Entrepreneurial solution makes environmental sense.
Since 1998 Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries has been offering a bounty on Nutria. Why? Because this invasive species is literally devouring our wetlands. The program has been successful at reducing numbers but the great majority of collected Nutria are simply discarded. After reading an article about control efforts, Hansel Harlan, a Baton Rouge attorney and dog owner, thought “what a
waste.” He had studied in South America and knew Nutria were a delicacy in their native country. An expensive campaign by the state to promote Nutria for human consumption languished. “There were just too many other choices.” But Hansel mused “Why not make dog treats with them?” The meat is highly nutritious, lean, free of chemicals, artificial hormones, antibiotics and fillers found in many mass-produced pet products.” 

Hansel had also become increasingly concerned about food ingredients for both himself and his dogs. “With constant food recalls and harmful foreign ingredients, I didn’t completely trust what was available. Plus, I had a dog with allergies. I began researching and experimenting.” His first treats were made using turkey. When Nutria became available he was impressed with the quality. Hansel was convinced he could develop a product that was vastly superior to common grain-based treats. “I wanted to create a minimally processed, fresh, natural product and I turned to the local ingredients I knew best.” 

Hans’ sister Veni Harlan, a graphic designer and dog owner, enthusiastically came on board and began developing materials for the fledgling company they dubbed “Marsh Dog.” Hansel focused on a recipe with just the right blend of Louisiana-grown ingredients. And of course they had no shortage of picky dog testers. “I’ve bought just about every dog product on the market” Veni recalls. “My dogs are picky and will leave treats that don’t interest them. The Nutria recipe really got the their attention. In fact, it’s quite a rarity to find a dog that doesn’t like nutria.”

In 2011, the company received a prestigious grant from The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. It was the endorsement they needed to get serious about their idea. BTNEP Invasive species coordinator Michael Massimi commented “We think it’s a unique concept and we were happy to present Marsh Dog with a grant.
Not only does the company make use of a natural resource, Marsh Dog brings awareness to the effect invasive species have on our wetlands.” Marsh Dog’s premier product “Barataria Bites” is in fact named for the fastest disappearing land in the world. In 2012, after less than a year in business, the company was awarded “Conservation Business of the Year” from the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Recognition program conducted by Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
Hansel and Veni are life-long residents of south Louisiana and witnesses to its sheer beauty, unique culture, and heart-breaking vulnerability to both man-made and environmental threats. They were active with fostering pets post Katrina and Rita, the most devastating hurricanes in modern history. When the Macondo oil disaster blackened the coast five years later, Veni worked at wildlife stabilization units that received thousands of oiled birds. “Like most people on the coast, we understand all too well what’s at stake. We want to be a part of the solution, if only in a small way.” 

The Harlans believe employing man’s best friend in the fight to save wetlands is a natural choice.
Dogs benefit and their humans can support wetland conservation in the process. It’s an
entrepreneurial solution that makes environmental sense.

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