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Why Natural Balance Pulls Support in Light of the Bridges Pets Boycott

WOW. Just got the most amazing phone call. Vince from Natural Balance Pet Foods has asked to be removed from our website as a sponsor because of “boycott” statements made by our organization. They were contacted by “someone” whom he would not identify. (Any Guesses?) In addition, they will not be sponsors for this year’s event.

We are completely OK with this decision, as it is Scrub-A-Mutt’s policy to not be associated with ANY organization or company that does not share our mission of improving the quality of life for all companion animals. This includes responsible pet ownership and education on decreasing the shelter/rescue populations with the philosophy that “Puppies Aren’t Products.”

~ Scrub-A-Mutt’s Facebook Page, 1/30/13


When I read this the other day, I pouted a little.  Say it isn’t so?  But then my years of experience in social media and blogging kicked in and I asked myself “is there more to this story?”  To read more about the Bridges Pets Boycott, click HERE.

Social media can be a dangerous tool…

If you’ve spent any time on social media, then you know that too many times we only get a snippet of the full story so I was hoping to share why Natural Balance pulled their support of a local rescue group in light of the Bridges Pets Boycott.  I contacted a PR rep I work with at Natural Balance and she put me in touch with Jim, a Spokane rep for Natural Balance, whom I immediately connected with over our mutual outrage that puppies are sold out of the trunk of cars on street corners.  Arrrgghhhhhh!

Protecting your brand…

Natural Balance did ask to be removed from the Scrub-a-Mutt site, but not because they’re in support of Bridges Pet’s policy on selling puppies.  They simply don’t want to be pulled into a controversy.  Which I can completely understand, but I know that many people will have trouble with their stance.  Natural Balance wasn’t aware of the Bridges Pets Boycott and having their logo on the Scrub-a-Mutt site gives the impression that they’re boycotting the pet store too, which they are not.

Natural Balance heavily supports animal rescue and rescue groups.  Their primary goal is to introduce quality pet foods for dogs and cats through pet stores and rescue groups.  They, themselves, are not a rescue organization and do not organize boycotts.

Doing what’s right…

It’s easy to question why Natural Balance isn’t standing with us in this boycott.  We’re right in this one!  Jim understands that there is a problem when it comes to people breeding dogs solely for the money.  What we need to try to understand is that Natural Balance is a business first and as a business, they have to tread carefully when it comes to controversial situations like the Bridges Pets boycott.

By asking Scrub-a-Mutt to remove their logo from their website, Natural Balance is staying true to their mission of introducing quality pet foods for dogs and cats through pet stores and rescue groups.  In the mean time, we need to push for more information, more education, and stop shopping at pet stores who sell puppies and kittens.  The more we push back, the more our efforts will reverberate in the pet industry and that’s when we’ll see companies like Natural Balance pull their support from these pet stores as well.

Let’s not confuse animal rescue with a business.  There is a difference.  Rescue efforts are on a voluntary basis; a business has a responsibility to their customers and employees.  That being said, let’s inspire these businesses to pull their support of these pet stores, by pulling our support first!

What I’m going to do…

I respect how hard it is to build a brand and how important it is to protect that brand.  But I will stop buying products from Natural Balance simply because I think it’s wrong to support a store that is encouraging irresponsible breeding.  This wasn’t always the case, I wanted to support Natural Balance’s choice, but after speaking with dog owners who “adopted” puppies from Bridges and speaking with former employees, I don’t see how any brand can continue working with this store in light of what they’re allegedly doing with puppies and dogs and their, in my opinion, distaste for rescue organizations.

I will continue to support Scrub-a-Mutt, because I respect what they’re doing, I love that they do so much for dogs, and I’m happy that they launched the Bridges Pets boycott.  The amount of great information being shared is going to be invaluable.

Update 6/5/2013: Natural Balance has been sold to Del Monte, a company that sources chicken from China (their Milo’s Kitchen was recalled), if you purchase their products for your dog, please note that although they say that they will not be sourcing ingredients from China, we can’t predict changes in their business practices.  Keep your dogs safe.

I know this is a charged topic for some, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


  1. Great post, Kimberly. You’re right: so often social media gets used as a tool to whip up a mob-mentality, and the whole story gets lost in the 10-second outrage posts. This is a measured, realistic response to the situation and I’m glad to see you leading the way!
    My understanding is that if NB brand suffers from associating with a boycott, how can they afford to do the support and education that they *are* engaged in? Hopefully the boycott will make some ripples in the stagnant waters of pet sales and NB as corporate entity will be there to help with education.

