Sunday, March 4, 2007


Back in 1984 I was writing dog food commercials. Dry food was where all the big marketing money went. The budget for canned or "wet" dog food was nearly extinct.

Mr. and Mrs. Dog Owner preferred the smaller poop created by the dry food, among other things. After watching the manufacturing process for both, I'd go with making dry food over the wet stuff because it's less disgusting to package pellets than watch boiling beef parts dropping like vomit into the cans. Gross.

However, part of me was still a purist. I was raised with big hairy dogs. They lived outside year round, only coming indoors when it got so cold in the winter their food would freeze. Each dog got a huge can of "wet" dog food once a day, plus table scraps. Believe it or not, leftover salad was one of their favorites. The canned food was most likely horse meat mixed with beef lips and lungs. I tried not to think about that. Dry dog food didn't seem substantial enough for animals that needed something extra because of their size, activity, or living conditions.

Around the time I started working on dog food in the eighties, National Geographic had an article about some absurdly long 1100 mile dog sled race called the Iditarod and a woman named Susan Butcher who had a chance to become the first female winner.

The article talked about how much food the dogs needed in order to keep their energy up during the long run and described some of the concoctions the mushers came up with including stews made with raccoon and moose. 

What a perfect way to ignite some interest in a dying brand I thought.  Sponsor one of the mushers, Susan Butcher, for instance, by providing her with all the wet dog food she needed for training as well as the race itself. Everybody thinks their dog is a champ and the Iditarod is the Olympics for dog endurance and speed. Plus this Susan Butcher woman could add some additional luster by being the first woman to mush cross the finish line.

My boss was very lukewarm. He'd never heard of the Iditarod, not many people had, so he was very skeptical. He also had his own pet project -- dry food -- where most of the money would be spent anyway. He could care less about what I was interested in.

He let me write a commercial that I wanted shot documentary style to follow Susan during the race, capturing her dogs scarfingup the client's wet dog food like it was steak. Or raccoon and moose. And, of course, winning the race. What a great way to breathe new life into a tired old dog food, I thought.

I didn't get the money to pursue the idea. A woman won the race for the first time. Ironically, it wasn't Susan Butcher. She and her team were attacked by a moose along the way. Some of her dogs were killed and I can't recall whether she was even able to finish.

My boss felt so vindicated by his lack of support. He was almost gleeful. "See, I told you."  Of course, Susan Butcher went on to win the race the next four out of five years. Effectively putting the Iditarod on the map. 

Unfortunately, she recently passed away, too early, from cancer.  But the Iditarod continues with lots of coverage these days. And, if I'm not mistaken I think Purina is one of the sponsors now.

It could have been Ken-l Ration. 


lanurseprn said...

This was very interesting to read.

sleddogac said...

For Iditarod race facts:

cberes1 said...

l.  Of course your boss would not go along with the idea.  HE was a HE and you were a SHE, promoting yet ANOTHER she in a little known event.  Had you been someone ELSE,  a HE, and the musher was ANOTHER someone else, HE might have gone along with it.

2.  As always, you were ahead of your time.

screaminremo303 said...

The real-life events that spawned the Iditarod are remarkable. Your boss was a moron. I'm sure he's in a Turkish prison somewhere now.

Eating dry dog food.

jevanslink said...

FYI everybody who reads this entry --

Looks like there's a growing group of people who are against the race, bigtime.  I didn't find Purina's name among the sponsors, but I did find Eukanuba, a Proctor and Gamble comapny.

Mrs. L

jayveerhapsody said...

I'm almost positive that I ate horse meat, beef lips, & tongue in Thailand once (twice??).   Jon

mombzbe said...

You know that man is kicking himself somewhere today.  Hopefully somewhere it hurts....