A Life's Work is Never Done: Why a Pet Food Company Executive Started a $1M Foundation
Joey Herrick’s driving need to reduce the U.S. pet overpopulation problem
When Joey Herrick started Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. out of his car 29 years ago, improving pets’ lives by way of healthful diet was his mission. At that time, could he have envisioned that after selling the company, which he did two years ago, he would be driving what he calls “the bus,” a mobile spay/neuter clinic, in an effort to curb U.S. pet overpopulation?
Enter Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Lucy Pet Foundation, named after the injured, malnourished and pregnant Chihuahua that wandered into Herrick’s family’s life and found her forever home there.
Without taking time off from almost three decades as Natural Balance’s president, Herrick told his wife, Lynnda, he wanted to take $1 million to start a pet foundation. She said fine. He said he’d never take a dime in salary from the foundation and would pour back into it anything he would have made from its product arm, Lucy Pet Products, a line of shampoos and conditioners. Again, she said fine, but she asked about possible travel as part of this new venture.
Joey Herrick and Lucy
“Sure! We’ll travel to Lancaster, Bakersfield, Downey, Indio, Baldwin Park … all those locations in California where there’s a big pet overpopulation problem,” Herrick said. “That wasn’t exactly the kind of travel she had in mind at this stage in our lives.”
On July 15, 2013, Herrick became the former president of Natural Balance and, with Lucy Pet Foundation and Lucy Pet Products already in the works, drove the bus to its first spay/neuter event on Oct. 18.
“When I had Natural Balance, I donated millions of pounds of food to animal rescue groups,” he said. “I did that because I felt they were the ones changing the euthanasia rate, going into the shelters and taking dogs off death row. I can’t do the food donations anymore, so I decided to get on the other side of it and stop the influx going into the shelters. That’s what I’ve committed the rest of my life to trying to change.”
|Partner in Patriotism|
Joey Herrick helped realize the only monument ever to memorialize military working dogs.
John Burnam, a Vietnam veteran, felt so strongly about the important work of the dogs of war that he wanted to memorialize their dedicated, self-sacrificing efforts. He succeeded in getting The Military Working Dog Teams National Monument signed into law by President George W. Bush; President Barack Obama gave him leave to see it through.
Funding was a problem; Joey Herrick, former president of Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. and now owner of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Lucy Pet Products and head of its charitable arm, Lucy Pet Foundation, ensured it wouldn’t be.
While in Washington, D.C., on other business, he and Burnam had the fortune to cross paths. Burnam began giving Herrick his pitch for the monument in front of another D.C. war memorial.
“Four minutes in I asked him how much he needed,” Herrick said.
When Burnam said $1.2 million, Herrick’s response was “I love this. Let’s make it a Natural Balance-Petco project, and we’ll take care of it.”
Herrick told an overcome Burnam he was serious.
“I told him, ‘We’ll get this raised,’” Herrick said. “I knew that Brian Devine, Petco’s chairman of the board, and Jim Myers, Petco’s president, would love it, and they did. We got it made.”
The Military Working Dog Teams National Monument was built next to the Basic Military Training Parade Field at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, a historically significant location as the training center and headquarters of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program.
The bronze monument was unveiled after the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1, 2013, and has been bestowed with national monument status, meaning it is recognized alongside other iconic national monuments, such as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.
Through the foundation, the current two mobile clinics (Herrick plans to add 38 more) have spayed/neutered 5,000 animals and have vaccinated more than 5,500. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s low cost, and sometimes it’s subsidized by the city and county of Los Angeles.
Herrick currently is working to take the foundation’s mission to the national level.
“It’s the only way to reduce the 80,000 dogs and cats who are being euthanized each week in the United States,” he said.
Because of an existing noncompete with Natural Balance, creating a new pet food was out of the question. Instead, Herrick asked retailers what was the least exciting product category in which he could work his particular brand of marketing magic and be successful. Shampoos and conditioners it became.
“It’s different. The packaging is different. It’s fun. It’s product with a cause,” Herrick said. “Petco’s taken it nationally. Central Pet Distribution and General Pet Supply are the exclusive distributors and are going to ship it all over the country. For a brand-new little shampoo company to be going national is pretty amazing.”
Behind the buoyancy of his new foundation and product company, though, were some very hard and painful truths.
“I used to feel really good about myself with the millions of pounds of donations to the rescues and thought, ‘Yep, I’m doing my share,’” Herrick said. “Then I drove the bus to shelters, and I saw what’s going on in those shelters. You knew it was happening, you knew they were killing animals. But when you go see it upfront, it was extremely difficult those first few times. The first few times driving home, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ It’s horrible what people do to animals and the fact that 80,000 dogs and cats per week get euthanized. But I’d get home, my animals would look up at me, and it was like, I have no choice but to see this through.”
Dr. Karen Halligan is the foundation’s chief veterinary officer who, together with Herrick, additional veterinary assistants and a small office staff, offers high-quality, affordable spay and neuter.
In addition, Lucy Pet Foundation volunteers go into shelters and find animals to feature in the adoption portion of the truck at local pet retail stores and events.
One challenge facing the foundation is changing people’s views on spaying and neutering their pets while bringing awareness to the benefits of sterilization and reducing pet overpopulation.
“Dogs and cats who are neutered live longer than those who aren’t, are happier family members, avoid certain cancers and are just plain healthier,” Herrick said.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Pet Product News.