Like a pet food industry version of “The Revenant,” Rob Downey, founder of Annamaet Petfoods, was left for dead in the remote Alaskan wilderness after a protective mother moose trampled him, snapping his ribs. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, Downey didn’t win an Academy Award for surviving the ordeal, but he did get the inspiration for a grain-free dog food name.
He shared his tale of survival with Petfood Industry:
A lot of people ask why is there a moose on every bag of Annamaet and what does the word Manitok, the name of our red meat grain free formula, mean? Manitok is an Inupiat Eskimo word that means “rugged”. Why would you name a dog food rugged?
I have had sled dogs since I went to college in northern Minnesota for my first two years. Being a dog lover the first winter I attended my first sled dog race and I was hooked! I started to accumulate everyone’s cast offs, dogs that couldn’t make their team because of behavior issues. After college, we spent many winters in the interior of Alaska training and racing sled dogs.
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One day I was out on a training run when I turned off the main trail into a turnaround about 300 yards back in the bush and I ran into a cow moose with a calf. A cow moose is very protective of their young and in Alaska, a dog musher’s biggest fear. They will charge your team and will start stomping and kicking your dogs. They can be six foot at the shoulder and upwards of 1,400 pounds. I slammed on the brake as I was worried she was going to tear into my dogs and start hurting or worse possibly killing them.
I started waving my arms and screamed at her trying to make my self look really big, hoping to scare her off. All it did was make her angry and she focused on me. She ignored the dogs and charged past the team towards me, her hackles up, nostrils flaring, all I saw was the whites of her eyes. She was also smacking her lips together! Something I had never seen in the wild, I found out afterwards from a wildlife biologist that is a sign they are very angry!
My first thought was to get the dogs out of there, so I let go of the team and told them to go home. They were more than happy to leave, off they went, heading for our cabin miles away. I thought I could get to a birch tree and that I could climb to safety. Figuring eventually she would calm down and leave and I would have to walk those miles back to the cabin. The snow was too deep and the moose caught me half way to the tree, knocked me down and started stomping me. That was the last thing I remembered, she knocked unconscious and left me for dead. The deep snow actually helped me as it cushioned my body while she was stomping me and it insulated my body against the -10 degree temperature after she knocked me out.
I was unconscious for about 30 minutes, which is dangerous, especially in those temperatures. When I came to, I was hypothermic. She had broken my ribs, torn the cartilage in my chest, fractured my elbow and gave me a severe concussion. My right hand was swollen up like a boxer’s glove, the surgeon figured I was trying to block her blows as she stomped me. Wildlife biologists often say if you are attacked by a wild animal to just play dead. Trust me, they have never been attacked because I think it is humanly impossible not to defend yourself!
Then as the cobwebs started to clear, I realized what danger I was in. With my concern for my dogs safety, I got them out of harms way, now I had no way to get home, I could not walk those miles back to the cabin with the injuries I had. My only way back, my dog team was gone, I had signed my own death certificate! There was no one back at the cabin awaiting my arrival. I was alone at the cabin, just the dogs and I. My family was back in PA and although we tried to talk by phone daily, with a four hour time difference, that didn’t always happen. So it would be two days before they would start to worry and by then it would be to late for me.
In hypothermia, your body temperature goes way down, your blood flow decreases and you become very sleepy, you lay down and go to sleep never to wake up. That is how most people die from hypothermia. I tried to focus on my family over 4000 miles away, I had to try and get up and get moving. I knew if I just lay there I would never wake up. My goal was to make it back to the main trail where maybe a trapper, a snowmobiler or even another dog musher would find my body. I knew they would have a hard time finding my body 300 yards back in the bush off the main trail. I thought that would be much easier on my family as they would find my body much quicker on the main trail.
I was able to stumble back the 300 yards to the main trail, every step took focus and the pain was incredible. I finally made it back to the main trail and couldn’t believe my eyes, there was my dog team! My team was heading home and as it was turning back onto the main trail the sled tipped over and the snow hook fell out of the sled, caught in the snow and stopped my team. The snow hook is similar to a boat anchor, it can be used like an emergency brake to hold a dog team for a short time. There were my dogs, quiet and scared as I was. The moose in chasing after me had cut through the team and ripped the back two dogs out of harness, they were all tangled up. They were relieved to see me, but getting the back two dogs untangled and back in harness was a real dilemma as I had use of only one arm, my ribs and sternum made it almost impossible to bend over.
My head still wasn’t clear and to this day I think about something I did at that moment. The team I had that day was mostly young dogs, yearlings that we had raised from birth. I never had to use a leash on them, as they listened so well running loose. As they grew up we would take them for long walks in the forest loose, as they got older we would take them for long free runs. When we were heading for a training run I would just turn them loose and they would head to the truck. When we would drive to Alaska, I would stop and let them run around loose for exercise.
But for some reason, instead of just unhooking the two dogs with the tangled harnesses and letting them follow us back to the cabin, in my head all I could think was no one is being left behind! I struggled to untangle those two dogs get them back into harness and back into the team. It was an excruciatingly painful and very slow process. A great thing about dogs is that they live in the moment. By the time we were ready to go, the dogs were ready as well, screaming and barking to get back on the trail heading home.
I was able to get back on the sled and hang on as the dogs made their way back to the cabin. I don’t remember much about the trip as I was in and out of consciousness all the way back. Every once and a while we would hit a bump in the trail and the pain was almost unbearable, but I was able to hold on with one arm. By the time we reached the cabin I was in shock. I was able to stumble inside where I called a friend and said I was stomped by a moose, that was the last thing I remembered. He drove over to our cabin and helped me into his truck and then drove me 40 miles to the nearest hospital. After surgery and months of rehab, as I healed, my friends started calling me “Mr. Rugged” because I survived a wildlife attack in the Alaska wilds. My friends started to send me everything they could find that had a moose on it!
A few years later when we were looking for names for our new grain free formulas, we came across the Inupiat Eskimo word Manitok, we thought it had a nice ring to it and the fact it meant “rugged” was a double meaning.
We also started to put a moose on the front of every bag of Annamaet. I have even had a store tell me they sell more Manitok based on the moose story than the great nutrition inside!