When their pup’s tummy was in distress, a couple made it their business to create the healthiest meals for her
When they picked up their new puppy, Venessa and Ryan Laudi had no idea they’d be embarking on an adventure in canine health and nutrition. In 2017, the Laudis drove to Quebec to pick up fluffy Bernese mountain dog Juno and bring her to their Newmarket home. “She started having digestive issues right away,” Venessa says, “which we chalked up to the stress from moving and leaving her family or her litter.” But a few months later, Juno started developing blisters on her face, and her tummy problems weren’t improving.
First the couple had to replace numerous carpets in their home despite Juno being housebroken. Then she stopped eating altogether. “I remember sitting on the floor,” Venessa says, “trying to hand-feed this dog food, and nothing seemed to work,”
After trying antibiotics and other medications to no avail, as well as more than 10 different brands of kibble and canned food, the pair eventually sought the help of a holistic veterinarian who suggested they try cooking for Juno. “I remember thinking, ‘human food?’ That’s not right,” Venessa says. “That was so bizarre to me, but we were desperate.” The vet suggested they switch to a fresh, whole food diet that consisted of meat, vegetables and fruits. They began with lamb as the main animal protein.
Despite Venessa’s initial misgivings, within weeks Juno’s blisters cleared up, she began eating normally and her diarrhea stopped.
Venessa says when she first told friends she and Ryan were cooking their dog’s food, the response was one of skepticism. But as they saw how much Juno had improved, they became more intrigued. “There were so many similar stories that Ryan and I decided that we have to do something about this,” Venessa says. “We have to make this available for other people because when we were going through it, there was no option.”
So, in September 2019 they launched Juno Whole Pet Foods, its namesake now thriving, happy and healthy. Venessa, who worked for her family’s construction business, became certified in canine nutrition.
They created recipes for gently cooked dog food in a variety of flavours, such as chicken, beef, turkey and salmon and whitefish. In addition to meat, the Juno recipes incorporate ingredients like brown rice, sweet potato, carrots, kale and coconut and cod liver oils. “Each ingredient used in our Juno recipes provides a nutritional purpose,” says Venessa. “For example, broccoli is used for its anti-cancer fighting properties, organ meats are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, and blueberries have antioxidants. We also use only whole foods when creating our recipes, which make the food more bioavailable and therefore our dogs are able to use those nutrients better.”
The Laudis also worked with Susan Lauten, a pet nutritionist, to create a nutrient mix to ensure the food has no deficiencies (a common problem with home-cooked dog food).
Venessa says that a diet made of human-grade ingredients means stricter regulations and higher standards. “Commercial dry or canned pet food is subject to the same regulation as commercial animal feed. This means pet food companies can say ‘food’ or ‘natural’ ingredients on their labels, while using subpar, feed-grade ingredients. These can include dead, diseased, expired, discarded or drug-contaminated meats — ingredients that are certainly not fit for human consumption,” she says. “By feeding a fresh food diet, you ensure that your dog is being well nourished by only all-natural, highly digestible ingredients.”
The Laudis originally sold their cooked food online via a monthly subscription model. However, two years in, the pair pivoted to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. “Every business has been affected in some way, and in the food industry, it’s been really difficult,” Venessa says. “The cost of ingredients and resources has just skyrocketed. And we want to be able to make it affordable.”
Now, instead of whipping up hundreds of pounds of dog food and shipping it out themselves, the Laudis have made their recipes available to the public on the Juno website. Customers can source their own ingredients (cutting down on costs) and purchase the Juno nutrition mix to make sure a meal is still balanced.
The Laudis hope other dogs love the food as much as Juno, whom Venessa calls “the happiest-go-lucky pup ever.”
They also plan to add more recipes and expand the business. “Not just offering a product, but a resource and a place for people to learn more,” Venessa says. “What else can we be doing to help our dogs thrive?”