October 30, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Kibble Envy

Sometimes I've got a bad case of it. Like last night, when everything in my "I care so I cook for my dogs" dinner went completely awry. I ruined my dog Momo's pork by leaving on too much fat, ruined his four-dollar Omega 3 Trader Joe's eggs by scrambling them with the pork (making a too-fatty omelet), and even ruined any chance of feeding the leftovers to my dog Hobby, who loves pork...because he's allergic to eggs. (I know I'll end up eating it.) Trying to salvage their meal, I made them a hard-boiled egg in the microwave, carefully cracking the shell to ensure it didn't explode while being cooked. And it didn't. It exploded when I dropped it into a dog dish and burned the side of my eyelid.

I guess not every meal can be a fresh food triumph. If only they would invent a food that came out of a bag, didn't need cooking, lasted for years, and was as healthy as fresh food. Kibble does three out of four.

I'll keep cooking.

October 28, 2010 - from Eva Saks

Greenies certainly rate their own blog entry. They have a cult following, much in the same way Mallomars do, and in my opinion equally undeservedly - as both are essentially unhealthy, gelatinous cookies.

I was first introduced to Greenies by my friend Melissa's gorgeous Vizsla mix, Vida. Vida had a mad passion for Greenies, exceeded only by her passion for Progresso Chickarina soup. She also had a stomach of iron, so she could actually eat Greenies without experiencing intestinal distress. Unfortunately, many dogs cannot replicate Vida's feat. Bluntly stated, Greenies give lots of dogs the runs. They're also full of potential allergens, including wheat and soy. I'd rather give my dogs a chicken neck to gnaw on.

Nonetheless, Greenies do have some virtues. First, the name. They help people adjust to the idea of pets eating green rather than brown food. This is useful for anyone promoting canine vegetable consumption.

In addition, they sound sustainable. Environmentally conscious. Greenies. They sound like something organically grown, a treat you could buy your pet at the farmer's market.

Finally, Greenies have changed with the times. Greenies also make Pill Pockets (which are a real boon to anyone who hasn't figured out that any food can be a pocket if you fold it in half). I noticed at the vet's office yesterday that Greenies now make an "allergy formula" pill pocket, in which they've substituted duck and pea starch for chicken and wheat.

Too bad my dog Momo is allergic to duck.

October 27, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Rachael Ray

I like Rachael Ray. She's perky. Her dog food, Nutrish, is perky too, although not particularly nutritious. It contains several ingredients not considered high quality, such as Brewer's Rice, Corn Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, and Dried Beet Pulp. Nutrish...oy!

Still, how can you resist a woman who concedes cheerfully in the latest issue of "L.A. Tails" magazine that "you can cook for your dog cheaper than anything else in the world?" That's quite an admission from someone pushing a commercial kibble. Gotta love her honesty. Plus, she donates plenty of dough (and here I mean money) to rescue causes. What's not to like? Rachael Ray is nice!

But I'm holding firm. I'm waiting for Paula Dean to make a dog food. It could be the first fried kibble. Krispy Kreme Fried Chicken Kibble - topped with canned Cream of Mushroom soup!

October 26, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
My City is just as good as Your City

Like a national Chamber of Commerce, Livability.com makes American cities seem their most appealing. This site can customize a top ten list around an ordinary or a quirky theme, tempting a chosen demographic to move or spend precious tourist dollars.

Last week, pet people were targeted. The word went out that ten cities offered the friendliest environs for pets and their owners. Criteria ranged from available outdoor areas and numerous posh stores to superior veterinarians and on-the-ball rescuers.

What were these ten cities and how were they spread out around our United States? Did they represent ten different states and every region of the country? Were factors such as weather, population, politics, the economy, urban or rural roots considered?

Get ready for some surprises. Counting from tenth place to first: Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN; Albuquerque, NM; Asheville, NC; Eugene, OR; Santa Cruz, CA; Boulder, CO; Rocky Mount, NC; Colorado Springs, CO; Portland, OR.

