Wednesday, January 23, 2008

For the Dogs

Some people look at me a little strangely when I talk about how leaving the corporate world and simplifying my life has lifted the fog from my mind and allowed me to see things more clearly. What do I mean by that? What fog? What’s not clear?

The thing is, when you’re so busy just going through the motions of living your life, you have very little time left over to actually live, and almost none at all to think. Take dog food for instance. Talk about a no-brainer; what is there to think about? Well, bear with me for a moment.

We’ve owned dogs for well over 12 years. For the first 10 years or so, when I was living a mainstream life, we went to the store and bought dog food for them. Sometimes the cheap stuff, sometimes the “high end” brands, depending on our financial shape and how much we wanted to “treat” the dogs to something good. Nothing abnormal about that at all. I mean, what more is there to think about, right? It’s dog food. And that’s exactly how I thought myself for well over a decade.

But I don’t buy dog food anymore. I make it. And I’ll tell you why.

We had an 8-month old dog die on us about a year ago that I still suspect I poisoned to death. The day after Christmas I had bought a bag of Pedigree dog food, and exactly 1 week later she began dying of what would turn out to be massive renal (kidney) failure. Just like that. Healthy and active and full of life one minute, dead the next. Boom.

This was a few months before the massive dog food recalls that occurred in the spring of 2007, and Pedigree was not one of the brands named in the recall, but to this day I still have to wonder if I didn’t kill my own dog by feeding her manufactured poison that was labeled as food.

Even if that had never happened, however, I’d still be making my own dog food. I was talking to a veterinarian some months back and I told him that I was now feeding my dogs mostly leftovers and table scraps. He immediately started to chastise me. “Oh, you shouldn’t do that,” he said, “you need to get them on a good, quality dog food; table scraps aren’t good for them.”

“So what you’re telling me,” I said, “is that the food I feed my family is good enough for my wife and children, but it’s not good enough for my dogs?” That completely caught him off guard, and as he sat there open mouthed trying to think of something to say, I posed another riddle to him.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “If scientists developed the perfect “people food” that was nutritionally perfect in every way, and maybe even tasted good too, would you eat that food 3 times a day – every day – for the rest of your life?”

You should have seen the look on his face as he struggled to come up with a reply. He couldn’t say “yes” because he knew that would have been a blatant lie, however, he couldn’t say “no” either because it would have proved my point for me.

I let him gape like a fish for a few seconds and then bailed him out and changed the subject. Please know that I wasn’t being nasty to him, but I think these are perfectly legitimate questions, and it was interesting to me that he had no answer to either one of them.

If anything, I felt sorry for the guy, because he was just reading from the same book of conventional wisdom as everybody else. What I mean is that his profession – along with all of the other prevailing aspects of society – continually reinforces the notion to all of us that if you have a dog, you must feed it dog food. Period.

Just as I had done for the first 10 years that I owned dogs, this veterinarian had never actually stopped to think about it for himself. If he had, he would have realized how absurd the whole “dog food” thing really is. It’s convenient for people because it requires almost no effort on our part (and we like that), and it’s also convenient for business, because they have another way to make money. But what about the dogs?

Commercial “dog food” wasn’t invented until the mid-1800’s, and did not become popular in the United States until a century later, shortly after WWII. What did all of these dogs eat for the thousands of years before that time? And isn’t it interesting that in just the past 60 years, we have gotten to the point where we do not even question the concept of “dog food”?

If you’re still not convinced that dog food is not such a good idea for your pet, try some yourself and see what you think about it. That’s right; eat some. I have. You know what? It doesn’t taste very good. In fact, it’s terrible. I have to wonder, are the taste buds of dogs so very different from our own that they would think otherwise? It seems pretty convenient (for us, that is) that dogs don’t have the ability to tell us themselves.

By the way, if the very thought of eating some dog food repulses you, you don’t have to actually go through with it. Just ask yourself why you would force your dog to eat this sole-source of nutrition – and nothing else – when you won’t even put it in your mouth.

So how do I “make” dog food? It’s not that hard, it doesn’t take much time, and it’s not that expensive. I usually start with a base of 2 cups of rice (one of the same ingredients touted by many “high end” dog foods), and then I add stuff to it. Maybe a couple cans of tuna fish (water & all) and a can of cream of mushroom soup. Or a half dozen scrambled eggs and a handful of shredded cheese. Sometimes I’ll add a handful of rolled oats, a can of pinto beans, or whatever leftovers are in the fridge; extra hotdogs, stale bread ends, etc. Get creative**.

The point is to make it something that will actually taste good, give them a good variety of food in their diet, and not cost a mint to make. Each batch I make with that “2 cups of rice” base takes only a few minutes to make and will last for 2 days; a morning and evening meal for both of my dogs. It costs almost nothing if I make it with leftovers and never more than $2 even if I use “purchased” food, which works out to about $30 a month at the very most. I don’t think that’s too expensive, especially since I would have spent at least $15 on commercial dog food anyway.

