By Kathryn Eident
Ask Chris and MaKenna Arrigo about their dogs, Bear, Bandit, Bliss, and Brady, and the couple nearly bursts with pride. Their pack of mixed-breed dogs, all a gorgeous reddish-brown shade, is happy and healthy, living on the couple’s 2-acre farm in Dennis. Not only do they provide comfort and companionship, the four-legged friends also inspired the couple’s thriving treat and accessory business, Red Dogs & Co.
When the couple adopted their first pair of dogs from a shelter in 2011, though, little did they know that the road to healthy pups – and a healthy business – would be a long one.
“They’ve come a long way,” MaKenna says, remembering those first days with her new puppies.
It all started when the couple was stationed in California. Chris was often away on duty in the Marine Corps, and MaKenna missed her childhood dog, which was back home on Cape Cod and sick with cancer.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, leaving my dog behind,” she says. “I had never not had a dog.”
Then she found two 10-month-old litter mates on Pet Finder. They were sick, they were living in a crowded shelter, and they only had a few hours left before they were set to be euthanized.
It was love at first sight, and MaKenna was determined to rescue them.
“It’s hard to explain, but when we saw their pictures online, we just knew,” MaKenna says.
When they got the puppies home, the couple quickly realized the dogs were sicker than they thought; both had canine distemper, a contagious viral illness for which there is no cure, and Bandit was so ill he needed to go into intensive care.
“The vets at the time were just like, ‘Feed them, get anything you can in them,’” MaKenna says. “It was a really tough time. We didn’t think they were going to make it.”
Remarkably, both dogs survived, thanks to months of specialized care and feeding. But Bandit developed severe allergies to chicken, beef, and grains – some of the mainstay ingredients in mass-produced dog foods. Just as they weren’t going to let the dogs die in the kennel, the couple was determined to find a way to keep them alive and their canine distemper symptoms at bay. “There was a lot of low-grade stuff out there,” MaKenna says. “We were just trying to give them the best opportunity possible.”
They started researching dog food formulas, and eventually landed on a routine that worked for Bandit and the other dogs. It meant a diet of only raw foods; no grains, no meats. Those requirements made it tough to find treats Bandit could eat. Not to be deterred, the couple began making their own, dehydrating vegetables and crafting specially-made dog bones “I did a ton of research,” Chris says. “We were passionate about it.”
By now the couple was stationed in North Carolina, and Chris was beginning to think about life after the Marine Corps. He wondered: would other dogs benefit from their homemade treats, as well?
Armed with $300 to invest, they set up a booth at a farmers’ market with a few bags of their homemade treats. The treats were a hit. “We were like, if it fails, it fails. We knew we would have fun,” Chris says. “But people just took to them; they just loved it. It grew, mainly by word of mouth.”
And that was all it took. Fast forward a few years, and Chris, out of the military and back on the Cape with MaKenna, now works full time developing and manufacturing the treats on their farm in Dennis. The products are meat- and grain-free, and feature dehydrated organically grown vegetables from his garden or sourced locally. Chris jokes that each flavor has been approved by his dogs for both taste and nutrition, and admits they’re not bad for humans, either.
“I eat the batter; they’re really good!” he says with a laugh. “They’re made with all human-grade food, and since they’re raw and organic, they’re safe for human consumption. What you see is what you get in our treats.”
Though the couple is modest about their success, crediting their supporters and mentors, it’s clear they aren’t afraid of a challenge.
When they couldn’t find a dog collar they liked, MaKenna pulled out her sewing machine – a gift from Chris she had never used before – and made a collar.
“I had never taken a sewing lesson, I had never sewn a day in my life,” she laughs. “I just tried through trial and error and it eventually took off.”
Her handmade collars and leashes now make up about a quarter of their business. She estimates they have sold about 1,000 leashes and collars in 10 different designs, ranging from nautical (her pink starfish collar is the most popular) to patriotic themes. They use all American-made materials, and she hopes to release additional designs.
“It’s important for us to have our products made here in the United States,” she says. Dog owners can find those, and the couple’s four variety of treats (butternut squash and greens is Chris’s personal favorite; sweet potato/peanut butter sells the best) in stores from Eastham to Boston.
Their success often means long hours – MaKenna still works full time as a social worker in addition to her duties with the company – but they’re excited about their potential to grow. When they get tired, they just look to their family, which now also includes two rescue horses, for inspiration.
“We’re a great pack,” MaKenna says. “It hasn’t been without some hard work, but it’s been worth it. We’ve made the right choices for our family.”