Category Archives: pet industry

Atlas Obscura Tackles the Origins of the Bone-Shaped Dog Biscuit

Atlas Obscura, one of my favorite websites, occasionally publishes articles on dogs.  In this piece, from 30 June, Michael Waters reveals the origins of bone-shaped dog biscuits.

In 1907, organic chemist Carlton Ellis came up with the recipe for what became the “Milk-Bone,” a dog biscuit that was designed to use waste milk from cows sent to slaughter. Waters reports that at first the biscuits were square, and Ellis’ own dog rejected them.  He tried the same recipe, this time shaped like a little bone, and the dog ate it with enthusiasm.  Ellis always wondered whether the shape made the difference, but in any event, the biscuit that became the Milk-Bone was born.  Ellis sold the patent to the National Biscuit Company, an important early commercial bakery.

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I’m quoted in the article, talking about the diet that most dogs still enjoyed (or not) when the Milk-Bone was invented.  On April 4, 2016, I wrote a post about a behind-the-scenes tour of the Milk-Bone factory from this May-June 1938 issue of the National Biscuit Company’s NBC Magazine, which seems to have been directed to store managers and owners.  This is the cover image.  By then, Milk-Bones were regarded largely as dog treats, although the company still suggested that dogs could live off them alone.

Thank you, Atlas Obscura!

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Fleas and Other Itches, Part III: The Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, 1950

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Counter-top display, Comb-A-Flea atomizer, Comb-A-Flea Company, Seattle, Washington, between 1950 and 1952.

Flea season is back upon us, and pet owners everywhere are emptying their wallets for those expensive, but very effective, topical monthly treatments.  There is also a thriving online community of pet owners who share less expensive and chemical free approaches to managing fleas, from feeding dogs brewers yeast and garlic to spraying pets and their beds with solutions made from the herb pennyroyal.

I’ve written a couple of posts on “Fleas and Other Itches” (10 May 2014 and 5 October 2016).  These will give you background on the traditional use of flea combs, which I still use to check whether my pets are showing evidence of infestation despite my best efforts, and on the origins of commercial flea powders.

This entry focuses on the “Comb-A-Flea Atomizer,” a patented novelty that attempted combine the traditional flea comb with an atomizer that delivered powder close to the skin of the cat or dog.  My collection includes this unused counter-top display of ten Comb-A-Flea Atomizers. The comb head of each is carefully sealed in cellophane and contains a small instructional pamphlet.  The head of the comb is plastic; the bulb appears to be rubber and the material has become too stiff to squeeze.

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Detail, Comb-A-Flea atomizers in their display package.

The Comb-a-Flea Atomizer was patented in 1952 by John L. Sullivan, who assigned it to the Comb-A-Flea Company of Seattle, Washington.   Here is the drawing for his patent. The cutaway diagram shows how the powder was pushed up the neck of the comb when the pet owner squeezed the bulb.  Comb A Flea 2017-06-24 at 9.56.49 PM

It took almost three years between this application and the issuing of the patent, and around the same time, several other people also applied for patents for combs that dispensed flea powder.  Here is another patent drawing for an “Insecticide Comb-Applicator,” which was actually received two years before the Comb-A-Flea applicator.

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I have no idea why this kind of insecticide applicator became a topic of interest by more than one inventor, and so far I can find no evidence of contact among the inventors, or lawsuits about patent infringement.  This may just be one of those things — several minds facing the same problem and coming up with similar solutions.  One thing that almost certainly made the Comb-a-Flea possible is the proliferation of plastics after World War II.  Molding a hollow comb with a little hole at the base of each tooth was easy with plastics.

Each Comb-A-Flea came with an instruction pamphlet, and I was able to work one of them out without damaging the cellophane cover.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator. Front side, unfolded.

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Instructional brochure for Comb-A-Flea applicator, reverse side.

The Comb-A-Flea suggests a couple of interesting things to think about.  First, it is one example of the sudden increase in products for pet keepers in the two decades following World War II.  Examining magazines like All-Pets, which was aimed at pet-shop owners and wholesalers, suggests that small companies, perhaps associated with other post-war novelty businesses, pumped out many novelties intended to improve the experience of owning dogs, cats, parakeets and other creatures.   (I’ll discuss the novelties associated with the 1950s craze for keeping parakeets in another post.)  The Comb-A-Flea was intended to be convenient, a sales pitch used for many kinds of household goods at the time. This was because it combined grooming the animal AND treating it for flea, ticks and lice with one implement.  If you go back and read the instructions, however, you’ll see that the applicator wasn’t really any easier to use than a comb and a shaker of flea powder.  For one thing, the text suggests that it clearly had problems with clogging.

