Dogs can alter lives, but the adorable puppy that newlyweds Jennifer Melton and Brennan Johnson adopted nearly 12 years ago really changed theirs. The shepherd mix they named Samantha brought them new careers, their own business and took them back to their roots in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
And it was all because “Sammy” had terrible food allergies.
“We got her so that she could travel with me,” says Melton, now a mother of two little girls. “Then I was a marketing director for a clothing company, driving all over Southern California, while Brennan held down a full-time job and was getting his Ph.D. in engineering.” But in 1998, she discovered her beloved traveling companion had food issues. The couple, both 35, consulted vets who recommended medication. That didn’t sit well with them, so they researched the problem. By systematically eliminating certain foods, they discovered Samantha couldn’t handle corn, soy or dairy. Unable to find food that didn’t contain some of those irritants, Melton began to make all of her dog’s food.
The couple took their homemade treats to shelter bake sales and gave them to friends whose pets were picky eaters. “All of a sudden people were asking for them,” says Melton. “So we thought, maybe we could make them and sell them.”
It was tricky at first. They moved back to San Luis Obispo and started their company, Cloud Star; all the while Johnson worked days and waited tables at night. “We weren’t sure it would work,” says Melton, “but it seemed like something fun – better than our old jobs.” They now have more than 100 employees and offer nine treat lines as well as shampoo and conditioners.
And Sammy is still with them, along with Ariel and Tiller, both rescues.
The couple count themselves more lucky than savvy. Unbeknownst to them, Cloud Star was in the vanguard of natural food for pets. “There wasn’t a lot of these kinds of alternatives on the market ten years ago,” says Melton. “So we got great word of mouth.”
They may be bigger now, more than a decade after they launched the company, but some things never change. Though they don’t make homemade treats for bake sales much any more, the couple give 10 percent of their yearly proceeds to support animal and environmental causes.
And when it was just the two of them, the Melton and Johnson didn’t have a voice message system. They still don’t; customers talk to a member of the staff. “That’s the way we learn what other dogs need, ” says Melton. “We figured out Sammy, but we love helping other pets, too. We answer the phone and listen.”
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