BATON ROUGE - It’s a problem that has dogged Louisiana’s wetlands for years.
Some people call it Louisiana’s swamp rat, better known as the nutria, and Hansel and Veni Harlen turned that problem into a treat. A treat for conservation and a treat for canines.
“So we wanted to make a really high quality dog treat, that was made with top shelf ingredients, all natural, no chemicals or this that or the other,” Hansel Harlen said.
They call it “Marsh Dog,” and it is an all natural dog treat made out of nutria meat.
“I had a dog that had some skin allergies that were caused by grains,” Harlen explained. “And at the time in the mid 90s, grain free pet food and treats were not really available. So I started making my own.”
Harlen said he made his first treats out of turkey meat, but after reading a newspaper article that said nutria meat was similar, he made the switch.
It’s a natural treat for dogs and their owners, but also a treat for conservationist. Marsh Dog began with a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. The program is working to save and preserve Louisiana’s wetlands.
“We let the public submit ideas that help control or manage invasive species,” Michael Massimi said. Massimi is an Invasive Species Coordinator with the Estuary Program.
“We get really brilliant ideas on education and how to outreach. It’s a really competitive grant process. We have a team that ranks the projects, and that one really rose to the top,” Massimi said.
And in 2011, it all started. Marketing was put in place and a special recipe was finalized.
The biscuits are made at their headquarters in Baton Rouge. They have a group of people that works with company, including local nutria hunters and trappers, meat processors and farmers to get the ingredients.
“The meat is perfectly good meat,” Massimi said. “Nutria are vegetarian, it’s high in protein and low in fat. It has a similar profile to turkey. It’s good meat for humans but probably even better for dogs.”
Marsh Dog is sold at dozens of stores across Louisiana and seven other states. They even have international sales.
The company now is only gaining popularity, but their long term mission is to go “out of business.”
“Some people ask us this, they say ‘How in the world?’ Our mission is to address the population problem with nutria. So our unofficial motto is, “put us out of business!” Harlen said.
But for now, as long as nutria continue to threaten the marsh, pet owners and their puppies will continue to chow down on Marsh Dog treats. And they are all “Made in Louisiana.”