What’s so compelling about these ten towns? Did Livability.com discover pet benefits truly unique to the top picks? What do these cities have that your town or mine might not have?

Louisville, known for its horse racing, is also known for its leash-free dog parks. Country music mecca Nashville gets four paws up for its pet hotels. Albuquerque has hot air balloon festivals and pet-friendly restaurants. Asheville has elegant resorts and chic pet boutiques. Eugene with its counterculture roots is also home to cutting edge healthy foods and supplements. Santa Cruz combines political activism with a dedicated festival for dogs. Boulder’s rugged mountain parks include miles of trails for people and dogs. Rocky Mount, home to one of the first cotton mills, now excels in finding homes for dogs and cats. Colorado Springs welcomed gold miners and air force cadets and now proudly displays pet welcome signs at a major mall. Portland, originally a logging town, now logs the psychic secrets of its pets with half a dozen animal communicators.

Well, what do you think? How does your town stack up in comparison? My community of Sherman Oaks – part of the greater Los Angeles area – gets pretty high marks. In fact, it exudes non-stop pet-friendliness. The major streets boast pet boutiques, chain supply stores, veterinary clinics and specialty offices, species-specific shops, doggy day-care/training facilities, grooming shops, bakeries, pharmacies and markets catering to pampered pets, and lovely parks accommodating dog club events as well as leisurely walks and serious workouts. A clean city shelter with sympathetic staff is nearby, as are many volunteers who coordinate rescue efforts for purebred and mixed breed organizations. Most cafes with outdoor patios happily provide a bowl of water for a leashed pet while his owner eats lunch. The acupuncturist who treats your backaches may also treat your pet’s arthritis.

Sound ideal? I’ll bet wherever you live – big city or small town, coastal or middle America, beach or mountain resort – has just as much or something just as special to offer. Perhaps there’s still something to learn from the top ten list. But I’d make the case that every city of any size can satisfy pet lovers.

October 25, 2010 - from Eva Saks
The Kibble Strike

My dog Hobby is on a kibble strike. He won’t eat it. I think he’s been talking to Leslie.  She won’t feed it. I’m not crazy about it, either, but I do feed it, for several reasons:

1) Convenience.  Even Julia Child must have eaten a Snickers bar now and again. In this time of tight schedules, there’s a place in my world for fast food.
2) Improved Quality.  There are some good kibbles these days. Admittedly, all are processed food (with the possible exception of those that are “baked”), and therefore inferior to fresh food. But the truth is that there’s a lot of variation in the quality of processed food as such. Canned organic spinach is healthier than cotton candy, both of which are processed foods. Thanks to consumer pressure, there are now kibbles available  with good amounts of Omega 3, named single proteins, and organic ingredients. Moreover, these kibbles are made by small, independent companies that control the manufacture of their product. I like Party Animal Organics, Mulligan Stew Baked, and First Mate Grain Free – “boutique” products easily purchased online, if not in every neighborhood. 

3) Medical Reasons.  Some prescription kibbles work when nothing else does. This is  a vexing truth for those of us committed to healthier food, but it cannot be denied. My 14-year old Sheltie, Momo, had chronic diarrhea until he started on Hill’s W/D. He now gets half a cup of W/D at every meal, ALWAYS accompanied by fresh meat (chicken, turkey, pork, or rabbit). And he's fine. His vet and I believe that the ingredient in W/D that helps his digestion is the powdered cellulose, an indigestible fiber. It's basically sawdust...but it has saved Momo. (Cellulose fiber may be purchased in powder form but can cause dangerous obstructions if not carefully calibrated, so we are stuck with W/D, at least for now.)  

4) Often Free.  Faced with increasingly skeptical consumers, shrinking customer budgets, and burgeoning competition,  premium dog food manufacturers are giving it away. For free. In small samples and large bags. If it’s a high-quality product with no allergens for my dogs, I feed it (mixed with fresh food) to save money. I also feed it to dogs I foster for Sheltie rescue. I have been known to serve the following complimentary kibbles: Nature’s Variety Instinct, Great Life, Fromm’s, Evo, California Natural Grain Free, Wellness Core, Merrick's Senior Medley, and Natural Balance Organic. I don't think I'd actually purchase any of them, but the price was right.