Second, the Comb-A-Flea did NOT make use of DDT, the toxic but ubiquitous insecticide that was introduced into many household products including flea powders. Pulvex, which made a line of over-the-counter remedies for dogs, introduced DDT into its flea powder as early as 1946.  The Comb-A-Flea powder contained Pyrethrins, Rotenone and Piperonyl, all of which had been around for a while and which are still in use in garden sprays and, in the case of a variant of Piperonyl, lice shampoos. Notice that the Comb-A-Flea brochure makes a point of assuring pet owners that the insecticidal powder is safe, and that it has been approved by veterinarians and dog breeders.

The Seattle-based Comb-A-Flea Company didn’t last long, and I haven’t yet been able to learn anything about it.  In 1951, the “Atomizing Comb-A-Flea” did appear in advertisements in a few East Coast newspapers;  here is a 1951 ad from Gimbel’s in Philadelphia. But the company seems to have been gone by 1953.

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Advertisement for Comb-A-Flea Atomizer, Philadelphia Inquirer 19 August 1951. The pet department of the Comb-A-Flea

The next innovation in flea control for pets, was the invention of the flea collar, a thick plastic strip impregnated with a flea-killing chemical.  I’ll discuss this, along with the use of DDT in flea powders, in a future post.  In the meantime, we might think about the balancing act in which we pet owners engage as we struggle between the desire for relief  (for both our animals and ourselves) from biting insects and the potential dangers  of prolonged intimate contact with potentially toxic chemicals.

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Dog repellents: suburban gardens, free-roaming dogs and Dogzoff

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“Dogzoff” repellant in an aerosol dispenser.  Bohlender Plant Chemicals. Inc.  Tippecanoe City, Ohio, ca. 1955.

Behold another of my unusual acquisitions — a 60-plus year old empty aerosol can!  Even as I work to de-clutter my own living spaces, I am grateful that so many Americans are such pack rats — or that they just can’t face that stuffed-full garage or basement workshop.  Their sloth is my gain — with a little help from flea markets, garage sales and online auction sites. ( Of course, my gain is also my ongoing storage problem….)

This can contained Dogzoff®, a popular repellent used by gardeners in towns and suburbs who wished to protect their prized shrubbery from blasts of dog urine.  The 1920s and 1930s were decades when the longstanding practice of letting dogs run free was challenged by changing attitudes toward the status of animals in towns.  These were the decades when family cows and backyard chickens were finally pushed out of many towns and cities by public health concerns, and wandering dogs and cats, but especially dogs, were also subject to renewed attention from the beefed-up ranks of animal-control officers — the dreaded dog-catchers. (1932 was the year that the Little Rascals films included one where Petey was nabbed by the dog catcher and almost “gassed” as an unwanted stray.)

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Back of Dogzoff aerosol can, circa 1955, showing the active ingredient, 2.75 per cent Oil of Mustard.

Dogzoff® repellent was the first marketed in 1933, and it appears in newspaper advertising all over the United States by the mid-1930s.  “DOGS — keep them away from shrubs and flowers — Dogzoff will do it,” promised an ad from Kadotani & Son, Florists in the 7 April 1935 edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  The company that made and marketed Dogzoff, Bohlender Plant Chemicals, Inc., was an outgrowth of the nursery business started by Bavarian immigrant Peter Bohlender (1837-1914) and continued by his family.

Peter Bohlender is an interesting fellow.  His obituary in the Florists‘ Review says that he came from a “family of gardeners” that arrived in Ohio when he was only six, and that he started first nursery when he was quite young.  In 1889, he relocated his growing wholesale business to Tippecanoe City (now Tipp City), Ohio, just outside of Dayton.  According to the obituary, Bohlender had been an advocate for Arbor Day, and he was able to pass on his sizable business, which included nurseries and orchards in Oklahoma, Missouri and California, to four sons and a son-in-law. By 1912, Peter Bohlender & Sons had been rechristened Spring Hill Nurseries, the name it operates under today, and it had begun to shift its operations to mail-order rather than wholesale.  What, Where, When and How to Plant, a 1913 booklet written by son E. E. Bohlender, focused largely on suburban gardens with illustrations of large houses with spacious grounds, and included plans for long perennial borders, small domestic orchards, evergreen wind breaks and plantings of ornamental shade trees.

