Navigating Fin: A Journey with an Atopic Dog & His Nutritional Needs


This guest blog was written by Noel Russel, a Bay-Area based writer and dog-mom to Fin and Lhotse.

Two years ago, I spent months planning a 10-day tent camping trip through the Southwest to kick-off the new year. I had dreams of warm winter sun, climbing perfect sandstone pockets, and hiking through sparkling sand dunes at dusk. I plotted profusely, researching every location on our route and even checked the weather dedicatedly leading up to our trip, excited for nights spent sleeping beneath clear skies and days spent in the mid-60’s. The time finally came for us to hit the road, when I received an urgent weather notification for our intended destination – “Winter Storm Warning” it said, and listed frigid temperatures, wind chill measuring in single digits, and freezing rain. The predicted weather was unusually extreme, and came on quite suddenly. The news reports named it “The winter storm of the decade”. “Lucky us,” I thought, as I picked up the pieces of my hopeful heart. But we were determined to make it work, so we packed some extra layers and set out enroute to the icy plains of Arizona and New Mexico. Due to the sleet, constant rain, and unexpected snow – we didn’t end up climbing, or hiking, or visiting a majority of the places we had wanted to. And yet, it ended up being the best trip we’ve ever taken.

Despite our best intentions, it seems like life always throws us curveballs. We calculate decisions carefully and dictate details ever-so-perfectly, only to have our plans shaken up, flipped over, and spilled out onto the unforgiving floor of reality. When we considered adopting a second dog – despite knowing this truth full-well – I went into meticulous mode, and listed the characteristics that would make our next furry family member “the perfect fit”. I wanted a big dog – sturdy and trail-ready, one who loves the water, loves people, loves other dogs, has good stamina and a hearty physique. Maybe a lab mix, maybe a shepherd mix – definitely not a little dog, definitely not a high-maintenance mutt. But then one night, around 2am, I was awakened by a whimpering little stray – huddled beneath our van. In addition to being very sick and skinny – I could tell she was probably a Maltese mix. She tried to bite my big dog the second I brought her in the house and was very hungry and scared. In the morning, after cleaning her and feeding her a couple times, I decided to bring her to the local animal shelter where they would work to find her a good home. As I headed out the door, my husband asked me “If no one claims her – would you want to adopt her?” “We aren’t little dog people,” I said, and kept walking.

All it takes is 5 seconds of scrolling through my Instagram feed to notice that this plan backfired brilliantly, and I couldn’t be more grateful that it did. Fin does indeed contradict everything I said I wanted in a dog – she is tiny, she hates water, she is picky about other dogs, even pickier about other people, and has hair that needs to be cut every couple of weeks. She also has significant health challenges that make her very high-maintenance. Fin is considered extremely atopic – and suffers from severe allergic reactions to many environmental elements, as well as the majority of dog foods available on the market. This means she requires monthly shots, daily medication, and extra attention to the food she consumes. Thankfully, we found Annamaet’s grain-free formulas – which help meet Fin’s nutritional needs, while avoiding ingredients that trigger allergic reactions. Annamaet uses limited ingredients including high-quality proteins, human-grade meat, and everything is non-GMO. It also includes cranberries and blueberries which provide antioxidants needed to boost Fin’s immune system, and turmeric which helps reduce her constant struggle with inflammation. Annamaet’s formulas also in include pre and probiotics, which keeps Fin’s digestive system healthy and aid in reducing certain adverse responses to environmental allergens.

Loving Fin has taught me a lot about loving surprises. Because as much as I would’ve told you, 4 years ago, that there’s no way I would be able to care for a special-needs dog – I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Learning to meet the requirements of a being I treasure – more than life itself – has been nothing short of a blessing and has shifted my outlook on future adoptions. You see, leading with my heart, rather than long lists of qualifications, has led me to a life shared with the best being I’ve ever met. And just like that doomed road trip to the Southwest, I’ve been amazed at how rocky starts, and shattered expectations, can somehow turn into the best thing that ever happened.




Noël Russell is a Bay Area-based writer, adventurer and photographer with a deep love for all things wild. You can visit her website at or on Instagram @noel_russ.

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