Hobby, however, is a purist. He isn’t interested in lowly financial concerns or matters of mere convenience. He is sticking to whole food.

October 20, 2010 - from Leslie Crane Rugg
What's In It For Me?

I love catalogs. When I first became aware of them (decades ago), I sent away for as many as I came across – and that was in the days when you only found them listed in the back pages of magazines. Each one arriving in the mailbox was like Christmas; so many surprising things you never thought you’d find, things you’d wanted forever, things you suddenly decided you needed. Although I’ve kept up with the times and now use the ‘net to scan through online catalogs, I still delight in receiving those printed publications.

Is it just me and the path my particular interests in the dog world have taken, or have dog (and pet) catalogs finally begun to change their content? Just yesterday, I got the latest Doctors Foster and Smith pet healthcare catalog. Usually, I’d flip through the pages and find a few plush toys I know my dogs truly love but hardly anything else reflecting the alternative pet world – no food, no treats, no shampoos, no dental products, no non-jumbo vaccines, no wormers, no supplements, etc.

I have to say that the more recent catalogs seem to be catching on – and up – with consumer interest and demand for alternatives. At the same time, some change is in name only. Take for example a treat called “Turkey Leg.” It’s described as follows: “Real dried chicken or sweet potato wrapped around a turkey-leg shaped rawhide…”

Talk about a hybrid trapped between the two worlds of real food and processed food! My dogs reap the benefits of the real thing. They get raw turkey necks for breakfast most mornings, and they get raw chicken thighs with eggs or sardines, a dollop of pumpkin or baked sweet potato for dinner most evenings. Rawhide???? It’s banned from my house.

Why order something with rawhide when, by turning a few more pages, you can find “Premium Pig Ears & Low Fat Pig Ears” that are promised to be “100% natural with no preservatives?” This item is advertised as containing no salt, artificial flavorings, or coloring. Now that is a worthy treat I would buy for my dogs (and watch them while they crunch and munch), as long as it comes from the U.S.

By the way, if I do my darndest to avoid food for my dogs with preservatives, fillers, additives, etc., I do the same thing when it comes to toys. My reaction may seem extreme, but I stay away from rubber and plastic. I buy a variety of plush toys and make it a habit to put them through the washer and dryer before giving them to my dogs. Who knows where the external fabric and internal stuffing came from, what processing they’ve been put through, how they’ve been shipped, where they’ve been stored before I buy them. I also launder all the toys once a week. The same thing goes for their bedding… And my laundry soap is eco-friendly.

Am I fussy? You bet… and proud of it. What’s in it for me? Health and happiness for my pets. Sign me up for that catalog.

P.S. from Eva

Like Leslie, I love a good catalog. I too had a blogworthy reaction to the Fosters & Smith “holiday” catalog: I was disappointed to discover that it was all Christmas, all the time! No Hanukkah, no Ramadan, no Holi, no Kwanzaa. Dog knows I love Christmas, but it’s not right to call it a “holiday” catalogue when it only celebrates a certain holiday featuring red and green, candy canes, and Santa Claus. There are stores near me that sell canine yarmulkes and doggy dreidels, so I know an ecumenical catalogue is certainly possible. What about Festivus for the rest of us? (And is there any nicer Yuletide gift than a five-way vaccine?)

October 20, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Don't Believe the All-Natural Hype

The marketing of contemporary pet food has led to a profusion of brands with similar names, all designed to tap into growing consumer interest in health, nutrition, organics, and sustainability. While I applaud this interest, I note gloomily that such brand names often act as a smokescreen for unreconstructed processed crap. Indeed, by law, a pet food can use a term in its name that's not borne out by the food itself - hence the late great "Timberwolf Organics" dog food, a concoction containing no organic ingredients whatsoever. The lesson? Ignore titles; ignore advertising; read ingredients. In particular, be suspicious of any product christened, "Wild," "Well," "Healthy," "Holistic," "Pure," "Natural," or "Nature." In all fairness, there are good brands that use these words...but words alone mean nothing. Remember your Shakespeare: Nature can stand for many things. Scrutinize labels or you could end up buying an all-grain, sugar-packed, BHT-preserved corporate kibble called "Holistic Nature's Healthy Abundance."

