Wasting any part of the rabbits raised on Keri Gray’s family farm in Ontario, Canada went against the principles of her Algonquin heritage. She started Shades of Gray Indigenous Pet Treats to make use of the whole animal and leave nothing to waste as her rabbit enterprise multiplied. That type of ecological efficiency has become part of sustainability efforts in recent decades. At the same time, sustainability has risen in importance with buyers of dog, cat and other pet products. However, the value of using all of an animal has ancient roots far deeper than pet food marketing trends.
“Sustainability is incredibly important to us, and we believe that other pet food companies can learn from traditional Anishinaabe values regarding resource use,” Gray told Petfood Industry in an email. “In Indigenous cultures, there is a deep respect for the land and all living things, which translates into sustainable practices that can benefit the environment and communities. We strive to incorporate these values into our business practices and hope to inspire others to do the same.”
The rabbit-based dog and cat treats include parts of the rabbit humans don’t eat, such as the ears or feet. Shades of Gray also buys back rabbit meat the company has sold to local retailers and restaurants. If the meat doesn’t sell, the locations freeze the rabbit meat for return to Shades of Gray. The company then uses this meat in pet treats. Shades of Gray also makes treats from wild game, such as beaver and elk. Other treats are made from bison, including the livers.
Gray draws on her Algonquin ancestry to inspire her company’s philosophy. The Algonquins are part of the Anishinaabe group of Indigenous peoples whose homelands stretch from eastern Canada and the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains and Oklahoma. Algonquin people hail from what is now eastern Canada.
“I am proud to express my Algonquin heritage in the operation of our business. We source our rabbit ingredients from my own Indigenous farm business (Shades of Gray Rabbitry), and work to incorporate traditional knowledge and practices into all of our business practices,” she said. “Our company logo also reflects our Indigenous heritage, representing the four legged that we hunt and trap in our communities. ‘Shades of Gray’ refers to my last name and the four shades of fur coloring in the rabbits we first started our farm with.”
Gray started with only enough rabbits for her own family, but gradually expanded the business over a few years. As the rabbit meat business grew, the amount of co-products grew too. Shades of Gray Indigenous Pet Treats launched during the pandemic and has continued to expand.
Indigenous people in the pet food industry
Shades of Gray occupies a rare position in the pet food industry as both an Indigenous- and a woman-owned business.
“I am not aware of any other Indigenous-woman-owned pet food or treat companies, but I would love to connect with any that may exist,” Gray said. “It is important for Indigenous people, especially women, to support each other in the industry and create a network of solidarity and strength.”
Gray works to support member of her local community as well. Shades of Gray Indigenous Pet Treats brings jobs and other economic inputs to the Algonquin community with a particular focus on employing women.
“As an Indigenous woman, I am proud to be a part of a growing movement of Indigenous women entrepreneurs who are breaking down barriers and creating change,” she said. “I believe that by supporting each other and sharing our stories, we can create a more inclusive and equitable pet food industry.”