were lively, bright eyed, and active.
The indoor area was light filled, spacious, and clean. There were plenty of toys and play objects about and the dogs were enjoying using them. Each area is for 2 dogs…I don’t call it a kennel because it is large and unlike any kennel I’ve ever seen. They share a play area and a sleeping area. I found it interesting that even though a separate bed is provided for each dog in the “bedroom” area, they most often sleep together on one bed. Of course, my dog sleeps on the large part of a king-sized bed and sometimes I think she’d rather I sleep on the couch, so I can’t connect this behavior as them missing a human sleeping partner. The dogs get plenty of outdoor time, have toys that are replaced regularly, and eat from a two bowl test feeding station. The food is carefully weighed, and what the dogs eat monitored and recorded. The dogs live their entire lives here in this 40,000 square foot facility and may be adopted by Hill’s employees when it’s time to retire.
The outside area-Bark Park- is huge with play structures as nice as any fancy daycare center. The dogs were active and comfortable with each other. They did not look starved for attention and their shiny coats and “healthy hug” bodies certainly confirmed they weren’t going hungry either.
The dogs have yearly dental cleanings and any other vet care that’s needed. The hospital/vet care center isAAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited. This organization sets high standards for animal hospitals and is nationally recognized. The vet hospital is equipped with all the best medical equipment and even one of those body fat scanners that top notch fitness centers offer. This is used to check the dog’s body fat ratio to determine the adequacy and effectiveness of the food.
So how do I feel about this now? From my own dog I’ve learned that dogs are creatures of habit…they like routine. In a perfect world as they say, every dog would have a home and every home would have a dog. We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of dogs are killed every year by what we call “euthanasia”. A world where people desperate to save dogs’ lives end up hoarding them, and poorly organized and under-funded “rescues” ferry dogs across state lines dreaming of “forever homes” at the destination that more often than not don’t materialize. County shelters are poorly funded and even more bereft of competent and compassionate staff, and dog food companies still exist churning out unhealthy and risky food for our pets with little or no oversight, research or testing.
In light of all of this, the dogs at Hill’s have a good life and since they come there as puppies, this is the only life they know. They get cuddled, played with, the best of vet care, and walked. They have names and identities within their pack. They never spend a night out in the cold, long hours on a chain or in a cage, face the uncertainty where their next meal is coming from or if their next day will even dawn. They live in clean spacious quarters and have a great outdoor area to play in. Lots of dogs have jobs and see the worst of humanity in war, search and rescue, and crime fighting. Other dogs like my dog live in a home with pet parents. The Pet Partners at Hill’s perform a vital job so that valuable research can be accomplished for all our pets’ nutritional needs. I think they’re doing just fine and not in need of rescue from anyone or anything.
Our last day in Kansas was spent at the dry food manufacturing plant in Emporia. After a safety session about the plant and putting on the required hard hats, lab coats, steel toe covers for shoes, and headphones, we set out on our tour. My first impression was surprise at how clean the plant was. And I think it was actually pretty quiet too…or it could have been the headphones. We really didn’t see that much…because it’s a closed manufacturing system where all the products travel through closed large pipes. Now, pipes is my word, as the system looks like large sections of conduit, but no matter what you call it…you don’t see the food actually being “made.” Over a half-million pounds of dry dog food are made every day at this plant. Nothing is made on Saturday or Sunday as the entire plant is cleaned then. We went through all the different areas; where the raw materials arrive, where they are “extruded” in closed containers so again, we couldn’t see this, followed the overhead “pipes” to where the food is packaged.
We did see LOTS of finished product on pallets. Each bag and pallet is part of an intricate inventory system that can target down to the very moment if something goes wrong and pull that product out of the system. With over 140 ingredients it wouldn’t be surprising if something went wrong every day, but it doesn’t.
As a pet parent, my overall opinion of Hill’s was quite different than I thought it would be before the trip. The Hill’s employees we met appeared dedicated to creating a healthy food for pets and each of their roles in this process was quite different, yet they are a team. They believe in the mission of their company and in my estimation, benefit from that mission in their personal lives with their own pets. The mission of the company is sincere and one all pet parents can endorse.
You can’t help but being impressed with the qualified personnel on the Hill’s team…from the veterinarians…they employ the second largest number of veterinarians in the world (150)…to the business people…they talk passionately about their product and the lives of the pets that benefit from it. The scientists are top in their particular field of expertise and their enthusiasm and dedication to their field of research and its contribution to the finished Hill’s product is refreshing in a world where complacency is common.
Hill’s shares its knowledge and its product with veterinarians, shelters, and customers through various programs. The company demonstrates responsibility in the shelter program…providing food to 1000 shelters daily. Our last speaker of the day on Wednesday was Jan McHugh-Smith, CAWA , Certified Animal Welfare Administrator, who is the CEO of two of Colorado’s largest shelters. She told how the food Hill’s provides to their shelters makes what they do possible. Hills Food, Shelter, and Love Program has helped find homes for 5 Million pets and is working on 5 Million more.
Good nutrition plays a key role for homeless pets. Getting them healthy is a first step to the road to a permanent home. Customers can call the company and get answers to questions about feeding their pet, and there is a special consultation line for veterinarians as well as the Mark Morris Institute and all its resources.
Choosing good nutrition for our pets is vital for their health. I still seek what is ultimately going to be best for Sadie and it might be a Hill’s product, but for now I’m glad to know there’s a company that cares about what she eats…what your dog or cat eats…and after seeing it for myself . I am confident they’re on the right track and have been on it for many, many years, with a mission of constant improvement and above all:
To help lengthen and enrich the relationships between
People like me and their pets like Sadie.