Healthy Dog Expo 2020 – Our History, Behind the Scenes

I cannot believe I am working on my third Healthy Dog Expo, which takes place October 24 & 25, 2020 in Albany, NY! This year we have an all star speaker lineup, and have moved to a larger space, and added on both an extra speaker and a Friday evening session. Thanks to the coronavirus, we had to change the date, but that enabled us to add Kohl Harrrington of Pet Fooled fame and CBD expert Dr. Karen Gellman to the program. Lemons into lemonade is our motto!

Many guests who attended years one and two have already purchased their tickets. I am so grateful that they continue to find value in the speakers, vendors, and sponsors that make the Expo what it is. For those of you who have not yet attended, I’d like to share a bit of history, and let you know what to expect from the HDE experience.

The Expo was “born” in 2016, when I was talking with a friend about wanting to have a dog natural health learning event that went beyond the raw feeding classes I had done in the past. What if I could bring together some of the leading experts in holistic dog health, feeding, and more? I knew my clients at the veterinary hospital were eager for more knowledge, and I received emails and Facebook messages from all over the world from people wanting help with their dogs. I knew I wanted to share and explore the many facets of holistic or natural medical and care approaches, and knew the best way to do this was to bring everyone together in the same space.

What most people didn’t know when I pitched this idea to them, is that this was not my first rodeo. Literally. I had been the organizer of Student Horsemen’s Association Symposium for two years as an undergraduate student. We brought 500 horse lovers to Cornell for two days of lectures and demonstrations from veterinary and animal science professors and staff. We were blessed to have university support, and this event funded our club’s activities for each year. And it let me see the magic that happens when you bring together those passionate about learning together. The chance to hear from world renowned experts, ask them questions, and be immersed in an environment of learning and dedication to our animals is a unique experience.

Year one took almost 18 months of planning. The most common questions I was asked was, “What is going to happen there? What exactly is the Healthy Dog Expo?” I quickly realized that while I knew exactly what the event was (hint – far more than a day of lectures about dogs), my audience didn’t. The first part was easily explained with the format, agenda, and names of speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, and vendors.

The hard part to explain is what the Expo actually is. How it feels. What you walk away with. Some things must be experienced to fully be understood. To be in a room of like minded people, who have shared experiences with dog illness, loss, and health transformation, is empowering, even life changing. To make connections with those who share your beliefs and goals is often the start of lifelong friendships. And to have access to the knowledge of those who are on the cutting edge of a field that challenges the norm, and provides options where others cannot help? That’s priceless!

Year one speakers included Susan Thixton of Truth About Pet Food and attorney Jessica Sleater, who opened many eyes to the realities of commercial dog foods. Dr. Judy Morgan shared her insights on a variety of alternative therapies, and brought her amazing books and products. Dr. Debbie Torraca of Wizard of Paws spoke about physical therapy and cruciate ligament injuries, which plague so many dogs today. Billy Hoekman, Answer’s Pet Foods Nutrition Science Director, talked about fats and raw diets. World renowned trainer Suzanne Clothier spoke about relationship based training, and helped guests better understand how our expectations intersect with a dog’s behavior. In between lectures, guest shopped for everything from food and treats to essential oils, explored their gift bags, talked with raw and cooked food companies, and enjoyed lunch with new friends.

Listening to Dr. Torraca lecture.

Dr. Jean Dodds and Greyhound Friend

As I worked to fill out the final speaker panel, I kept going back to my friend who had not answered me. I called her office, learning she was out of the country, and not necessarily having access to email. This went on for a couple months. Imagine the relief when I finally got an email from her, saying she had already said yes and was committed to being there! Turns out we each had old email addresses for each other, and our replies were floating around in cyberspace. Fortunately her assistant got us connected. And the legendary Dr. Jean Dodds returned to Albany, directly from France, to share the latest on vaccinations and her research.

So here we are at year three. Planning started as soon as year two was over, as I knew I wanted to share some of the best minds in the dog natural health world. Information is coming forward today faster than ever, thanks to these people. Experts like these are often booked out for a couple years in advance. But I knew from my post event surveys, as well as emails and social media, that these were the people my guests most wanted to hear from.

I think I began asking Rodney Habib the day after year two was over. I may have even begged. What you may not know about Rodney is that he is the kindest person you will ever meet. He is also the most passionate and dedicated to his cause — which means he is chronically over committed! It is my belief to this day that he does not sleep, because there is no way anyone does all he does in an ordinary human time schedule. I gave him the possible days the venue could accommodate us, and it turned out he was free the first weekend in April. So in essence he picked the date for 2020.

From there, it was easy to plan this year’s speakers. I knew everyone wanted to hear from Dr. Pope again. With everything going on with pet food recalls and changes, I was grateful Susan Thixton agreed to return. I reached out to international champion dog agility trainer Susan Garrett, who graciously agreed to share her wisdom on the impact of health on training and behavior. (For those who may not have heard her, she is a brilliant speaker and storyteller, and she will have you riveted to your seats. Click here for a taste of her philosophy. )

Dr. Karen Becker

At this point, I had one vacancy in my lineup. I went over the list of speakers previous guests had requested. Their number 1 choice was Dr. Karen Becker. She is the busiest person on the planet! I then built a list of people I thought would have incredible content to contribute, all tops in their field. Sadly, I got back lots of negative responses. Everyone was already booked, or unable to travel at that time. Fortunately for me (and my guests), Dr. Becker found space in her jam-packed schedule and agreed to join us, and later helped add raw feeding pioneer Steve Brown to the program!

So, what can you expect at this year’s Expo? What does your ticket get you? First and foremost, all the lectures from these amazing experts. Learn about Rodney’s research into helping our dogs live longer. Hear the truth about commercial foods and how to keep your dog safe from Susan Thixton. Gain insights into training, behavior, and health, from one of the most accomplished dog trainers and competitors in the world, Susan Garrett. Learn more about the science behind CBD from Dr. Gellman. Listen to Kohl’s experiences researching for his pet food documentaries and visits to raw feeding companies. He will also be sharing some never before seen film clips! And, hear Dr. Becker and Steve Brown talk about feeding options, from DIY to commercial.

I’ll talk more in upcoming posts about our sponsors and exhibitors, the gift baskets raffles, our scholarships for veterinary and vet tech students, and more. As always, our gift bags will be packed full of goodies. And who knows what surprises may happen between now and April?

Thanks for reading through all this, and I hope I have answered many of your questions. Feel free to post any that occur to you at the Expo Facebook page. And of course, claim your tickets at the website!

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