There is a limited range of reactions that come your way when you tell someone you cook human food for your dog. Generally, they laugh. Sometimes, they offer a shaky, “Oh okay, that’s cool,” which you know is just an impulse of politeness. Sometimes it’s confusion or disbelief. And then there’s that direct, single-syllable question that pops up over and over: Why?
The first answer is simple: It works for us. The second answer is even simpler: Puke.
In the roughly five and a half years that my wife and I have had our English Bulldog, Biff, we’ve gone through at least 15 brands of dry dog food, including Science Diet we bought from the vet and whatever was on sale at the supermarket. And we tried numerous formulas, including chicken and rice, lamb and sweet potato, and vegetarian.
The pattern repeated over and over: He’d happily snort and chomp his way to the bottom of the smaller bags without incident. But once we bought an economy-sized quantity, he’d throw up sometime after the third day. We’d switch to a different brand to alleviate the problem, but the problem continued. Same luck with smaller quantities, same puddles of barf on the rug. Always on the rug.
Bulldogs have notoriously sensitive digestive systems, so this wasn’t that surprising. But this was unsustainable — on a long enough timeline, we would run out of dog foods that we could find within driving distance. We never had Biff complete an allergy test, simply because we weren’t as concerned with why this was happening as we were with stopping it.
Ever since I knew what a dog was, I had assumed commercial food in a bag was elemental to having a happy, healthy canine, that those little pieces filled all the dietary gaps through some nutritional alchemy that I wasn’t privy to. But after years of trial and error, new brands of dog food and more piles of puke, I had lost faith in that assumption.
Then, in January 2012, we joined those people who cook food for their dogs.
It wasn’t uncharted territory. In the past, if we ran out of dog food on a morning of torrential rain that made us want to crawl back into bed or during whiteout conditions that kept the car in the driveway, we fed Biff eggs and rice or gave him leftovers. We knew the foods to avoid: the avocados, the onions, the macadamia nuts, the seeds. For a long time, his fail-safe diarrhea cure had always been boiled chicken and white rice. And he licked our plates clean after every meal. But now, things would be different. Now, it was a way of life.
And life has been good for 12 months. The truth is that while cooking for your dog might be as doting a habit as you can imagine, it’s not all that inconvenient on your end. Our vet told us we didn’t need to incorporate any supplements. Mostly, it means setting aside a spot on your grocery list and a little bit of time to cook up ground turkey, peas, carrots, and brown rice in bulk, scoop it from the Tupperware container, and nuke it in the microwave.
Often, we even eat from the same pot. We all have scrambled eggs topped with cheddar cheese and an English muffin most mornings. At dinner, it could be baked chicken and baby carrots lathered in butter and dill. He eats the Brussels sprouts and russet potatoes that have been stewing in the crock pot all day. We live about 10 minutes from some of the best seafood in the world, so haddock, sole, and salmon are regular fixtures of his diet. More than once, Biff and I have shared a blender full of fruit smoothie.
I asked my wife how cooking human food for our dog has impacted us, and she was positive: She says it’s made us think about including all of the component parts in our meals that we once got away without, vegetables in particular. She’s always been a great, conscientious cook, and we’re both aware of what constitutes a balanced meal, but having the responsibility of feeding another mouth just means that we have to stick to what we know is healthy instead of getting pizza for the third night in a row.
For me, cooking for Biff means coming to terms with my own hypocrisy. While my wife and I ate and continue to eat seafood, we had been vegetarians for years, and we avoided land animals on ethical grounds until midway through this grand experiment. But once we bought and cooked enough pounds of ground turkey and chicken breasts for our dog, the moral argument against eating animals became harder to justify: If you’re already buying chicken, why not eat it too? That question is easier to ignore when the chicken is unrecognizable, reduced to dried, thumbnail-sized bits that you pour from a bag. But when you’re stirring it up on a frying pan, day after day, week after week, the issue is in front of you. It was just a matter of time before we caved.
But more importantly, what about Biff? What has a year of eating cooked food twice a day done to him? Not much, and that’s a good thing. The ritual puking has stopped. Although he’s slightly heavier overall since we started this odyssey, the wide 15-pound weight fluctuations that used to occur within a calendar year have been much narrower. He assaults his bowl with gusto twice a day, using his underbite like a shovel that can’t dig fast enough. When he’s done, he looks up, wide-eyed, begging for seconds. And when he burps, putting his punctuation mark on the affair, it sounds like a dog could get used to eating like this.
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