    • That’s my thought as well, Audra. It’s not about taking sides, it’s about looking at the bigger picture. What I learned from this is that I have a huge responsible to protect my brand but also the brands who choose to work with me; especially when I’m working online, simply because things can spin so quickly out of control.

      Thanks for weighing in. I love what yo had to add.


  2. Great article Kimberly!! As always. However, I do want to point out that the Boycott information is not on the Scrub-A-Mutt website – where the Natural Balance logo was located. Nor are our sponsors on the Scrub-A-Mutt Facebook Page. Yes, that’s splitting hairs, but…

    Vince never did tell us who called him. And I’m not the first one to say that I believe it was Bridges Pets. The sponsorship information on our site was from LAST year’s event. We have not put our our “ask” for this year.

    Our fans (me included) would not be unhappy if we didn’t believe that Natural Balance HAS taken sides, by already telling us they wouldn’t sponsor us for the 2013 event. That’s $500 we will have to make up to cover our event – essentially $500 away from rescues. I’m pretty sure Natural Balance hasn’t told Bridges Pets they won’t stop selling them pet food – so how has Natural Balance done the right thing. Sorry – I’m not buying it. :)

    • I appreciate your frustration, but I think it’s important to look at things from all points of view. It could have been Bridges Pets that called them; I happen to think it might have been a reporter, because I think that would have prompted them to pull back so quickly. A reporter would have gone to your website, saw your list of sponsors, and picked a big name to ask about the boycott. It’s a fair question to ask why they’re sponsoring a boycott (and by sponsoring Scrub-a-Mutt, some will make the leap to say that they’re sponsoring the boycott) while having their products on the store shelves of the store they’re boycotting.

      I don’t believe Natural Balance took sides. It would be damaging to their reputation as such high supporters of animal rescue to turn around and support irresponsible breeders. I think this is about being connected with a controversy that they have no part in; from my own experience as a blogger, when I’m writing about my sponsors, I have to take care about what I say and do, because of how it can reflect on them. In social media, things can quickly get twisted and misunderstood and sometimes it’s preferable to walk away from something than to explain your part (or lack of a part) to everyone.

      Natural Balance may not have done the right thing with regard to the boycott, but they feel that they did the right thing for their business. I’m sorry about the hardship this places on your event.


  3. I’m looking at both sides of this and think that NB could have taken a middle course…they could have asked that their logo be removed but still made a donation to the fundraiser…even anonymously, they could have continued their support of a cause they had obviously found worthy without being drawn into conflict…just sayin’

    • Great point. I wonder if they’ll change their minds and come through later if they are under the impression that more is going on with this boycott. I didn’t speak to them about the details about their sponsorship and the future of sponsorship. The person I spoke with wasn’t involved in this decision. What I think will make a huge difference for everyone is if experts start weighing in on the subject. If the local media gets involved, if we can get a quote from the ASPCA (I’m on that one now), and if more can be done to educate people about the actions Bridges Pets has chosen to take for their business.

  4. Kim – I like the Natural Balance people. I think they have a good product, and I agree with their mission of providing quality pet food through stores and rescue organizations. However, I would like them to stick to their guns – if they are against pet stores that sell live puppies and kittens, then they should not sell their product in such stores. It’s a matter of walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

    • And I completely agree, but I believe that the issue isn’t that Natural Balance agrees or disagrees with puppies and kittens in pet stores. I think it’s about feeling pulled into a boycott without a discussion. I wonder if this would have gone over well if the sponsors (and these are prior sponsors, 2013 sponsorship hasn’t been arranged) had received a heads up about the boycott. By hearing it from a third party, they may have heard a slant on they story that they didn’t feel comfortable with. When you say “stick to their guns” – they didn’t start this boycott; and I feel that may be part of the issue.

      I’m trying to understand what it is to be a business and meet the obligations of a business owner while also supporting a cause that may, at times, go against your mission. I don’t see many pet brands speaking out against irresponsible breeding; it seems to only be the rescue groups. I think the change needs to come from the people pulling their dollars away from businesses who do things that we don’t agree with and that impact will filter back to the pet brands.

