When Hill’s first came to South Africa in 1994 we sourced our products from the USA. With human and pet obesity on the rise, the States developed Hill’s Prescription Diet r/d - specially designed for weight loss - and initiated a Pet Slimmer Programme. I scoffed at the idea, explaining to my American colleagues that South African’s lived active healthy lifestyles and that we didn’t see many podgy pets.
However veterinarians in South Africa told us that many of the pets they saw weighed more than was healthy. It seemed that pet obesity was on the rise, with pet owners underestimating the problem and unaware of the health risks that came along with a few extra kilos.
It turns out that we pet parents, take “your pet is fat” about as well as we would take “your bum looks big in those pants”! Having someone tell you your pet is overweight is a delicate and sensitive issue and veterinarians were avoiding having the tough discussions about the medical risks associated with pet obesity in fear of upsetting the pet parents.
The Hill’s Pet Slimmer competition started in South Africa in 1997. Its objective was to put a fun spin on the serious issue and help us to raise awareness of the health implications and seriousness of pet obesity. Time and time again the results confirm the value of the Hill’s Pet Slimmer Programme in helping tackle the pet obesity problem.
Over the years we’ve run the programme in different ways. In our first year we selected 6 finalists and flew the pet parents and their pets to Cape Town. We held the final in the garden of our Hout Bay office with the press in attendance. First we weighed each pet and then the pet parents were interviewed by a panel of 3 judges:
The following year we held the final at the World of Dogs and Cats exhibition in Durban. We flew the pet parents, their pets and their veterinarians to the event. It was a rather glamorous affair with journalists photographing the Dog and Cat winner in the show ring.
Subsequently we moved the finalist review to the practice. This was a lot less arduous on the pets and gave the practice an opportunity to market their weight management services better and involve the local media. Each year in October I left my husband to look after my kids and for 6 or 7 functions ate my way through cocktail sausages and mini sandwich platters judging the finalists and berating myself that we couldn’t be stricter on the shortlist.
Selecting top Slimmers has always been the toughest part of the competition. We are always overwhelmed by the stories of perseverance and success. We select finalists from the eligible competition entrants, based on weight loss %, Kg's lost, quality of before and after photos and the pet’s life story and owner’s testimonial that best demonstrate an ability to be an ambassador for Hill’s.
We’re looking for the pet and pet parent combination that best show how a Hill’s Prescription Diet weight loss food has transformed their lives. In 2011 we took time to share and showcase some of these inspiring stories on our new Slimmer website. We opened up the process to the public to vote which finalist they thought should be the Pet Slimmer Ambassador for that year. We now get a celebrity panel of judges together to select the Pet Slimmer Ambassador for the year who would then join the esteemed past ambassadors in our Hall of Fame.
By Rina Cronwright Managing Director of Hill’s Pet Nutrition South Africa.