Cooking for mans (or your) best friend
My house is a disaster zone these days. The floor is awash with litter. Bits of
fuzz, small objects both hard and soft, torn paper and unidentifiable flotsam
are everywhere. There’s a shredded toilet paper tube in one corner. At least that’s better than the one not long ago that still had paper on it. I keep cleaning
things up, but I no sooner finish than the house is a shambles again. It’s so bad that last week I tripped on something and fell face-down onto a
chopping block, smashing my nose, and getting my first-ever black eye. If
things keep up like this, I’m considering applying to FEMA for disaster relief.
We have a new puppy.
It’s been almost 20 years since we’ve had a really young puppy, so it’s taken us awhile to get the house totally puppy-proofed. We’ve always had dogs, but most have been strays or have come from Adopt-A-Pet. It’s been even longer since we’ve had a small dog. Our last, a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix, topped 150 lbs.,
making him ten times bigger than Toulouse, a mostly Jack Russell terrier, will
be when fully grown.
Toulouse is named for my husband, Peter’s, favorite artist, Toulouse-Lautrec, who also had short legs. Toulouse (the dog) is exceptionally clever and quick. I’m fighting a cold, and his latest trick is to come up to my side when I’m sitting, as if he wants to be petted, then pull tissues out of my robe pocket and start tearing away.
As exasperating as the mess is, he’s been worth it. When Toulouse isn’t tearing things up (and sometimes even when he is) he’s charming, good-natured and loves absolutely everybody. And there is hope. A
sharp “NO!” will make him immediately stop his errant behavior, and after a few repetitions
he understands that it’s forbidden. Unfortunately, it’s never long until he finds something else to get into. We’re becoming better at finding and keeping undesirables out of his reach, too.
What to feed our little darling has been less problematic, although what he eats
has sometimes been very problematic, since he believes that anything he finds
is not only OK to tear up, but also to eat. This has resulted in two trips to
the Animal Emergency Clinic, one at midnight on Christmas. So we’re trying to make sure that the only thing that gets down his throat is Eukanuba
Puppy Chow and a few of the freeze-dried liver treats we’re using to train him.
At least for now. When he’s grown, I’d like to try to make some of his food myself. I’m not alone in this. The recent scare regarding pet food imported from China has greatly increased interest in homemade dog/pet food. The Internet has hundreds of sites with information, tips and recipes.
Understandably, veterinarians are dubious about — and sometimes even totally against — homemade dog food. “It just seems like a lot of work,” says Dr. Janet Hill of the West Lake Animal Hospital. “The people who are serious about it are going to the pharmacy, getting amino acids and vitamins, making sure their dog’s diet is just right, and that’s not easy. It’s not that I’m opposed to home-prepared diets, people just have to make sure it’s appropriate.” According to Dr. Hill, all commercial dog food is not the same ( “I’m suspicious of some brands,” she says), but a quality, age-appropriate one ensures that dogs get exactly what they need.
Except, perhaps, for one thing. Best-selling author Jeffrey Steingarten has a different paradigm. Steingarten will be familiar to fans of TV’s “Iron Chef;” he’s a frequent judge, an amusing curmudgeon with a dry wit and much more food knowledge than many of the other judges. I highly recommend his two delightful books, The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must’ve Been Something I Ate to anyone interested in food. In the latter, he devotes a chapter, “The Man Who Cooked For His Dog “ to his experiences cooking and eating with his golden retriever, Sky King.
Steingarten wonders if it’s fair for humans to deprive canines of good, real food. “Dogs did not evolve eating dry dog food, and they do not prefer it now, “ he writes. “I myself rarely eat food in pellet form, and if a nutritionally perfect human
food pellet existed…..I doubt that many of us would enjoy it. I rarely eat processed or factory-made
food, and I never eat chicken byproduct meal, fish meal, or chicken digest,
three prominent ingredients in the highly recommended super-premium,
super-costly formula chosen for Sky by my wife and our veterinarian.”
To those who say dogs love stability and sameness, have little sense of taste,
and don’t care about flavor, Steingarten argues that since “a dog’s sense of smell is an inconceivable million times more finely tuned than ours,
they [sic] can surely teach humans a thing or two about flavor.” Dog food companies want us to think that only commercial food can be “balanced and complete.” But, as Steingarten says, “experts also [say] every environment and every breed of dog requires a different
balance, and that there is no way that the heterogeneous canine race — prehistoric predators, foragers and scavengers — could have evolved to require precisely one elaborate menu of nutrients, any
more than the race of humans has.”
Of course, dogs existed for millennia without a scientifically prepared diet.
The Pet Food Institute says that American James Spratt created the first
commercial dog food, dog biscuits, in 1860. It wasn’t until after World War II that dry and canned dog food became common. “Before then,” writes Steingarten, “people regularly cooked for their dogs. And yet America had not become a nation
of sick and crippled canines.”
Interviewing renowned French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Steingarten learned
that… “as [an] apprentice at the great Auberge de l’Ill, he lived above the restaurant…and worked at menial tasks from eight in the morning until midnight, except when
he was allowed to cook for the customers’ dogs. [Dogs are welcome in most French restaurants — even fine-dining ones.] Sunday was family day…and as many French families cannot conceive of a festive dinner without their
dogs, 20 animals would appear each Sunday. Some dogs returned nearly every
week, and their preferences were well known. Some owners telephoned ahead. For
others, young apprentices would cook rice and green beans with braised beef,
veal, or rabbit. Jean Georges remembers that the pressure was intense, because
a dog’s dinner had to be ready exactly when its owners’ main courses were served. After the meal, the waiters were responsible for
walking the dogs.”
Vongerichten’s next job was with Paul Bocuse, at the time considered the best chef in the world. It was an honor for Vongerichten to cook for Bocuse’s three huge hunting dogs.
Another famous chef, Daniel Boulud, recommended that Steingarten cook a thick soup of root vegetables with beef short ribs and milk for Sky, harking back to Boulud’s early days on his family’s farm. Lunch would be a rich, nutritious soup or stew. Leftovers became the base for their dogs’ repast, with added bones, pasta, beans, potatoes or rice, milk, cheese rinds and meaty table scraps.
Steingarten says that Sky likes tomatoes, grilled steak, pitted cherries and peaches, pizza, and lamb sausages. He’s prepared — with Sky eagerly watching, paws on countertop — such things as a thick soup of beans, carrots, fennel and boned chicken; macaroni with tomatoes and ground turkey, and beef stew with rice pilaf that they enjoy together.
As for Toulouse, I’d like to give him both. He’ll eat that nutritionally complete stuff as his mainstay. But it’ll be supplemented with a tasty variety of home-cooked food, too — at least as long as he behaves himself.