In “Pack of Two,” Caroline Knapp writes, “I also believe that dogs can – and often do – lead us into a world that is qualitatively different from the world of people, a place that can transform us. Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.”
So it has been with me and Clem, my little longhaired dachshund. I am watching him eat. Rather, not eat. Because he is a dachshund, because there are rules to Clem’s eating routine that I cannot fathom, because I am experiencing attachment of the deepest sort, I am feeling the anguish of bad dogmotherdom. Because he is a dachshund, Clem will not eat while I watch him. So instead of watching, I am going to sit and write about watching.
Needless to say, I have rounded the bend into what Ms. Knapp claims: “dogs lead us into a world that can be frightening, frustrating and confusing, too.” I am frightened, frustrated and confused. I am also either 1) nuts, 2) have no life, 3) an incarnation of a dog in another life turned human or 4) a very unfulfilled dog nutritionist. Bingo. You got it. All four.
Also needless to say, after the pet recall, and even before the pet recall, I have been passionate (read: obsessed) with dog food. Clem is a masterful little guy, and knows that I am a pack loose of a few kibbles. So he waits to try the newest and latest brand of these pet food marvels that I daily bring home. I work in a holistic pet food store, I have done dog nutrition for twenty years, which only feeds my obsession – read – frustration – oops passion for a good dog food that Clem will eat.
This is not the language that I learned. I learned the language of poetry and rhetoric in grad school, I am a writer. Somehow, somewhere along the line, I acquired dogs. Then vet bills. OOOH, lots of vet bills. I looked into nutrition. Later on that.
OK. I have read the literature. I have read it all. “Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food ,” by Ann Martin – great read, but don’t eat a hamburger after. Also, Ms. Martin suggests some foods that I don’t care for. She does note, however, “Simply there are no guarantees; however, I do know pet food companies that use natural organic ingredients produced in USDA-approved kitchens are the best choices when considering a commercial pet food.” “Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats .” “The BARF Diet: Raw Feeding for Dogs and Cats Using Evolutionary Principles ” (bones and raw food) by Dr. Billinghurst. I read. And read. I get new glasses. Clem peeks out of the kitchen, looking starved but recalcitrant. Not eating. I’ve thrown out (just his morning) Evo kibble, Primal raw, Pawnaturaw, Instinct, Orijen kibble. I’m exhausted (did I say I was also broke?). Ok. I’m now reading Whole Dog Journal , the dog food bible for us dog nutrition aficionados. On “non-conventional dog foods”, the November 2008 issue. “There’s life after kibble and canned!” it pronounces on the cover. “Now high quality dog food comes in many forms, such as fresh-chilled, dehydrated, freeze-dried, and “rolls.” OMG! We carry it! Dehydrated raw! It has colors~ it is a new way of experiencing dog food! (I don’t like kibble because it’s ugly. It’s hard. It doesn’t smell good. And Clem says NO!). Here it is – The Honest Kitchen. I’m going to try it.
The Honest Kitchen, I discover, is a small company that has come up with dehydrated raw for us Baby Boomer moms who refer to our pets as “my son,” “my daughter,” or “my kid.” (If you are reading this and cannot relate, I totally understand. I forgive you. If you can relate, as much as I digress read on, please. Clem is sitting patiently by his dog bowl. He relates). You will see us drooling as we walk the aisles of malls, hesitating in the parking lot of Petco, and driving on, eyes glazed, roaming our laptops on sites like Dog Food Analysis and The Dog Food Project And, of course, we steal copies of The Whole Dog Journal (on-line @ Whole Dog Journal). We seek. We seek immortality for our pets through dog nutrition.
Ok. Back to the storyline. I have always fed raw, I love it. I could squish it all over my body, and scream from the rafters with utter joy. RAW RAW RAW. My customers will attest to this. I put Natures Variety raw in Clem’s ceramic, hand made fleur de lis bowl. He peeks his head around the corner of the kitchen, goes to his blanket and pulls it over the dish. NO LIE. And I wasn’t even watching.
So I bring home this Honest Kitchen stuff. It looks like cereal in a big box and smells like fields of grain and the American flag. Hmm, ok, I’m a little intrigued. The Honest Kitchen, I read, have a “powdery product” (The Whole Dog Journal). I am not supposed to reprint from this magazine, I read. Oh well. “…a San Diego based company seems to have single-handedly developed the concept of complete and balanced diets comprised entirely of dehydrated HUMAN foods, mixed together in a human food manufacturing company. The company’s owner, Lucy Postins, encourages owners to feel free to add fresh foods. “THE PRODUCT is tasted by HUMAN testers.” I am now delirious. Clem looks askance.
Clem’s a dachshund. He’s anorexic because I am a bad mother. Anthromorphizing away, I am a dog nutritionist with a dog on a hunger strike. I am reading “Marley and Me” and crying. I can’t go on like this~
I take this very seriously (ya think??) I am desperate. Silently, I mix up some Honest Kitchen Force, Verve and Embark (I want to make sure he gets a variety). He cannot talk. Does he like beef? Turkey? Snails??? I pour the warm water, watch it ooze over the pasty product. I wait the five minutes to hydrate. Clem is sailing under the coffee table, ignoring my noble efforts to feed him. He snorts. He hates me.
I put it down and run into the shower. I am respectful I am turning a new leaf. I have no confidence that he will do anything but walk away, but by God, he shall have his space to be a dog. I will not watch! I can’t take any more nutrition rejection.
Finally, the end of this story (and the shower). Sorry but he’s so THIN my little dachshund. The bowl is wiped clean. He’s licking it cleaner. Hey, he must have been starving, this was just a lucky shot, my dog will die of hunger. I hydrate some more and put it in his dish. I forget and pour myself a cup of coffee IN THE KITCHEN. Clem is eating with abandon. OMG!
That was six months ago. I really am a dog nutritionist. I really work at a holistic dog store. I have NOTHING – NADA – to do with The Honest Kitchen. This is NOT an advertisement. Clem gleams. He shines. When I walk him at night, his teeth light up the path they are so white. His ears have no wax, he doesn’t itch, he’s gained five pounds I am a happy, happy mommy. I strut. He struts. His coat looks like mahogany. People stop and admire my dog. I am a success!
My vet wouldn’t know me to say hi in the store (we used to talk shop at Clem’s weekly anorexia visits).
“What are you feeding this dog?” my vet asks. I just smile. I gleam. I shine. My teeth are white as snow. My ears are waxless. I am finally, in Winnicott’s words, a “good enough” mother.
I do the happy dance. “I feed the The Honest Kitchen,” I say and walk away with a certain swish of the tail.
Ava Rogers is a pet nutritionist currently residing in Salt Lake City, UT.
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