And I’ll tell you this, that “extra” $15 is well worth it, because you should see Otis & Ellie at mealtime. They get so excited they literally jump up in the air and do 360’s when they see me with their food bowls in my hands. And they don’t just eat their food; they attack it. It’s so incredible to watch them.

They are both healthy and strong, their coats are shiny, and they have boundless energy. Mealtime is truly the highlight of their day, and I feel like a much better steward. I’m happy to do it for them.

It makes me sad when I think about the first two dogs Cat & I got so many years ago; good old Rusty & Rosie, both now dead and buried. I loved those dogs, they were part of my family. They showed us unconditional love, they played with & watched over my children from the time they were babies, and they provided me with peace of mind every night as I slept, knowing that they would alert me – and sacrifice themselves for me if need be – should anyone enter my home with evil intent.

And for all of that, my reward to them was giving them the same old crap to eat every single day of their lives. I feel so ashamed of myself.

Just one more area of my life where the fog has been lifted, and one more opportunity for me to say “never again”.

** Note that there are some "people foods" that are not good for dogs, but there aren't many and they are easy to avoid. Do a little research, check around, and be sure not to put all of your trust into the first website (or blog) you come across.


Mama Hen said...

How very interesting that you wrote about this.

I remember Cat telling us of the sickness and loss of your poor puppy, and how heart-breaking that was! But Otis and Ellie are well-loved, and we learn as we live.

I recently began experimenting with home-made dog treats. The first thing I noticed was how "bonkers" the dogs go for them. They LOVE them, and they were truly good enough for us to eat (I had to order my son not to eat any more of them and save some for the dogs!) I have been trying to find toys for them made in USA (THAT is a challenge!) or making toys for them myself. I simply have no more trust in the imports (whether being for my animals or my family.) Their food is something I have been thinking about as well lately, and though we get them the "good stuff" I have felt that something better could really be done. Definitely "food" for thought.

Mrs.B said...

I am so fascinated by this post because I have been toying with the idea of making my own dog food. My husband and I have never been able to have children so our 3 dogs and 2 cats mean so much to us.

I must say that you made some excellent points! Why is people food OK for humans but not animals?!

I've been reading about the B.A.R.F. (Bones & Raw Food) diet for dogs but I can't bring myself to give my dogs bones. I guess when they aren't cooked they aren't brittle but I find the idea a bit scary.

The other reason I've been hesitant to make my own dog food is the cost. My dogs are HUGE dogs. One is 130 lbs., one is 90 lbs and has food allergies (I searched the Internet and found a dog food with a fish and potato base that works well for him but it's quite expensive), and the other is 70 lbs. and has some other health issues. My dogs are size of small people and I was afraid of how much it might cost to feed them something I make them. My large dogs eat 5 cups of dog food a day and the smallest eats 2 1/2 cups a day. Do you find that you give them the same amount that you gave of the dog food?

Anyway, I'm rambling but thank you for your post, you've given me something to think about.

I have an animal blog so I think I am going to link to your post. (o:

Many Blessings,

Blaine Staat said...

Mrs. B, I'm not sure what to tell you about your large dogs (ours are 35 & 20 lbs). I definitely don't have all of the answers; I have no lack of questions though!

For awhile, we were buying dog food from a small, non-corporate owned company here in KY that we could purchase from our neighborhood grocery. You might want to check for local manufacturers in your area and give them a call. If you feel you can trust their product, I don't think it's any crime to use that as the "base" of your dog's diet and then augment it with other "homemade" food as you can. I promise you, your dogs will look forward to the good stuff when they can get it!

Emily said...

I have just recently been learning alot more about this, as we adopted a dog with epilepsy three months ago, and we have been wondering if the commercial dog food had something to do with his seizures? As soon as we get a meat grinder, we are going to start our dogs on the BARF diet. I am going to grind the bones though cause I am just so worried about my dogs choking as one is older and the other has damaged teeth. They do need the bones though. I hear sardines are also good, and also, throw the eggs in raw, shells and all! The shells are very good for them. Frozen blueberries are good too as blueberries are very antioxidant rich. I'll share a link I have bookmarked. It's about a dog with epilepsy, but this would be good for any dog! I liken commercial dog food to us eating nothing but Total cereal. We may getall the vitamins and such, but it's not natural and it's not ideal. Also, I am going to feed my dogs the meat RAW! =O Took me awhile to get used to that idea, lol! But if you think about it, dogs eat lots of stuff that would make us sick, but doesnt make them sick. Such as things from the kitty litter box, etc, etc, *gag* ;)

Emily said...

p.s. I think I forgot to post the link about the barf diet? Just in case I did, here's the link:

MrsMelody said...

I too remember the sickness and loss of your beloved pup. It makes you wonder doesn't it? Just what really is in that stuff.

Any thoughts on cat food? :)