This is another context for the Bohlender family’s experiments with repellents, although I have not been able to find out more  about the decisions that led to the product.   Middle-class householders now enjoyed gardening as a leisure activity rather than a requirement for provisioning the family, and their ornamental plantings were apparently under assault by their neighbors’ dogs.  This June 20, 1931, letter to the editor of the Muncie Evening Press sums up the position of these avid gardeners:

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Dogzoff®, used mustard oil to irritate sensitive canine noses.  It was sold as a concentrate in a small bottle,  to be diluted and applied around the base of plantings using a hand-pump sprayer.   An instructional advertising flyer (below) pointed out that the solution also could be used to drive off rodents and keep cats away from birds (presumable nesting in the garden), but its primary use was to break dogs of “bad habits,” even away from the garden.  In the flyer, the repellent also cures dogs of dumping trashcans, chewing shoes and sitting on the porch furniture.

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Brochure for Dogzoff, interior spread, no date (1930s – 1940s).

Putting Dogzoff® into an aerosol can made it possible for an outraged gardener (or shoe lover) to reach for the product on impulse, and it also made more money for the firm since the product was premixed and sold only in 11-ounce cans.  Aerosol cans have a complex history, and you can click on the link to take advantage of Wikipedia’s thorough article on the subject For our purposes, the important thing to know is that the “crimp-on” valve was developed in 1949;  it made possible the creation of low-pressure aerosol cans for household use.  During the 1950s, a decade of innovation and expansion in the pet products industry, aerosol flea sprays and dog shampoos also appeared on garden center and pet store shelves.  (These novelties are a subject for a post in the future.)

Dogzoff® had a sister product Mosquitozoff®, about which little is known at present.  I theorize that both products relied upon the oil from mustard seeds, and I have found recent recommendations for the use of mustard oil in both “green” mosquito repellents and one element of garden sprays. Mustard oil has a number of traditional medicinal uses, too.  It is used in anti-inflammatory ointments; women in India use it as a tonic that stimulates hair growth.

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Advertisement for Dogzoff, Sedalia (MO) Democrat 1 May 1953.

What I’m struck by in the advertising for Dogzoff is how candid the text is about shooting dogs.  I also found this in a number of letters of complaint about dog damage to gardens.  I wonder how many of these gardeners actually carried out summary execution, or whether it was mostly a devout wish.

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Richard Goodwin, Dog Specialist, Part II

When Richard Goodwin published his book on the care of dogs and cats in 1927, he joined a group of small businessmen — druggists, dog breeders, old-time vets trained by apprenticeship and younger practitioners who attended the growing number of “veterinary colleges” — who made and bottled  their own over-the-counter medicines and remedies for pets.  They all left paper trails in the form of booklets distributed free to points of sale.  pets-blog-7-jan-2017-goodwin

A handful of these fellows —  veterinarian George Clayton of Chicago and the druggist Polk Miller of Richmond, Virginia, for example — published many editions of their advertising booklets; since the point-of-sale is often stamped in a space on the back cover, it’s possible to see where concerned dog owners obtained the remedies. These  texts suggest the presence of worried people dealing with an array of chronic problems — sarcoptic mange, worms, digestive diseases — and infectious diseases like distemper for which there were no effective vaccines.  As I have written elsewhere, most pet owners were their own veterinarians until the second half of the twentieth century.  “Tonics” and “blood builders” for dogs were also common offerings, reflecting the wide use of similar products for people and the uneven quality of the canine diet.  And the core products for any line of dog remedies were the flea powders that I’ve written about in other posts, along with kennel disinfectants using carbolic acid, an ingredient used to clean human sickrooms, too.

“From a Mangy Wreck to a Blue Ribbon Winner.”

