Shawna O'Handley is in the shrinking business, and it's growing. Fast. What started in her kitchen, with the sort of food-drying appliance George Foreman might sell, has expanded to turn the large garage into a small factory. Crazy Dog Dehydrated Treats is now O'Handley's more-than-full-time job, with her father, mother, brother and sister-in-law playing various support roles to get the business to this point, and keep it running.
But it all began with Willow.
I meet Willow when I visit the Crazy Dog operation in Lower Sackville. She's a light-brown cocker spaniel, roaming a Frisbee-throw from the garage with Whisper, Widget and Whip. "The W isn't a thing," O'Handley says, pointing to goldendoodle Angus.
Willow developed a skin condition because she was allergic to something in her food. O'Handley switched to a diet of raw foods that she assembled—different cuts of meat, organs, bones—and "snap! Willow stopped itching."
Problem solved. Except O'Handley's hounds are also athletes, doing disc dog and the obstacle courses of agility training. They need the motivation of frequent treats when they perform well. But Willow's allergies ruled out the typical store-bought snacks.
Enter the kitchen dehydrator. It turned the same raw meats the dogs ate at home into dry, crunchy, concentrated flavour blasts, easily carried in a jacket or jeans pocket to dog training class. Other people at class were curious about her treats. Soon she was selling to them, and to the trainer who ran the classes. A local pet store heard about the treats and wanted to carry them. This was a good hobby, then O'Handley's dad said: "Why don't you try to make a business out of this?"
That was about seven years ago, and Hanley's been racing to keep up with demand ever since. She recently bought her sixth commercial dehydrator and just rearranged the garage to make the Crazy Dogs factory a bit less cramped. The day I drop by, O'Handley and her friend Tracy are packaging Honey Beefers, the latest addition to the Crazy Dogs line, for pet stores all over Nova Scotia.
The chewy Honey Beefers, made from an all-natural recipe that O'Handley might patent, are proving a success. "I can't state it enough how popular," she says. A sign of this is Tracy's focus: She intently weighs and bags them while O'Handley and I talk. Clearly people are counting on these orders.
And O'Handley needs to get back to work. She sends me off with a bounty I set about sharing with every dog I encounter. In my field testing I learn that Honey Beefers are indeed popular, although I can't say I find them more popular than beef liver, or lamb lung or any of the goodies I have to offer. However, for a couple weeks I discover the popularity of being the canine equivalent of Willy Wonka. What a treat.