In 2007 Annemarie Bolle was given the email address of Sergeant Leendert Bolle. Trusting that her sister-in-law knew the two would be a good match, she began emailing him. It wasn’t long before their long distance romance flourished. After his deployment, the two met in Germany and four months later they were married.
In July of 2012, the couple was approached by a friend who worked at Big Country Raw, a raw pet food company, to create a simple product; an all-natural, one ingredient, dehydrated dog treat. “We had a customer before we had a product,” says Annemarie Bolle, Owner of Hero Dog Treats. There was just one catch; Leendert was still on tour in Canada. Annemarie worked diligently to get the business off the ground until Leendert retired from the Armed Forces.
Hero Dog Treats originated in the couple’s home. Cutting the meat in their kitchen and packaging the dehydrated food in their basement in Pembroke, continued until the business outgrew their home. The couple packed up and moved to St. Catharines and into a warehouse on Queenston Street that has a complete preparation, packaging, and distribution centre. Hanging on the wall of their current processing facility is a picture of their daughter crawling around at Leendert’s feet as he cuts the meat in preparation for the dehydrator. A reminder of how far the business has expanded in the last five years.
Conveniently, Hero Dog Treats can be purchased on-line. The all natural products are designed with your dog’s needs in mind and with Hero Dog Treats you know exactly what you are feeding your pet. Their pure and odour free products are made by taking the meat directly from the cutter and into the dehydrator with no added fillers, additives, or preservatives that can interfere with your dog’s digestive system. These dehydrated treats help improve digestion, pro- mote healthier skin and coats, and reduce allergy symptoms for dogs.
Along with a variety of treats made in Canada, the company also carries a full line of supplements and kangaroo treats from Australia.
While preparing to retire from the armed forces, Leendert was given the opportunity to participate in the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur Program (POE). A program that assists veterans in making the switch from army life to working in the community with the goal of running their own business. “People in the Military have been taught to serve, told what to do, when to show up, and how long to exercise for. They have lived so long in that support group and when they come back to ‘normal life’ that support group is gone,” she explains. Bolle is pleased with the guidance received by the program and highly recommend the program for veterans. “My husband had a lot of knowledge and the program showed him what to do with his knowledge,” says Bolle. “They helped make the transition easier.”
Hero Dog Treats is focused on giving back to the community and those who have served for Canada. Canadian Service Dog Foundation and Sheepdog Lodge, both programs that aid veterans, are charities that the couple is passionate about. As part of their business model, the couple employs military veterans. “We want to make the transition to ‘normal life’ easier for them,” explains Bolle. Hero Dog Treats also supports Community Living by hiring individuals with intellectual disabilities. “I love helping others. If I was still a nurse I would donate, but as a company you can do more than that,” says Bolle.
Before each product is ready for packaging, it must pass a rigorous test by none other than Penny, the family’s Bernese mountain dog. “We make sure the dogs like the product and if they can chew it before it hits the market,” says Bolle. With Hero Dog Treats new products are always in the works. “One day I noticed bins of peanut butter and wondered why they don’t make it for a dog.” This inspired Bolle to make a peanut butter for dogs packaged in a tube; a practical solution for using the peanut butter to administer medication to your dog. “It is an all-natural product that can be given out of a spout so it is easier to get out. It is fresher and you go through it faster, so it won’t clump. My dog loves it too,” says Bolle. “New ideas come from a combination of customer requests and when I walk through stores.”
Annemarie is pleased with the choices she has made to leave the nursing profession and work side by side with her husband, “I am my own boss and there is a lot of diversity: talking to customers, and suppliers and coming up with ideas, packaging, and marketing,” says Bolle.
Quality, charity and family are three areas that the Hero Dog Treats is consistently committed to. As their family has grown with the business, and now includes four children all under the age of six, they continue to produce a high quality product for your pet.
When asked the best advice she can give to new entrepreneurs Bolle answers, “Never give up. Stay focused on one thing and put your energy into it. You have to push yourself. Take advice from people in the industry and find people to network with. My husband and I build this together, we don’t have investors or partners. We have a lot of responsibility and a lot of fun. What I love is the hard work.”