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Richard Goodwin offered seven “preventatives” for the pet owner’s medicine chest;  their formulae are unknown, but practical wisdom among pet store owners, dog breeders and early vets probably included exchanging observations on what worked and what didn’t, just as it did among stablemen treating horses.

What sets this little booklet apart from the others is its use of southern California testimonials throughout, and the implication that Richard Goodwin had connections with the growing film industry. Excerpts of testimonial letters are often found in most advertising for dog remedies, but Goodwin doesn’t seem to be interested in a national market for his products.  Along with the story of Pal, above, readers saw proof of efficacy in photos of patients like Fritsie, below, with invitations to visit the recovered patient and actual street addresses for so doing.                           pets-blog-7-jan-2017-goodwin_0008

Goodwin also used Hollywood’s preoccupation with stardom, no matter how slight, as a promotional tool.  Phyllis Haber, one of Mac Sennett’s original Bathing Beauties (she worked steadily through the 20s and left the movies to marry a millionaire), got a full page glamour shot  along with her testimonial.

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Put together the practical tips such as how to make a homemade flannel coat for nursing a dog with a fever (below); the promotional bluster associated with Goodwin’s own trained “advertising dogs;” testimonials of Californians on the fringes of the growing film industry, and the photos of Goodwin himself as a practical “dog man” in a sharp suit, and you get a glimpse of a pretty interesting life.

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The 1920s was the decade of the new canine movie star, with Rin Tin Tin at the apex of public recognition.  Richard Goodwin doesn’t seem to have been able to capitalize on this directly — perhaps he was didn’t want to.  But there is some unusual evidence of his ongoing preoccupation with promotion.  And the inspiration for this may have been Mrs. Richard Goodwin, who was — as they say — a looker.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter….

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Richard Goodwin, Los Angeles “Dog Specialist” of the 1920s, Part I

Meet Richard Goodwin, Dog Specialist.  This is a face that looks like its owner has been around and seen a few things….stylish fedora and bow tie aside.

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I purchased this small book (it’s only 5 inches by 4 inches in size) a while ago, and over the holidays I began to look into the story of Richard Goodwin, whose photograph suggests that he was what might be termed a “character.”   What I’ve discovered so far says says something about the improvisational nature of much of the nascent pet industry, but it’s also an entertaining — if incomplete — story of an opportunistic guy who clearly worked on the far edges of show business and had enough talent for self-promotion.

Richard Goodwin left a thin, but intriguing, trail of newspaper articles and advertisements from his apparent arrival in Los Angeles in 1915 until his death in 1931.  He first appears in the 16 April 1916 issue of the Los Angeles Times, in an article titled “How to Treat Animals:”

Richard Goodwin, whose four trained dogs have been features on the streets of Los Angeles for months past, as they carry advertising costumes, pipes in their mouths, etc. spoke before the Loreto-street school Friday on “Proper Care and Treatment of Animals.”

The talk, which included dog tricks (not the usual kindness-to-animals public lecture, this)  was by invitation of the Parent-Teacher association, which also “requested” that Goodwin speak at other schools and “in the orphanages.” The images below, from the 1928 booklet, suggest what both passersby and the audience for this talk saw.

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One of the dogs, “His Master’s Choice,” was featured in a 13 January 1918 Los Angeles Times article under the headline “Dog Helps to Sell the War Savings Stamps.”  The dog, whose name was actually Spike, wore a signboard.  Goodwin made at least some of his living from the “world’s champion advertising dog,” but was donating his services to the war stamps sales effort.

“The Nation’s Pride” and “His Master’s Choice” were either Boston terriers or a related cross. In 1917, Goodwin began to run periodic ads for stud services from purebred Boston terriers with the address 1668 W. Washington Street, a relatively new residential neighborhood in the 1910s (now a poor, predominantly Latino neighborhood in central Los Angeles).  From this kennel, Goodwin apparently also did dog doctoring, and he got his hand slapped for this. In 1919, the Society of Veterinarians of Southern California filed a complaint against Goodwin for “practicing veterinary medicine without a license,” and he was fined $60 after pleading guilty (“Veterinary Practice,” Los Angeles Herald 9 April 1919, p. 17).

