Guest blog by Jeanne Marie
Like many of you, I have hellhounds. Cece is a 6 year old Lab-AmStaff* mix, and Charlie is an almost 3 year old collie-something-or-other-mix. Both were rescued,** Cece from the parking lot where I work, Charlie from the from porch where he was abandoned when his former “family” moved. Both are great dogs, but Charlie does have some issues.*** The most prominent has been allergies.
Last spring, when Charlie was roughly 1 ½, was when the allergies first presented.+ Charlie started eating the hair off his back, leaving a large bald patch. The foster care vet looked vaguely over my head, said “mmmHMMmmmm” and sent me home with antibiotics for him. This past December, Charlie developed a scaly dermatitis-kind of business on the side of his muzzle. When I suggested allergies, the vet again made soothing noises and sent me home with more antibiotics. I, meanwhile, was doing some research on my own regarding skin allergies in dogs. I learned that wheat was a common allergen, and that if you eliminate wheat in their food, the allergy sometimes fixes itself. The only problem was, I was getting a very good++ deal on food through the foster program, and my wallet was expansion-challenged.
But, then, someone expressed serious interest in adopting Charlie!+++ What’s a seriously wimpy dog-lover to do? I adopted him myself, right from under the interloper’s nose, and was summarily handed the option to change his food, since it wasn’t being subsidized anymore.#
So, we switched to a lamb and rice formula, to avoid the wheat, hoping that was the Offending Substance. Alas, to no avail. While Charlie didn’t develop anymore scary scaly patches, nor did he try to gnaw his hair off, he still made weird “gnARRRgh!!” noises and tried to worm away anytime I brushed him.## Then, he developed some weird contagious### conjunctivitis. Another solution was needed, but my wallet was still expansion challenged.
The next time I was in need to more dogfood, I walked into the big box pet supply store to purchase another 40lb bag.#### On the way to the dogfood aisle, I passed the bookracks, and saw a couple of books on cooking for your dogs. I thumbed through the books, then put them back and continued on to the dogfood aisle. I looked over the “healthy,” perhaps less-allergenic, choices. I looked over the ingredient list. I looked over the prices. I cringed. Then, abruptly making my decision, I marched out of there empty-handed, and drove to the nearest grocery store. I had made the plunge. I had decided to start cooking for my dogs!
Hey, I cook for myself everyday! How hard could it possibly be?!±
I went through the grocery store, and decided to only spend as much as I would usually spend on their bagged food, just to compare. I ended up only spending HALF what I usually do, but wasn’t sure how long what I had bought would actually last. Beans, spinach, carrots, chicken gizzards, hearts and livers, ground turkey, a pasture-raised beef roast… I went home, and cooked up a crock of beans and a pot of rice, figuring it would last the week, probably…
Three days later, I found myself thinking “where did it all go? I could have sworn I just cooked…” I had neglected to consider the time constraints involved when you go from cooking for one to cooking for three, not to mention how much 4-5 cups of food per dog per day ends up translating into real food!! I started eating the same things as they did, just so I didn’t have to try to cook for myself in addition to cooking for them!!±± Luckily, I mostly eat organic “whole” foods myself anyway, so having extra supplies of beans, spinach and carrots around hasn’t been a problem. Also luckily, I have a wonderful relationship with a local organic rancher, who has been know to cut me really good deals on various cuts, both roasts and “variety meats.” ±±±
All has not necessarily been roses and light, however. I admit, I am periodically attacked by bouts of GUILT WORRY GUILT, not unlike what Jake Mendoza experienced with feeding Lois. Am I balancing their vitamins and minerals correctly? Are they getting enough animal protein? Enough vegetables? Enough carbs? Too many carbs? Will they get too fat? Too skinny? Will their digestion suddenly erupt in strange and unpleasant ways? So far, we’ve avoided any digestive hints at Things Going Terribly Awry, although it’s a bit hard to judge the vitamin-mineral content concern. ±±±± At least with bagged kibble, someone else has done all that worrying – you can lean on the expertise of “experts” and hope that their expertise is factual rather than merely presumed. The hard thing for me is that my wallet hasn’t gotten any deeper, and I can at least AFFORD to cook for the dogs myself – judging from what I’ve seen of Pure and Holy kibble, I don’t think I could afford to lean on the qualified expertise of various organic bagged kibble producers – at least not and continue to pay the mortgage. And, I’ll also note the Great Variety of Humble Opinions on what people should be feeding their dogs, even amongst those folks who also don’t use bagged kibble for whatever reasons. Having looked around on the internet for some of these Humble Opinions, backed by their own horror stories, I’m certain that I’m not the only hellhound owner confronting various hydra heads and trying to decide which one to lop off.
