SIOUX CITY — While he may no longer wear tights and a cape, Burt Ward is still fighting to save lives, and one Sioux City manufacturer assists with that endeavor.
Best known for portraying the Caped Crusader's sidekick Robin in the ’60s television series “Batman,” Ward and his wife, Tracy, launched Gentle Giants, an all-natural dog food created to prolong the lifespan of the four-legged creatures it’s fed to.
When they were ready to bring the product to market, Ward said they did a nationwide search for a manufacturer and came across Sioux City-based Consumers Supply Distributing.
Consumers Supply Distributing is a wholesale producer and distributor of animal feed products. About 36 brands of pet food are made at the facility in the Bridgeport Industrial area.
After doing business with Consumers Supply for a dozen years, Ward decided it was finally time to come and visit the place where his Gentle Giants dog food is made.
"They make the best product," Ward said Tuesday before he went on a tour of the state-of-the-art facility with company officials and a camera crew getting footage for future TV commercials.
Gentle Giants dog food has no corn, wheat, soy, by-products, fillers, artificial flavors or preservatives in it, and Ward said it's engineered to help dogs of all ages live longer.
“This is the only place we found that would custom-make food to our very demanding specifications and they have a very prominent history,” Ward said. “They’ve never had a recall here; every other dog food company has had a recall, it’s the only one we could find that didn’t have a recall. The standards are much higher here.”
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The Caped Crusader's former sidekick said his love of dogs began while he still filming "Batman," which also featured the late Adam West as the title character. West died last month at age 88.
"Because of security, I had to have two attack-trained Dobermans," said the 72-year-old Ward, who became a teen idol thanks to the show's popularity.
Gentle Giants is a nonprofit company and an offshoot of the Wards' Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions, which proclaims to be the “World’s Largest Giant Breed Dog Rescue” and is run from their estate in Norco, California.
“I have 45-50 (dogs) in my house,” said Ward, who later noted more than 15,000 dogs have lived on his grounds since the rescue was launched 23 years ago.
Ward said the inspiration for the dog food line stems directly from the nonprofit rescue operation. He noted larger dog breeds — such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St. Bernards and Newfoundlands — tend to have a shorter life than their smaller counterparts.
"When we would lose one of these dogs we would be devastated," Ward said. "My wife and I decided we would try to find a way if we could help them live longer. The first thing we did was develop a feeding and care program, which is very successful. The way we feed and care for dogs is different from the way other people feed and care for dogs and as a result of that we added an average of three years to every dog's life."
The next step was to create a healthy dog food, which is how Gentle Giants came about. Ward said they spent about 10 years on research and another three on tweaking the formula before it launched in 2005.
"We've made a food where we have doubled and tripled the lifespan of dogs; we have dogs living 27 healthy active years," Ward said.
Gentle Giants products are sold in a number of California retailers, some WalMart stores and on a few online retailers including Amazon. Ward said each product is sold at-cost.
"We love dogs," he said. "We don't need to make any money from this — we've done very well — this is our charity."