toby grew up haphazardly, mostly on Gravy Train and other grocery store brands of dogfood. i never gave any thought to dog nutrition. dogs ate kibble, right? and isn't all kibble the same? it sure all looks the same. i felt smug that i knew that kibble is better than canned food--better for their teeth--and i figured that was all i needed to know. maybe all there was to know.
for snacks, he got dried, salty pigs' ears, and Milkbones, and horses hooves that i had to take away from him after a while because after he'd chewed on them the whole house smelled of blood.
one winter in particular, toby ate like a king, perhaps king henry viii: he and i were living alone in my little white house on the edge of the woods, and all winter he got my leftovers. scrambled eggs, peapods, bacon grease poured over his kibble, pizza crust, and little bits of ham. when doug came to town, toby got the occasional cheeseburger.
and i wondered why he loved me so.
he was a funny dog, often eating in the middle of the night. i'd wake up and hear him going crunch-crunch-crunch in the kitchen, and i'd fall back asleep feeling maternal and satisfied. i was like an italian mother: eat! eat!
and then he went to the vet, who told me that he was 16 pounds overweight, and i realized the folly of my ways. after that he got no more people food, and he eventually lost the 16 pounds. but i kept buying him gravy train.
eventually, i moved to st. paul, married doug, and acquired boscoe. toby grew old. he developed heart disease. he slowed down, breathed harder. and i met Lo. she's one of those insistently friendly, won't take no for an answer, extremely non-minnesota types. she wanted her dogs to meet my dogs, and so they did, and so we all became friends.
it was Lo who told me about dog nutrition, and that all dog foods are not the same. i did not believe her.
she was appalled that toby had grown up on gravy train. (by that time, he wasn't eating much of anything--he was living on cocktail weiners, homemade irish stew, boiled chicken, and basically whatever the hell he wanted. but his demise is another story, for another time.)
lo's three dogs were all very healthy and lean and beautiful, with shiny hair and lots of energy. especially sara (see picture). the secret, lo said, was in the diet. sara stayed with us from time to time when lo and her husband were out of town, and lo brought over prepackaged individual meals that she had made for sara. toby and boscoe got bowls of dry kibble. sara dined on raw chicken livers and raw turkey necks and chicken wings and wonderfully fragrant ground-up vegetables, so fresh-smelling that i wanted to eat them myself, and mysterious powders and pills and sometimes a nice dollop of organic canned pumpkin for dessert.
doug had to leave the room when sara crunched down on those penis-like turkey necks. sometimes he'd double over slightly, in imagined pain. but sara loved 'em. and boscoe looked at her food with great longing.
boscoe: oh, man. oh, man oh man oh man. i never knew such delectable items existed!
me: eat your kibble.
"dogs in the wild eat raw meat," lo said, handing me yet another xeroxed article from Whole Dog Journal. "this is what suits them best." (by dogs in the wild, she meant wolves, of course. not the leashless dogs that sometimes run around my neighborhood.)
this didn't explain the pills and powders, of course, nor the pumpkin, but there was no denying that her dogs were lean and healthy, while boscoe was slightly chunky, ate like a starving man, and then farted continuously, like someone's elderly uncle. hmmm. perhaps diet was something i should think about.
i wasn't entirely sure how to go about it. hell, i wasn't the least bit sure. one day i gave boscoe a raw chicken wing, to see if he suddenly became Primal Dog, but instead he just trotted with it into the living room, mouthed it uncertainly, and then left it on the carpet.
clearly, this was going to take some thought.
TO BE CONTINUED
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