And, truthfully, the time issue is also a real issue. Some days it seems like I have no sooner cooked [another] crockpot of beans than I need to make more rice, or bake some sweet potatoes! I try to keep various tins of things around, to at least give me an out when I don’t have time to cook up a roast or some livers. We’ve tried sardines and tuna, both of which work well. And, I try to go for larger meat cuts, which I can slice up and will last a good few days in the fridge, so at least I’m not cooking every frelling day. Hardboiled eggs work too, but I begrudge the time I spend peeling the blasted things! I admit, I despair at times of being able to keep up with the constant cooking! Some mornings, when I forgot to turn on the crockpot last night, and I’m out of rice and they’ve eaten the last tin of tuna, bagged kibble at any price starts looking better!
But, I should also point out the dramatic change in their feeding time behavior! Cece was always a dutiful eater – when I put dried kibble in her bowl and called her over, she would sniff it dubiously, look over at me, sigh, then eat. Sometimes, she would finish the bowl, but often she would leave some in it. Charlie would sometimes not eat at all, just smile at me in his goofy way, and stretch out on the kitchen floor. He usually wouldn’t go more than 18 hours without eating,‡ but it still worried me. Now, however…they stare at me fixedly while I prep their meals, avidly licking their chops. When I put their bowls down, they immediately dive in, and don’t come up for air until the bowls are licked sparkling clean! Then, they go round to the other’s bowl, just in case anything might have been left behind! As I mentioned earlier, Things Digestive have been fine. And, best of all, now Charlie doesn’t make “gnARRRgh!!” noises when I brush him!
I have decided to persevere, for now. I’ve started to get the hang of cooking for three, and I’m starting to find a rhythm in my days again. I plan to keep my eyes on them, and try to make the best judgments I can about what they eat, and how they are doing, and will keep asking my vet for his opinion when they are in for their regular checkups.‡‡ They are worth the best I can afford, both in money and time. As I noted once, many moons ago on this very blog‡‡‡: “Dogs are trouble, I’ve been told/but dogs are worth their weight in gold.”^
* * *
* AmStaff = American Staffordshire Terrier. It’s the term I use to avoid run-ins with crazy and misinformed people^ who freak out if you say “pit bull.”
^ If you are a crazy or misinformed person who believes that pit bulls are people-killing demons, then I urge you to read here: http://www.pbrc.net/breedinfo.html
** Shameless plug for rescuing dogs: lots of great dogs are abandoned every day and need good homes! Adoption is a GREAT option for people who want a dog in their life! Adopt, and save a life!
*** Especially Charlie, It’s Always Charlie! What IS it about dogs with “Ch” appellations? The next dog in my life is getting a name like “Zander” or “Yeti”, anything to stay away from the “Ch” end of the alphabet!
+ I hear this is a common dog age for allergies to manifest. Who knew?!
++ read: dirt cheap!
+++ I had been mightily resisting the inclination to adopt him for the entire 13 months we fostered him. “I can’t afford him!” “He’s so big and hairy!” “I never WANTED two dogs!”
# I’m sure Charlie somehow engineered this. He IS part collie, you know. They can do some amazing things!
## And, I can’t NOT brush him! He is a VERY HAIRY brute! Especially when compared to Cece!
### First one eye. Then the other eye. Then, he gave it to Cece
#### Roughly a three week-four week supply in our house.
± Yes, yes, I know…famous last words!
± ± Hey, except for the chicken gizzards and stuff, I’m OK with eating what they eat! I DID make a point of buying organic!
± ± ± Liver, heart, tongue, etc…and I have a 1952 “Encyclopedia of Cooking” that tells me what to do with it all once I get it home!
±±±± In the back of my mind lives the fear of waking one morning to discover their bones have all dissolved completely away because of something I didn’t feed them.
‡ I feed them twice a day, morning and night.
‡‡ His most recent comment was “Sounds like they eat better than me!”
‡‡‡ Remember the poetry contest? Adding a stanza or so to peter’s poem about dogs? From the LJ blog days? I just looked for a link to it, but failed miserably…
^ Sigh. I might have written something very like this after my first whippet developed a bald patch and I started cooking for my dog(s). The system worked very well until the arrival of cereal-allergic hellhounds. Rice and barley and oat groats and any other whole grain I might have lying around was a lot cheaper than niche-market cereal-free kibble. –Ed/hellgoddess
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