Of Brands and Betty

So we learned a few things about PET FOOD this week.

First -- a can of Turkey Chunks and Gravy made by a top-shelf brand, isn’t so different from a can of Turkey Chunks and Gravy made by a cheap, generic brand. Turns out one factory can pretty much crank out meat-mush for dozens of different pet food labels, all at the same time. I guess I’m not that surprised.

Second -- we learned that even though dogs and cats will gobble up garbage off the street, if you put a little rat poison (allegedly) in their food, they actually have pretty delicate systems.

And third -- we found out that in many states dogs and cats are legally worth no more than their original purchase price. Maybe a few hundred dollars for a pooch with papers. Probably a whole lot less for everyone else. Basically they’re worth as much as an old shoe with a wagging tail.

It’s tragic of course, not to mention an ugly situation. Beloved dogs and cats dying from tainted pet food. Anguished owners planning to sue. Companies calling their lawyers.

Every move is as preordained as BETTY jumping up on the sofa when my back is turned.

Folks who watch “The Big Idea” met BETTY the other day when we did a show about the big business of dogs. She was that solid looking BULLDOG with the pronounced under bite. And yes of course, she’s like family. (She’s from that weirdo branch of the family that pees in the street, but she’s still family.)

People who don’t like animals will never understand this “family” stuff. Maybe it’s not even worth explaining, but I’ll give it a whirl.

It’s an urgent stare Betty gives me when she’s lying belly flat to the floor. She’s not moving, but I know good and well she’s aching to scramble to her feet and chase the ball across the room.

She knows I know what she wants, but she doesn’t make the first move.

And I know she knows I know, but I don’t make the first move.

And finally I twitch just a finger, and she springs to her feet in desperate anticipation.

It’s absurd. It’s charming. It’s a relationship. It’s LOVE. You can’t put a value on that.

And that’s why pet food companies involved in this recall (especially the high end companies) should choose their next steps carefully. Don’t low-ball pet owners if and when this thing goes to court. Don’t be tempted by the letter of the law and value pets at zero. Think of your BRAND. Ultimately you’re not selling Turkey Chunks and Gravy in those cans. You’re selling confirmation of that idea that pets are members of the family. You’re selling LOVE.

Donny Questions? Comments? donny@cnbc.com