Herbal Tea Has Gone to the Dogs
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because herbal tea is good for humans … why not dogs too?
By Molly Fosco and Leslie dela Vega
When brothers Max and Elvis first arrived in Los Angeles four years ago, they were immediately unsettled. Nothing was the same as back home in England. The food tasted funny and upset their stomachs, and they were anxious about starting a new life in such a strange city. The one thing that calmed them down — and reminded them of home — was tea.
Drinking tea to relax isn’t exactly a novelty. Until you discover that Max and Elvis are dogs.
These huskies made the trip across the pond with their owner, Emma Witkowski, when she got a new job in marketing and advertising in sunny SoCal — but had a hard time adjusting. They were constantly anxious and weren’t properly digesting their food. Witkowski didn’t know how to put them at ease. One day, she caught Max happily lapping up her cup of tea. That’s when lightning struck. “If herbal tea is so beneficial to humans, it must have benefits to dogs as well,” Witkowski thought. And so Barking Mad Creations was born.
Witkowski began researching the best herbs to calm dogs and to help with their digestion, and she joined forces with a veterinarian to consult on the right blends. She came up with sereniTEA, made from skullcap, valerian root, passion flower, oat tops and rose petals, to relax the body and reduce anxiety. She also created tasTEA using astragalus root, oregano leaf, fennel seeds, parsley, chamomile and marshmallow root, to raise gut immunity and soothe sick tummies. The flirTEA blend — with cinnamon, fennel and sage — was concocted just for fun to freshen up her huskies’ breath. To make a nice “cuppa,” simply brew the tea with boiling water as you would any other, but make sure it’s completely cool before giving it to your pup. Two teabags for dogs over 50 pounds or one for smaller dogs should do the trick.
Max and Elvis took to it right away — but not in the way you’d expect, Witkowski says. “It’s not like giving them a treat. They’re not going to go after it like beef jerky,” she says. But they quickly became less anxious, and they were digesting their food much better. After a few years, Witkowski decided that if her dogs liked it, others would too. She started handcrafting more of the tea blends at home and selling them online.
Since officially launching in June of last year, Witkowski’s focused on small-batch production. Sales fluctuate, but the holidays are always a busy time of year. Last December, nearly 3,000 Barking Mad tea bags sold in one month. One customer, Samantha Shaw Perlich, wrote on the company’s Facebook page that her basset hound named SPOONS (yes, all-capped) used to cry every time she left for work. But after giving him the tea she noticed he was much calmer. He even gets excited every time she starts brewing a bag of sereniTEA.
OZY’s own head of visuals, Leslie dela Vega, gave her half lab/half dachshund, Audette, some of the flirTEA last month. Even before opening the sealed tea bag, Audette was sniffing it like crazy. After her daily walk, a thirsty Audette quickly lapped up the tea from her bowl. The dog doesn’t normally have the freshest breath on the block, but that evening dela Vega didn’t notice any halitosis when she kissed her pet goodnight.
While Witkowski wants to scale the business over time, right now she’s focused on educating her customers about how Barking Mad Creations can help their beloved animals. “Once your dog is used to the tea, they’ll drink it throughout the day like normal water,” Witkowski says, though she advises doing five days on and two days off so they still feel the full effects and benefits of the herbs.
“Our overarching mission is to deliver health and happiness to all dogs,” Witkowski explains, and this is done in two ways: with the tea itself, and by donating 10 percent of all sales to a char.i.TEA of the month, typically drawn from a list of dog-focused causes in Los Angeles. Proceeds from November and December sales will be going to an organization that is helping animals after the Woolsey fire.
Because Witkowski hand-packs the tea herself, it’s only available on the Barking Mad Creations website (a package of 14 tea bags costs $14.99). But once she’s able to outsource some of the blending and packing, she plans to sell it in boutique pet stores too. Witkowski is confident that most dogs will love her tea, but if yours doesn’t, she’ll refund your money.
Four years later, Max and Elvis are still big fans of the herbal blends — and have settled nicely into life in America.