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Santa Fe entrepreneur cashes in on raw dog food

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Pen Road building has a new tenant — a natural dog-food kitchen and retail outlet that aims to become a social center for Santa Fe’s many dog lovers.

Marty’s Meals got started in October 2010 when Sandra Bosben, a carpenter who lost her job during the recession, began experimenting in her Galisteo home kitchen with homemade dog food for her dog, Marty.

Bosben had adopted Marty from a rescue group in Oakland, Calif., some 15 years ago when the dog was 6 months old. He soon became lame from degenerative joint disease and had two surgeries to correct his knees.

“I was thinking I’m going to have to put him down,” she said. “Then I start making this food for him, and it changes his life. . He’s no longer lame. He’s a different dog. He turned into a vital dog that went on horseback rides with me.”

As word of mouth spread among her friends, Bosben began to get so many requests for the home-made dog food that she rented a small commercial kitchen in Eldorado and began turning out dog and cat food for sale.

She said she soon began to get raves from customers about improvements in their pets’ health — from skin and joint problems to cancer. Soon, she said, she was making deliveries to dozens of homes in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and selling to seven local pet boutiques (Critters & Me, Eldorado Country Pet, Lucky Dawg Day Care, Paws Plaza, Pooch Pantry, Tullivers Natural Pet Food and Teca Tu).

Marty’s Meals’ business sign went up late last week when the city gave her the permit to start operating in the building at 1107 Pen Road, originally built in the early 1900s as Slades Dairy next to the old Territorial Penitentiary.

In recent years, the building has been split between the Barkin’ Boutique, a thrift shop operated by the Española Humane Society; Piñon Press; City Boot & Shoe Repair; and an antique furniture shop. Marty’s Meals’ main entrance and retail space is in the former space of the Barkin’ Boutique, which moved to 510 N. Guadalupe St. in 2011, and its kitchen is in the space once occupied by the furniture shop.

The larger kitchen will allow Bosben’s staff of six to turn out 1,000 to 1,400 pounds of dog food a week. That includes 10 types of dog foods selling from $5 to $7 per pound. That could translate to $10 to $70 a week, depending on the dog’s size. The company offers discounts for larger purchases and rescue groups. Deliveries are made on Wednesdays, one day after the food is prepared, packaged and frozen.

The dog foods include single-source proteins — organic, grass-fed, usually locally raised, raw or “gently cooked” beef, bison, lamb, chicken, egg and wild-caught salmon (no horse meat) — mixed with organic, locally grown vegetables, like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, bok choy, parsley, fennel, carrots, dill and chicory, plus fish oil and other healthy additives.

Some of the dog food has organic grain and some is grain-free. Some is made with easily digestible oat grains for young puppies. Marty’s Meals also carries meaty bones for canine dental health and a line of organic, gluten-free dog biscuits.

Bosben is also working with Dee Blanco, a Santa Fe homeopathic veterinarian, to develop six different types of cat food that mix raw red meat, such as beef or rabbit, with fish.

“Cats are very picky. They’re our toughest customers,” Bosben said. “We put the fish in there so the cats can smell that. They’re very sensitive to the smell. They like very fresh food, unlike dogs.”

Bosben said that when she began feeding her cats the homemade product, she noticed that she no longer could smell their litter box.

But the big advantage, she said, is in the increased vitality and health improvements compared to that of an animal raised on processed pet food.

Commercial dog food is “cooked under extreme conditions and then put through an extrusion process, which essentially takes the vitamins and minerals out, which is why you see a list of ingredients that are very long on a package of dog food,” Bosben said. “They have to put those synthetic vitamins back into the food because they were lost in the process.”

Bosben plans a grand opening for the end of June and looks forward to expanding into Boulder, Colo., in the next year or two. But the most exciting proposal, she said, was to create a community educational center on animal health care.

“Our biggest point is to bring people in every other week . to educate people about all different aspects of animal health,” she said. “Eventually, we’re going to have cooking classes in our kitchen, where we teach people how to make their own healthy dog food. .

“Dr. Blanco will consult and design specific menus for dogs that have specific issues. So if you’ve got a sick dog that’s got allergies, who’s got specific illnesses . we will make that food special for that animal — dog or cat.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.