Blogger and ‘Medium’ Magazine writer, Bronwyn Holm, interviews Joanne Cooper, Founder of the Bugsy Shop, and, Senior Lead Pet Nutritionist.
Joanne tells us why she started the industry disrupt Bugsy’s Treats and Bugsy Pet Foods, and why she does what she does.
Bronwyn: Joanne you have been studying pet nutrition for 10 years and diving into designing these health supportive pet treats. Tell me what inspired you to go down this path when you had a major legal career?
Joanne: Pets have been a big part of my life since a very young age.
Frisky was my first dog at age 3. He was a black scruffy dog with hair over his eyes, and although it was more like my Aunt’s dog, he was MY guardian.
He was an extremely lovely dog and loyal to the end. He would alert my parents whenever I cried and made sure that whatever I was crying over was resolved. Frisky would not stop barking until I stopped crying! When he died my family decided not to have another dog as the loss was too unbearable.
Not long after that, I brought home a stray. I called him Frisky too!
I couldn’t imagine another name, so the old name stuck. I loved him too, I would sneak him into my bedroom at night despite specifically being told that was not allowed.
He ran away one day, which made me think he didn’t like me anymore, and I was so heart-broken beyond measure.
Bronwyn: So dogs were part of your makeup of who you are today because you had such an affiliation with them while very young.
Joanne: Yes, it was only a few months later, I rescued a one-year-old German Shepard from a shelter who also got called Frisky (!) I was about 12 years old. We had a very strong bond and did everything together as my best friend. As he was such a big dog and was a handful if not trained properly, I decided to take him to training lessons every Sunday at our local German Shepard Club.
Being this age, I was the youngest handler they ever had.
Frisky and I made it all the way to our advanced obedience training certification. We were inseparable. My fondest memory of him was when riding my push bike and him running along beside me. I took it for granted that he never once ran in front of my bike causing me to jolt and fall off. A behaviour my now 1-year old lab has yet to master.
Frisky #3 was a very athletic dog, when friends in our backyard to play cricket hit the ball over our 6-foot fence, he was able to jump clear over it intending to fetch the ball back for us. AND, next to our fence was a highway!
Frisky was hit by not one, but two cars. I witnessed everything. The pain I felt would scar me for the rest of my life. The images of that accident could never be erased. I didn’t want to have another dog after that. (She takes a moment as the memory becomes clear in saying).
Bronwyn: What an awful thing to witness! Surely that was the last time you had a pet dog.
Joanne: Well, no. After university graduation, I left Australia and went to work in Hong Kong. Within months of arriving and now more mature with the pain of losing Frisky #3 neatly tucked away, I opened my heart again. This time to a Cocker Spaniel puppy, Basil.
But I never had a chance with him. He had distemper even before I brought him home. The breeders pumped him up with drugs, so he looked healthy enough to take home without me realizing he was gravely ill. During the first vet check, little Basil went into cardiac arrest and died. I have a lot to say about unscrupulous breeders but that’s for another blog.
You might be wondering by this stage as to whether I was jinxed somehow. Not so fast. My next dog is a happy story.
Bronwyn: Really, it must be an interesting story from here because of what you do now.
Joanne: Sure, and after Basil died, I was given a “bulldog” as a gift. Olly turned out to be nothing like a bulldog, he was a Bullbox, a mix between Bulldog and Boxer. Olly lived until 12 years of age.
And by now my legal career was now in full swing. I worked for an International American city firm as a litigator. A busy work schedule, however, did not stop me from rescuing my first Labrador. A yellow Lab I called Bugsy.
Bronwyn: Is this the Bugsy that had the influence of the current business you founded?
Joanne: Yes, it is, and I did for his resilience. You see, Bugsy’s former owners didn’t want him anymore as they worked all day. Bugsy had to spend 16 hours in a small cage every day! The owners also didn’t know a Labrador can grow this big so when he grew out of his cage and couldn’t really stand up anymore, they abandoned him.
I have a lot to say that there are huge numbers of people who don’t do prior research on what dog suits them before getting involved. Big mistake.
Bronwyn: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so to say.
Joanne: Bugsy is by far the most “human” dog I’ve ever had. From just a pup Bugsy talks with his eyes and as he gets older, very vocal too. He doesn’t think he is a dog; he thinks he is a human.
Before Bugsy reached 1 year old, I started dating my now husband who is just as much as an animal lover as I am. His mother, even more so, was Chairlady of the Hong Kong RSPCA. Between her and my husband, they have rescued more than 100 dogs from lethal injection.
These dogs were often taken home with her. Her home was a wonderland for me. There were West Highland Terriers, Shih Tzus, Miniature Pinschers, Yorkshire Terriers, Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, as well as all kinds of mixed breed dogs. This gave me the opportunity and honour to care for more breeds in one lifetime than I would otherwise.
Taking care of these dogs will lay the foundation for the reason why I became a pet nutritionist and why I created The Bugsy Shop.
Bronwyn: Joanne, so what is with the treats and what you changed to try to make the difference?
Joanne: Back in the day we air-dried foods but now we freeze dried food as a significant nutritional protective way of preservation. Also then, Kibble was the single most accessible pet food followed by canned food. No-one had any doubt as to its nutritional value much less its bioavailability. The public took the view that if it was displayed on the shelves of supermarkets, it must be good.
This, however, is often not the case. Because of easy accessibility and the high volume of dogs that need to be fed, kibble was the main feed we used for these rescues. About 25% of these rescues were fed human grade proteins and whole foods because they show no interest whatsoever in kibble.
Most of the kibble eaters developed diseases such as kidney failure, liver failure, lymphoma, osteosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, transitional cell carcinoma just to name a few. The majority of the fresh food eaters on the other hand rarely visited the vet and generally lived longer and healthier lives.
By having the opportunity to take care of these animals first hand, I was in a unique position to observe how diet plays a big role in the health of our pets. The data is unmistakable.
Bronwyn: Tell me, more about your development of the nutrient range you have in the shop.
Joanne: Cancer is now the leading cause of death in dogs over 10 years of age with 50% of older dogs developing the disease and 1 in 4 dying from it.
My mission is to turn the tides on cancer by bringing out products that are wholesome and helps the body to fight against cancer itself, and other illnesses which are so preventable on the Easter Food Therapy.
Hence the Bugsy Treats were researched and designed, tested and approved, sourced and manufactured in Australia, where we know the standards and compliance is high, and rigorously monitored.
At the Bugsy Shop, we say, ‘Treat Them Well’, for a reason, and in that, I began my journey into transforming the dog, and cat, food industry with our disruptive bioavailable, holistic, natural, botanical medicinal, herbal formulations and human graded meats.
Bronwyn: Joanne, thanks for this time with me and telling your story. When will you think you have done your job and you can hang up your lab coat?
Joanne: We will continue this journey until the change force turns the tides and education in pet health is commonplace and transparent, not commercial.
Joanne Cooper, Founder, Senior Lead Nutritionist, and, Bugsy’s torch holder.