We met Madison Shedd when she helped run our first Tails of the Trail event with Williamson County Animal Center in July. We quickly learned of her talents as a graphic designer and maker of organic dog treats. Her company Axle Bites subsequently became a sustaining sponsor of Tails of the Trail outreach events.
What is your background?
I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, but grew up in Brentwood, Tennessee. I have always been interested in art, which led me to a career in graphic design. My day job is at a print shop in Franklin in the design department. I live in Nashville and collect antiques and restore vintage taxidermy.
Tell us about your own pets, past or present.
Bunners, our eldest, is an 8 year old Dwarf English Spot mix rabbit. I adopted him when I was in high school. While he is only 2 pounds and is mostly blind in both eyes, he is full of “grumpy old man” personality.
Axle is our 6 year old Red Heeler mix who we adopted from a small rural shelter in Tennessee. Axle is my shadow, and I take him with me wherever I can. He often accompanies me on hiking and camping adventures, and does his part to make sure whichever weekend foster dog we have feel right at home.
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Clover, my fiancé’s dog, is the middle sister of our “pack”. She is a soon-to-be 5 year old Husky/Golden Retriever mix. She was adopted at 4 months old, and is still full of puppy energy. Clover is sweet, loves to give kisses, and is one huge, blue eyed, lovable ball of fluff.
Danu, often just referred to as “kitty” is my fiancé’s cat and the baby, just turned a year old this spring. She is a solid black ball of trouble, often terrorizing the dogs which each have 50 plus pounds on her. She was found by my fiancé under a truck as just a teeny tiny 2 pound kitten.
What inspired you to create Axle Bites products?
When we adopted Axle four years ago, it was pretty apparent that he was having some serious digestive issues. He just seemed to be getting sicker and our vet was trying everything. Axle was getting weekly shots, pills, special food additives, and steroids. But nothing seemed to be working. The diagnosis jumped from pancreatitis, to Crohn’s disease, to acid reflux, to missing enzymes. After about a year of trying one treatment after the other our vet finally suggested putting him on a food trial, thinking maybe Axle’s issues were something external like an allergy. So we tried brand after brand of food, at least half a dozen. finally we tried a higher end, grain free food, and sure enough, after about 3 weeks Axle started gaining weight; he was eating and not immediately getting sick. That’s why I started home making his treats: I could control the ingredients and know for sure nothing he was allergic to was in the treats.
After a while I started giving bags of the treats to friends who had dogs. They were a hit! And I was getting requests for different flavors too. I never set out intending to start a business, but with my design background, it wasn’t a big step for me to create branding, packaging, marketing, and an online shop. Now I take Axle with me to most of the local markets I participate in. He was the inspiration for the business, and always draws a big crowd at events!
Do you offer more than the organic dog treats?
Aside from the Axle Bites treats I also offer a small clothing line called PitCrew Apparel. The tanks, t-shirts and hoodies help promote a positive image for a very misunderstood breed of dog.
This clothing line is a great way to promote “bully breeds” and help educate anyone who inquires about the product. In my experience, pittie advocates are always more than happy to talk about their dogs and shed light on any of the countless myths surrounding pits and pit mixes. Whenever true information can be shared and a mind can be changed about these dogs based on a conversation about a t-shirt, I consider that a success!
How has working with shelters changed your outlook on life?
Shelter work has really given me a greater purpose. As a designer, I love what I do, but I feel I’m not making a huge impact on the world. Yeah, I can create a killer logo or marketing piece. But I’m not a firefighter saving someone from a burning building, or a scientist coming up with a cure for a disease. But working with shelter animals I’m at least making their world better. Shelters can be loud and scary and no matter how many times you have cleaned, cleaned, and re-cleaned the kennels that day, its still going to be some level of smelly and dirty.
When I walk into a kennel and bring out a shy, confused dog and walk her out into the grass it can be a scary experience. But I sit next to that dog and talk quietly to her, gently petting her back. And when she finally leans into my chest and lets out a hard sigh of relief, that moment of complete trust and gratitude is what makes it all worth it. Even great shelters like Williamson County can still be pretty stressful for the animals. And when you make that connection with a dog or a cat, you can 100% see how much they appreciate it. And that’s what really got me hooked, seeing what an impact spending time with these animals has. They all crave attention and human contact, and I can do that. I can make a difference in that animal’s life, and in turn her family’s life when they get adopted.
I’ve also formed a strong group of friends from the shelter, people I would have never met if not for my involvement in rescue. It really has become a huge part of my life and how I see my place in the world. If I’ve had a hard day, I will head to the shelter and spend some time with the dogs and my friends. It really has become a stress relief for me, and a way for me to make an impact in my community. If I’m walking dogs after work, spending six hours at a Saturday adoption event, weekend fostering, or transporting a dog to new home or rescue, I’m making a difference and it really gives me a sense of accomplishment and worth.