This temporary setback did not prevent Richard Goodwin from developing and publicizing his business. In December 1919, he donated a “$1000 Puppy,” which looks like another  Boston terrier in the blurry online newspaper photograph, to the Police Relief Association auction. An advertisement in the Automobile Club of Southern California’s driving guide Spanish California and the Gold Rush offers a sense of the scope “Richard Goodwin’s Sanitary Kennels” and the ambitions of their owner: “Dogs Trained, Boarded and Treated.” “Three Expert Veterinarians in Attendance.” “High School for Dogs.”  The idea of a “sanitary kennel” was important to well-informed  dog owners at this time:  there was still no remedy for distemper, for example, and advice books of the era are universal in recommending cleanliness as especially important to successful rearing of puppies.

A scattering of classified advertisements track Richard Goodwin’s Sanitary Kennels through the mid-1920s, but none of these mention the line of remedies that are promoted in little book and I have been unable to learn anything more about this period.  Things start to change in 1927, however, when yet another small advertisement in the L.A. Times urges readers to send for “Richard Goodwin’s Dog Book.”  And this is when things start to get especially interesting, as the book’s text and illustrations suggest.

I’ll offer Part II of Richard Goodwin’s story as my next blog post.

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Stump’s New Stroller

Stump in Pink BlankieMeet Stump.  I adopted him almost three years ago, along with his colleague Teddy.  There are some other photos of Stump (and of Ted) in the My Pets section of this blog.  Stump had a hard life — an unknown life — prior to his rescue as a middle-aged dog.  He was almost bald from flea allergies when he was found as a stray, and he had a big tumor on his hip.  When I adopted him, I thought that if the tumor proved to be malignant, at least he’d had a few months of the proverbial Life of Riley, which is now all the animals in my household live!   But that’s another story….

Walking the BoysStump and Teddy walk with me twice a day.  This is what a typical day looks like from my end of the leashes.  Neither seems to care that he is attached to a girlie pink leash once used for my much-loved dog Patti.

But Stump is enjoying his walks less these days.  He has arthritis in his lower back and hips, along with scar tissue from an ACL repair, and he can’t take pain-relief tablets because they give him a very upset tummy.  I’m trying some other options, but in the meantime, walks have gotten slower and slower, and Ted gets very annoyed because he is likes to trot along at a good pace — unless he needs to leave some pee-mail, which can lead to sudden, dramatic halts.  In any case, Ted and I haven’t been getting enough exercise in our designated walk time — what to do?

So a while ago, I saw a little old dog in stroller in New York City, and I was inspired to some online shopping.  This arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

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It wasn’t too expensive, and I thought it was worth a try. After a little struggle assembling it, here is the first attempt at a walk with our new artifact.  Stump in stroller closeup copy

Success!  Stump sat in the stroller and, as we negotiated curb cuts and bumpy sidewalks, he got sleepy in the morning sun.

When did dog strollers become part of the expanding equipage of enlightened pet ownership, you ask?  The answer seem to be in the year 2003, when a company called Dutch Dog Design introduced the “Doggyride” line of products.  According to their website, the company began with dog trailers for bicyclists, which makes sense given the Dutch commitment to bicycle transportation.  They branched out to strollers when they realized the number of dog owners whose pets were too old or lame to go for walks.  Here is a brochure for the company’s dog travel products;  they now also make luxury orthopedic dog beds and other accessories.  The Doggyride™ stroller looks like the bike trailer that begat it;  there is a handle on the back and a single wheel in the front.

Stump’s stroller is a cheap model, and it looks like a baby carriage for a doll except that it has a screen attached to the rain hood that can be zipped to prevent escapes (or insects, I guess).  (It also has two cup holders.) I chose the blue plaid model because it did indeed remind me of my doll carriage, which was a favorite sleeping spot for Scotchie, a family cat, around 1960.  Bundled up in an old baby blanket, she would allow herself to be pushed along until the ride got too bumpy.

I venture that some small dog owners improvised with baby carriages before now, but purpose-built dog strollers are part of a new genre of prosthetic material culture for pets, including the wheeled carts designed for  cats and dogs unable to use their hind legs and a variety of braces and prosthetic limbs.  I’ll be looking into these more for a future post, so stay tuned.  And I would love to have a photo to share of your pet using one of these prostheses or mobility aids.