      Petco used to sell puppies and kittens; now they host adoption events. It would be interesting to see what changed for them and hope that Bridges Pets makes the same change. I just don’t think one pet food business is enough to push stores like Bridges Pets to make a change. I do believe that losing customers along with the products from these businesses will make these stores rethink their practices.

      Thanks for weighing in!


  5. Your post is timely for me personally. Just this past week I visited our local animal control to begin to get a handle on the problem of pet overpopulation (is this the best descriptor to sum it all up?). I’m just starting a pet sitting business, so I’m planning to do a fundraiser to help pets and let people know I exist at the same time. As a human, I just want to help. The animal control center says they are short on volunteers. As a business owner, I have to think of things like, “what if people are turned off by tweets and photos of me helping the ‘kill shelter vs. the adoption groups, and therefore I will not find work?” It’s a tricky, sticky affair. The only thing I can think of is I have to be transparent about my motives, whatever I decide to do. Many businesses seem to regard social media as just another place to write marketing copy, but that will not hold water when real discussions begin to take place online. It doesn’t take long for the public to smell a rat. So companies like Natural Balance try to minimize their exposure to controversy. Of course in this situation it backfired on them. So I guess as a business owner I understand, but as a human I’m pretty grateful for the power social media gives us as consumers. It’s one of the few tools we have to keep them honest.

    • Well said, Tricia! I love it. I see many people struggling with the same thing. I want to give my money and support to businesses who support rescue and are working to make a difference; but I’ll admit that I am also turned off by certain stories and images. I don’t think businesses can make decisions where they take every one’s sensibilities into consideration, but I appreciate that you, as a small business, are trying to think of your customers.

      I’m very excited by the response to this article and sent a link to Natural Balance. It’ll be interested to see if they have a response too; or any other company.

      Thanks for weighing in!!!

  6. After working for a number of corporations in the past, and involved in customer relations/social media/marketing quite closely, I am always skeptical of PR. And my trust of any corporation is… wary at best. From my experience, what you hear from PR or marketing is rarely the full story, and the focus (especially during anything like this) is on making sure business is not lost. But it sounds like Natural Balance is being fairly transparent in what they say above, which is refreshing (although putting a bit of a corp spin on the matter, of course – as above, I’d take it with a grain of salt). They want to sell products, they don’t want to lose money from stores or supporters, they want to squash a possibly negative story – sounds like a business to me.

    I agree with some of the sentiments above that it would be nice if NB continued their financial support of the non-profit. It doesn’t seem like there would be any reason to pull financial support after solving the “being pulled into controversy” problem, unless they were only in it for the advertising. Which, naturally, sounds very much like a corporation rather than someone in it to assist animals in need (often veiled marketing). If they played the game by still supporting the group financially or anonymously, they might have saved more face and avoided the social media uproar… that would have probably been a safer PR bet than pulling the plug on both.

    What would I do if I lost the sponsor (as the non-profit)? Make a non-emotional statement to their supporters, and move on looking for new sponsors. That non-emotion will help them find a new sponsor quicker than airing their grievances. Just like how you don’t speak ill of a former employer during a job interview. I think when you are involved with causes, especially politically charged ones like this, situations like these are to be expected – especially if you are being sponsored by large business. Large business doesn’t like controversy, plus there are probably a dozen levels of approval to get through then the PR and legal departments to be associated with anything political (like a boycott). So it’s easier to back out than try to get those approvals. Don’t risk losing your own supporters by being emotional – make a short factual statement (transparent and truth based), and let your supporters make their own decisions. I would bet money you will have more sponsors in the end. Level-headed truthful fact-based reporting of both sides attracts, where emotion can scare folks away or make them question what really happened. Save the emotion for loving on the dogs, and the passion to move forward :)

    Just my 0.02.

    • Thank you so much for such a detailed response, Jen. I don’t think I could have said it better myself. From where I sit, it’s easy for me to leave emotion out of it and ask questions. I don’t know the details of the conversation when NB said they’d pull support of the festival. I don’t know who contacted NB with concerns. What I do know is that I’ve connected with 2 people from that company and I believe that they’re sincere dog lovers. I’m aware that they’re personality isn’t necessarily reflective of the company, but it’s a start for me.

      I also believe that business is business. Every business in the pet industry is promoting themselves as friends to animal rescue. Look at Purina; they do a lot for animal rescue, but produce a questionable product. That example alone has taught me to separate the business from the cause. If NB had come out and said that they don’t see that Bridges Pets is doing anything wrong, then I have a problem. Wanting to separate themselves from a boycott seems like a business decision and nothing more.

