Considering who I am (such a small blog and I don't even have a book published) and what I believe in (feeding a diet that mimics the cat's natural diet), I was more then a little surprised when I got the email asking me to attend. I was so shocked in fact that I found a contact us link on the Hill's website to ask if this was legitimate. (if you ever question an email, never reply. Contact them through an known source. If it is spam or phishing replying simply lets the scammers know your email address leads to an actual person and thus a money maker for them)
More then once I have stated I do not like Hill's products. I'm pretty sure I have said I hated them during times of frustration. Since they have such a strong reputation in the general public quite often we will get large quantities donated to the shelter and unfortunately most of it gets wasted. I have yet to have a set of kittens or a mom for that matter that would eat it consistently. They generally eat enough to slake their hunger and then hold out for something different. These are animals with a great need for good nutrition and eating 20% of the recommended serving and ignoring the rest is not good.
After I verified the invitation was legitimate, I still had some seriously strong reservations about going. I know they are a very big company with very strong opinions and science / pseudoscience in their corner with people who have been working there for a long time that strongly believe in their product. I am one woman who has had hundreds of kittens fail to thrive on their diet and they and my own cats that absolutely blossomed when I removed foods with optimized nutrition from their diets. I knew what they stood for prior to going and I don't believe in it. I was pretty sure that I would not be swayed by what ever they actually said to me (mostly because I have heard just about all of it before) so it seemed like a waste of time and money.
But I knew this would be a chance to meet some other bloggers and spend time with other pet people. I have to say I have really come to completely appreciate the people I have 'virtually met' because of this blog. It is nice to know there are people out there who consider their pets generally the same way I consider my pets. All too often I am surrounded by people who do not have pets, do not want pets, do not really consider what it means to have a pet prior to getting one (if I had a dollar for each person that said to me 'oh I wish I had know about x before I adopted") and think nothing (or very little) about rehoming their pets of they become inconvenient. I just don't understand how these people don't attach to their pets as I (and many of my readers) do. To spend time in the company of people 'like me' who would care enough to come to this sort of thing seemed like it would be worth it. And it was. If it hadn't have been for them, I would have regretted the time away from The Crew and fostering. It would have also been harder for me, personally to live with my own conscious, to continue to talk about nutrition if I am not open to what everyone has to say. Since a) it has been a while since I listened to their pitch, and b) it was a chance for me to grow as a blogger and c) to meet other bloggers, I went.
So anyway.. full disclosure. Hill's paid for my way for this entire tour. I broke out my wallet to purchase a couple of incidentals that I could have easily not purchased and had this been 100% free for me. The hotel room was a suite on the sixth floor. It was really very nice. All food was paid for. All the drinks (aka alcohol but also coffee and such) were free.
|My room - there are two beds.|
|View from my room|
|And it was warm too..|
|The wonderful Teri of Curlz and Swirlz. Her T-shirt says|
"(From the desk of Toto) Dear Dorothy: Hate Oz, took the shoes, find your own way home! Signed: Toto"
So the first day we sat in a conference room at Hills and listened to several speakers talk very briefly on quite a few different subjects. About their heritage (did you know Hills was founded because a guide dog had kidney issues?), Science of Nutrition: Ingredients & Pet Food Labels (knowing how to read a pet food label is as important as reading human food labels.) The Science of Taste and Nutritional Assessment. They then talked about their Commitment to Caring and their donations to animal welfare societies around the country. Then opened up the floor to questions. (more on that later)
|Hills PNC. Image provided by Hills|
|Cats living at the facility for testing. Image provided by Hills|
|Apparently these cats are "Adell" and "Dirty Harry" |
since that is the file name of the image provided by Hills
Apparently one of them was just "bled"
|I took this picture at the museum where we had dinner the first night.|
|The entrance to the factory|
Security was VERY tight and we were never left unattended. We had to remove all jewelry and pretty much anything metal that could be removed. We were dressed up with hairnets and hardhats and steel toed galoshes as we walked through the plant. The main dry ingredients come in on trucks and are dumped into grates on the floor and you don't see them again until they come out as kibble. Additional ingredients are stored in different areas and are added into the process. I actually saw more about how kibble was made on the TV show "How It's Made"
The extruder looked almost identical to the one in the video, but it was much newer.
They source their vendors prior to signing contracts and accept shipments. The suppliers need to agree to meet the Hill's standards for the items they source. Hill's was quite happy that many of their suppliers don't like the Hill's standard because they are tougher to meet then some of the other places they supply. They do test the items when they show up at the factory to make sure they meet standard. Standard being the nutritional requirements and the limit of contaminates.
|Those in the tour that were willing to pose for this photo.|
Foodstuffs that don't make it into a bag are used as stock animal feed. What doesn't make it into a bag? well there were bins around the facility with "fines" in it. Which are bits of food that didn't quite make it into the kibble form.
After the tour they gave us a boxed lunch and drove us the two hours to the airport. I got home at around 11pm. And as you saw from my previous post, I totally got my lickings for leaving :) What I didn't tell you was I was involved in a kitty rescue on the way. A young man and his young daughter were sitting across the isle from me. She realized after she sat down she forgot her stuffie. She was about to cry when her dad her that he asked her to make sure she had everything, but not being able to leave it behind he told her to stay put while he ran back to the waiting area to get it. The second he was out of sight she started to panic that the plane would take off with out him. I did my best to assure her that the plane would not take off, that I wouldn't let it, but I could see the panic growing. He got back rather quickly, and it turned out the stuffie was a cat (a Hello Kitty) and someone joked we had a cat rescue. I almost laughed out loud at being a part of it.
So those are the facts of the trip. Considering how long this post is already I'm going to save my opinions until tomorrow. If need be I'll do a third post to answer any questions I can (and if I can't I'll tell you) so feel free to ask away!
If you happened to have gone on the Hill's PNC tour and have done your own post(s) on the subject, I'd love to link them up if you would like. Feel free to post your urls in the comments.