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The “Puppy Puddle” and the Canine Catering Company

On December 2, 1938,  Roy Goff & Company of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, received a copyright associated with the “Puppy Puddle,” a   9 1/2 by 13 inch paper advertising blotter presented for use as a house training aid.  “When an emergency occurs, place this “Puppy Puddle” on the wet spot. Press down lightly with the foot — the job is done.”  The text commented helpfully that “time is an element in the efficiency” of the blotter. When the mishap occurred on an absorbent surface such as a rug, the directions recommended that several of the blotters be kept in a “handy place” in “every room in which the puppy plays,” ready for use at a moment’s notice. The drawing of the puppy, who is sitting in his own puddle hollering as only puppies can, looks like a rough-coated fox terrier, a popular dog at the time.  (Remember Asta, the urbane canine star in the “Thin Man” films?)

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“Puppy Puddle” training blotter.  Roy Goff & Co., Ardmore, PA, copyrighted 1938.

The “housebreaking” directions also suggested that a used “Puppy Puddle” could be left on a tile floor as an attractant, the way that  “wee-wee pads” are used by some dog owners training puppies today.  This also recalls house training instructions that suggested using a newspaper already soaked with piddle to the same end.

The text on the Puppy Puddle didn’t only offer advice on house training, it also promoted Roy Goff’s “WHITE LABEL BEEF” as the foundation of an elaborate puppy diet prescribed by “a famous University Veterinary School.”  This reveals that the Puppy Puddle was actually an advertising giveaway.  It even had a blank space at the bottom right where a pet shop or veterinary clinic might stamp its name and address.

Looking for more information on  Roy Goff & Co. led me to an unexpected story.  LeRoy Goff, Jr., the president of Roy Goff & Co., was more than the inventor of a novelty for training puppies for life indoors. He founded the Canine Catering Company in his garage in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, in 1933. Goff, who was born in 1903 and graduated from Princeton University in 1926, is listed in the 1930 U.S. Census as a well-to-do young insurance broker, owner of a house valued at $85,000, married with a toddler daughter, and cared for by two live-in house servants. Did his insurance business collapse? I don’t know yet.  Yet, in the heart of the Depression, Goff built a successful business preparing and delivering high-quality fresh meals for dogs.  This was a time when the canned dog food business was expanding, but it was also the unregulated stepchild of the meat and livestock feed industries.  Many dog owners viewed canned food with rightful suspicion.

The November 1934 issue of Popular Mechanics, a magazine that was full of uplifting stories about successful home-based  businesses, featured Goff’s young enterprise in a one-page story titled  “Catering to Dogs Becomes a Real Business.”  It opened by noting that “dogs appreciate a fresh, neatly presented meal and their masters like to have them properly fed and healthy.  That is why a depression-time business, started by LeRoy Goff II, of Philadelphia, in his own garage with no capital, has grown so rapidly that it numbers 6,000 animal customers…and is now housed in a modern plant in Philadelphia with branches in eight cities.”

The article reported that Goff began by working up a diet for his own dogs with the help of a veterinarian.  By 1934, the company’s offerings included a”veterinary meal,” a “kennel meal,” and “a la carte special meals, vegetables and beverages.” Subscribers placed orders from “attractive menu cards,” and the food was delivered to households three times a week.  Local veterinary hospitals also used the service for convalescing animals, sending their cars to the Canine Catering Company daily.  One-pound meals cost 13 cents for raw food (presaging today’s interest in raw diets for dogs) and 14 cents for a cooked dinner.

By 1938, Roy Goff & Co. offered canned food, the White Label Beef promoted by the Puppy Puddle giveaway.  There is more to be learned about LeRoy Goff’s Canine Catering Company of America, Inc. –and apparently the National Archives branch in Philadelphia holds some records relating to inspection of the company’s processing activities. (Here’s a link to information on the records group in the form of a Facebook post on Canine Catering Co. ) I also know that the company was  actually not alone in offering home-delivered pet food at the time.  Advertisements and other giveaways survive from pet businesses that offered  delivery of fresh meat, including horse meat, from the 1930s through the 1950s, when self-service supermarkets developed large pet food aisles and the nature of the pet food industry moved toward increasing consolidation.  By the 1960s, Roy Goff & Co. was no longer packing dog food; instead, it became a distributor of pet food and products, providing “professional retail guidance to small independent retailers,” according to a short profile on the website Philly.com.

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