      Animal rescue is a passionate cause and I’ve seen people go nuts about it and I’ve backed away, taking my blog with me, because although I believed in their position, I didn’t agree with their methods. That’s my right. It doesn’t mean that I’m taking the other side, it just means that I think there’s a better way. It sucks to not have someone 100% on your side, but I think it’s important to allow others to choose to give back in a way that they’re comfortable with.

      What you said about emotion is so perfect and I wish I would have written about this in my article. I think that there is a lot of emotion going on and that emotion is being picked up by NB and other sponsors as well. It’s important to keep our passion in check. It’s great to be passionate about a cause, but when our passion prevents us from seeing the big picture then it can set us back.

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Kim, I am sorry that you have found yourself in the middle of a no win conflict. Big brands keep their feet out of potentially negative turf. Naturally, no dog lover wants to see puppies sold out of a car or a pet shop. So what to do? Maybe rest and things settle for a while.

    My dog loved Natural Balance dog food rolls so much, I began feeding it as a morning meal because kibble gave him gas. Now I’m sorry because there was too much sugar and I regret I did not just use it as a treat. My little guy lost 7 teeth and I feel awful. I now watch the sugar and give my dog sugar snap peas and fresh meat as treats.

    • Thanks so much. It’s a tough situation, but a great lesson and I’m happy that it came my way now and that I handled it well. I always want to understand everyone’s position.

      We grate a little bit of the Natural Balance food rolls into their kibble. I’m not comfortable feeding it to them as their only meal due to the sugar content and the fact that it would cost a fortune – LOL.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Very interesting…I think another part of the frustration from the business viewpoint is that, believe it or not, I have generally found it very, very difficult to work with rescue organizations. And I haven’t yet figured out why.

    Sometimes it’s legal issues/concerns that the rescue has (ESPECIALLY over handing adoptable pets over to another organization and/or foster care) and other times it’s simply the lack of manpower to manage it. I don’t think it’s really fair to put the blame on the business in that aspect – if the business is providing the opportunity it is up to the rescue to make the most of it (although I think the business should encourage their own employees to help out). The business is in business to make money. If they choose to create an opportunity for a non-profit to use their resources/contacts/etc, I think it is up to the non-profit to take advantage of it.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not sanctioning the business going back to the breeders – I’m anti-puppy mill and the whole kit and kaboodle. And, if I lived in the area, I wouldn’t shop their either if they were selling animals.

    It’s too bad that the business took it all online in response – someone should have coordinated a meeting with the people who started the boycott and the local rescues to try to resolve the problem.

    • Great points!

      I think social networking is so new to many people that they haven’t caught on to the damage sharing can do to a business. I think Bridges Pets wants to help and they are trying to provide a good service by helping people who find themselves with puppies with no home. But there are many backlashes to their choice to sell puppies and kittens that they’re not thinking of and that’s where education comes into the picture.

      I think there are many passionate people involved on both sides and that passion combined with social media results in reactionary statements that help the situation, but I hope that everyone walks away from them having learned something that results in a positive future for the pets everyone is trying to protect.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. That’s pretty interesting and I can definitely see where Natural Balance is coming from. At least they were professional about it and gave a good reason for it. Sounds like things are getting pretty heated.

    • It’s pretty sad, because I think emotions allowed things to spin out of control. I admit to have taken it to Facebook when I’m angry with someone and it’s absolutely the wrong way to handle a situation, but in the moment, it’s hard to see that. I’ve had to work hard to train myself to take a breath and then a step back to see a situation. If I can’t do it, then I take a break and come back to it when I can. I believe that the world is watching and if I conduct myself in a way that can be deemed unprofessional, people won’t want to work with me :(

      It’s the sad truth. I can see both sides of this issue. Actually, all three sides and I’m curious to see if there ever can be a resolution.

  10. All I will say is that most would not have demonstrated the level of professionalism through this. (it would be hard for me for sure) So KUDOS to you.

    • Thank you so much, Amanda
      I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I used to be ruled by my emotions and blogging (plus lots and lots of conflict in 2012) have helped me compartamentalize it all. I do so much better at taking a step back to get a broader picture of the issues.

      Thanks!!! Your blog post is getting a lot of great response here and on Facebook. Thank you!!!


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