Monday, December 10, 2007

Bring Your Dog Into Your Food Chain

Ssshhh . . . don't tell the vet. I feed my dog table scraps. In fact, most weeks she doesn't have a bite of commercial dog food. I'm not feeding her a fancy biologically appropriate raw food or bones and raw food diet, either. No, I just finally decided that if it was good for us, it was good for her. I learned that she could eat foods that we might not choose to, such as chicken organs and skin, or leftovers that are a little past their prime.

It has been really easy to feed her. When I make chicken or turkey stock, I careful pick through all of the (hundreds of tiny) bones to get every bit meat I can. I pull out the veggies too, the garlic cloves, carrots, and celery. To these things I add any leftover grain in our refrigerator, or I make a pot of grain just for her. Mixed together, I have homemade dog food that well, looks and smells a bit like dog food, except I know every ingredient in it. No chance of melamine.

I give her leftovers and scraps, too. She'll eat meat the boys have chewed at and rejected as too fatty. She loves the skins of squash (just not too much, or we see the results). She adores apple cores. On the rare occasion that we visit a restaurant I will gather the uneaten potato skins from everyone at the table (it seems only my family eats potato skins) and take them home for her.

Sometimes a boy requests more food than he can eat. Girl-Dog gets the leftovers. Sometimes we look through the fridge and find containers with little bits of food: half a cup of soup, two tablespoons of cooked carrots, two little pieces of broccoli, etc. If it's time to feed the Girl-Dog I'll pull these things together to make her meal.

Sometimes I think of her while I'm cooking; I might toss an extra half cup of oatmeal into the porridge pot just for her, or bake an extra potato. Starches are inexpensive.

Girl-Dog is happy and healthy. Her coat shines. She's an old dog, so we try to give her as much fat as we can. She's happy to have the chicken fat skimmed off a cooled container or stock. She loves the fat trimmed off of a piece of beef (which has been rare up until this point). Heck, we trust our meat producer so much that we pour accumulated beef juices from the vacuum-pack bag right into her dish.

I've yet to cook and prepare meat just for Girl-Dog. The closest we've come to that is cutting up a pot roast that was cooked incorrectly and was dry and seemingly inedible (a lesson learned, to be certain, about pot roasts, slow cookers, and blindly following recipes). She isn't picky about her proteins, however. She'll happily eat leftover pinto beans, whole or refried.

I don't worry that I feed my dog table scraps. I feed her real food, food that I am willing to eat myself. Our food waste is almost non-existent (I've yet to dry chicken bones and grind them into bone meal to supplement her calcium intake). I have a container of commercial dog food that I've had for some time now, to have on hand should the leftovers be short one day. But overall, I have nearly eliminated our reliance on commercial dog food, which is highly processed and must be shipped great distances.

Every dog is different. Last summer I watched the Girl-Dog carefully pull tomatoes off the outdoor table, one by one, and gobble them down. They were the split culls from the morning's harvest. She loved them. I knew she wasn't a picky eater, but the tomato incident helped me to see that she would eat a wide variety of foods, and that what I might have seen as waste (or compost fodder), she saw as food. I already knew she loved apples, and cooked broccoli. She had already faithfully cleaned up the floor after each meal, leaving only raw pieces of lettuce. She, unlike some dogs, isn't too keen on raw carrots.

I've stopped believing that experts know what humans should eat, so why should I trust them when it comes to my dog. If highly processed kibble is so great, so superior to real food when it comes to dogs, then why doesn't that apply to humans? No, commercial dog food is big business, a way to sell to us food that we wouldn't choose ourselves. Humans know spoilage and the stench of disease. We know what to stay away from. Commercial dog food factories are the place they send the diseased meat, the road kill, the parts of animals that no one else wants. They also process lots of corn for our canine friends. They then, of course, have to supplement the foods with vitamins and minerals. Uh, isn't that a sign that the food would otherwise be deficient?

I'm not exactly in the camp with the B.A.R.F. folks either. Sure, Girl-Dog would probably love raw meat and bones. But my goal isn't to create a new category for her to eat from. No, she is a canine living with humans, sharing our food. In return for shelter, food, and kindness she offers companionship, unconditional love, and protection. A canine is the original lock on the door and the original smoke/fire alarm. Girl-Dog is also exceedingly good at warding off solicitors. My tip? Open the door just a crack (we have one of those old-fashioned chains, basically worthless), hold your barking canine by the collar or ruff, and watch as people back away. If they ask if she bites, say "yes", even if it isn't true. Before the person can start their sales pitch say the words "We aren't interested." Watch the magazine salesperson, the tree trimmer, and the water delivery person depart quickly.

Of course, Girl-Dog is a actually well-mannered, and is greeted warmly by friends, neighbors, repair people, mail carriers, and package delivery employees. She turns off the bark and wags her whole body as soon as she knows that she has encountered friends. Canines are smart, and she watches our body language and listens to our tone of voice, and quickly determines friend or foe.

Not a bad trade off for chicken stock leftovers, cooked vegetables, grain, and the occasional tomato cull.

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