First published in L.A. Times Magazine, Sept. 1, 2007
Kabbalah for Dogs? Not Yet. Canine Chefs? Already Here.
I am obsessed with my dog Izzy, a two-year-old, 80-pound standard poodle. And even though Cesar Millan would disagree, Izzy is a person. Just walking down the street with him is an experience. I mean, he’s taller than me (I’m five-two) and gorgeous.
Izzy has the presence of a king—-okay, a prince. He walks with his head high. Perfect posture. He loves people, and people love him. When he’s approached, he sits up, looks his friends (which they are immediately) in the eye, and when they’ve finished swooning and are reluctantly ready to leave, Izzy waits for the right moment and gives his paw. They go nuts. It’s like being with a rock star. Am I a mother in love, or what?
When it comes to Izzy, I obsess about everything: whether to give shots, go to the dog park, be the alpha or beta, tighten the leash—-and even how often to bathe him. When Izzy has a good poop, I’m embarrassed to say, it makes my day.
As you would imagine, I’m very concerned about what Izzy eats, so I check out ingredients like an archeologist on a dig. If I’m considering giving him food that is ready made, I call the company (as the numbers are always on the label). If the package says, “Made in the USA,” I want to be sure ALL the ingredients actually come from the USA. Some companies import ingredients, cook it here and are allowed to say it was made in America.
Everything that goes near his mouth comes under scrutiny. As does where his mouth is when he eats. Large dogs should used raised bowls so they don’t curve their necks too far downward while chewing. This minimizes gulping, which some say can lead to bloat, a life-threatening buildup of gas. High bowls are a small price to pay to avoid that.
When I learned some ingredients from China were killing pets, I started cooking for Izzy. This might not seem unusual, as lots of people cook for their dogs. But I would rather do anything than cook. So, when my husband saw me actually using the stove, he asked if I could maybe make him a little something. I love my husband madly, but he is a vegan who likes delicious food-—and that I do not make.
But if I was going to cook for Izzy, I had to find things that would be good for him and easy for me. I may think Izzy is a person, but his digestive system knows he’s a dog, so the food needed to be the right kind. Human sustenance doesn’t always have the right nutrients for a long dog life-—and that’s something I want very much for Izzy.
For example, I wanted to make sure Izzy gets protein, but since protein is hard for dogs to digest, it shouldn’t be too much. Some of the ingredients that work for both dogs and humans are brown or white rice, whole wheat, organic chicken, organic ground beef, cottage cheese, yogurt (I prefer goat’s-milk yogurt), eggs, potatoes, carrots, sage, apples (high in vitamin C and fiber, which aids digestion), carob, canola oil, milk (including soy milk, which is especially good for puppies), whey protein, honey, vanilla, blueberries, pumpkin, cranberries, bananas, oatmeal, tomatoes, molasses and peanut butter.
I also learned there are things Izzy-—or any dog, for that matter-—should never eat: grapes and raisins, which can interfere with canine kidney function; cooked animal bones, which can lead to intestinal lacerations (though raw beef marrow bones are good for their teeth); acidic fruits, like oranges; spicy seasonings; regular chocolate; anything with caffeine; animal fat, which is terrible for the pancreas; macadamias and walnuts, which can adversely affect the nervous and digestive systems; and mushrooms, onions and corn.
But there are plenty of things I can make for Izzy with foods that are good for dogs: a “meatloaf” mashup of potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, chicken and rice; or meatballs from the meatloaf recipe, topped with a tomato sauce made by blending tomatoes, carrots, water and canola oil.
For “dessert,” I do a doggy parfait of yogurt or cottage cheese with blueberries, bananas and a teaspoon of vanilla. Izzy loves it.
If you want something more fancy, there are canine cuisine books: The Doggy Bone Cookbook, by Michele Bledsoe; Donna Twichell Roberts’ The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs; and The Natural Pet Food Cookbook, by Wendy Nan Rees, Kevin Schlanger and Troy Cummings.
If you want home-cooked pet food but don’t have the time to do it yourself, splurge and order all-natural freshly frozen meals from Vickie’s Vittles at 818-406-4213.
Three places I like for food and supplies are Pets Naturally, 13459 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-784-1233; Healthy Spot, 1110 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-458-2004; and Urban Tails, 7515 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-933-2100, or 222 W. Hillcrest Dr., Thousand Oaks, 805-557-0259. Always check expiration dates before you leave the store.
So much more to talk about, but Izzy’s staring at me in that imperial way of his that I know means “Let’s do something.” Is there an Al-Anon Dog meeting for people like me?
P.S.: Please adopt a dog at your local shelter.
illustration by jessie hartland