Samantha Mok has 300 cups of ice cream in her freezer. It’s full to the brim with dragon fruit, strawberries and cream, mango passionfruit and more.
But these delectable flavours aren’t for human consumption.
Mok’s pup cups are one of the most popular items at In Dogs We Trust, her online, small-batch gourmet dog treat business. She makes the cups with a goat’s milk base, which has less fat content than dairy so it’s easier on a dog’s digestive system. All of the products are made from all-natural ingredients you can find at any grocery store, and that’s the point. Her motto is, “If I wouldn’t eat it, I’m not going to feed it to Walter.”
Walter is Mok’s notoriously particular Pomeranian Shih Tzu, the head taster for In Dogs We Trust.
“As much as I joke about Walter being picky as the reason why we do everything, it’s really about wanting to keep your dog around for a long time. You want to feed them the best things that you can.”
While working at a pet store in 2019, Mok started learning the ins and outs of the pet food industry and was alarmed at the lack of regulation around what can go into pet food. She discovered wheat flour and corn weren’t necessarily digestible for dogs, even though brand label pet foods were full of them. She looked into the ingredients of pre-made dog ice cream mixes and found sugar, liquid smoke and vegetable glycerin and asked herself, “Why does that need to be there?”
When she started combing Instagram accounts and blogs devoted to picky dogs or dogs with allergies, she realized many other people had the same concerns. Pet owners were forgoing commercial treats and making their own. “People are really starting to see the pet food industry for what it is and they’re taking things into their own hands.”
In Dogs We Trust officially started selling treats last August, but the seed of the idea goes back to late 2019 when Mok was studying graphic design and working on her thesis project. She was making homemade treats for Walter and was inspired to create branding and packaging for a hypothetical dog treat company.
There was no intention to actualize it – Mok was adamant that it would live and die as a graphic design project at Centennial College. After graduating into a COVID economy and having three job prospects fall through, Mok entered and won a design award for the branding project and received some prize money. With a little push from her friends she turned In Dogs We Trust into a full-fledged business.
Most of In Dogs We Trust’s growth has been through word of mouth. “The dog community in Toronto is so huge and it’s a very friendly community,” says Mok. “One person tells their friend and then it’s like a never-ending chain of people.”
She’s been busy lately (hence her 300 cups of ice cream) and has partnered with two local dog stores, the Bone House in Leslieville and Dog Lounge in the Junction to reach more people. The products are also available for delivery in Scarborough (where Mok is based) and across the GTA.
The latest item is woofles, aka waffles for dogs. The bubble waffles are inspired by a popular Hong Kong street food but, of course, made with dog-friendly ingredients like oat flour, carob and spirulina. Last year she had pupsicles on the menu but found the treats were difficult to deliver before the sweet potato pumpkin and watermelon strawberry frozen concoctions melted completely.
One of the original items that is still on the menu is biscuits. Mok has released a dozen varieties, from the traditional “Talk Turkey To Me” to the seasonal “Holiday Feast.” They aren’t the buzziest product (homemade dog biscuits are pretty easy to make yourself) but there are regulars that clear her stock every time it’s replenished. “There is a very diehard group of people that insists [the biscuits] are the only thing their dog will eat.”
The recipe creation process is more of a reverse engineering process. Mok chooses a food she likes to eat and replaces the ingredients one by one until it’s completely dog-friendly. If something calls for sugar, she adds fruits, if it calls for cocoa, she adds carob. She’s not precious with the recipes, either. She lists every single ingredient in the name of full transparency – more focused on ensuring pet owners know exactly what’s in the treats rather than maintaining a competitive edge.
Mok has found that dog owners have bonded even more with their canine friends throughout lockdown and the desire to spoil them with healthy treats seems to be rising.
“People got really attached to their dogs throughout the lockdown. It’s the same for me. When I was at home, there were points where it was just Walter and I together the whole day. People are thinking, ‘Okay, well if I’m going to treat myself I might as well grab something special for my dog, too.’”