October 18, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
A Store By Any Other Name

Years ago, pet stores were named for the store owner - Smith's Fish Supplies - or the street where the store was located - Western Avenue Pet Emporium. Then specialty markets were born, and suddenly stores such as St. Bernard Chalets popped up. The chains came along, and somehow, like political parties, you chose to make your purchases at Petco OR PetSmart but not both. With the advent of pet boutiques - the most current manifestation of merging your pet into your family - cute names could not be curtailed. Mr. & Mrs. Dog imitates the alpha human couple in charge. A la Mutt is an inclusive store for any kind of dog. Pride 'n Joy understands your pets' priority in your life. And as the health revolution encompasses pets, all sorts of shops include "Natural" in their names. My local favorite is Pets, Naturally. If pet product marketing echoes our changing habits and attitudes, can you predict what stores will be named next? Get ready for Fluffy and Fido's Sustainable Farm.

October 16, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Protein Roulette

If you have a pet with food allergies, you probably choose his food carefully. My older Sheltie, Momo, is allergic to numerous proteins: beef, lamb, fish, duck, venison, and kangaroo (!). Accordingly, I hunt and gather foods for him containing chicken, turkey, rabbit, and pork. The bane of my dog food shopping existence is that there are so many kibbles named for one protein that actually contain several proteins. Even the better companies play this game. Why does Blue Wilderness salmon kibble contain chicken? Why does Nature's Variety Instinct Rabbit Formula contain salmon? Are they using salmon that was squeezed out of the Blue Wilderness salmon formula by the chicken? Why doesn't Nature's Variety just call it "Rabbit & Salmon Formula" to avoid a pitfall for the unwary? Surely there is nothing embarrassing about salmon in this age of Omega 3 worship. And why does Merrick's Before Grain buffalo kibble contain chicken AND turkey? Why risk triggering dangerous food allergies with these misnomers? Yes, you can ascertain the precise contents of a food by reading the ingredients panel, but only if you bring along your magnifying glass. Let the barker beware.

October 12, 2010 - from Eva Saks
What's in a Name?

In my ongoing research into novel pet products, I was recently amazed - and amused - to discover a new dog food  named "Nulo." This seems a very hard sell indeed. Did no one say this name aloud before choosing it? Is it a canine-culinary Freudian slip? Although the company's web site advises us that the name is a contraction of "NUtrition meets LOve," Nulo nonetheless strikes me as an absurdly revealing moniker for an extruded, grain-intensive kibble. I am all for truth in advertising, but this seems shockingly candid, even by the standards set recently by Don Draper on "Mad Men." Note: No comment on the food itself, for now, which neither my dogs nor I have sampled. The formulas seem pleasant but not super-premium, with some ingredients excellent (dried sweet potatoes, whole ground flaxseed) and others less so (e.g., "dried egg product" rather than "eggs"). And, of course, it is a traditional (extruded) kibble rather than a potentially healthier baked one. So it does not appear to be a new high in pet food. It is, however, a nuhi in naming.

October 9, 2010 – from Eva Saks
Off with Their Heads!  On Retractable Leashes

My dog Momo was almost beheaded by another dog’s retractable leash.  Seriously.  Pulled taut and beyond the control of the dog owner, these leashes become dangerous weapons that can injure other dogs (and kids).  They also minimize the owner’s control over his dog.  I’ve seen dogs run in front of cars while on retractable leashes.  I’ve seen dogs entirely ignore their “pack leader” because they can’t feel any contact on a loosened retractable leash.  I’ve seen owners trying futilely to retract a leash quickly enough to prevent a dogfight.  Folks, these leashes are great for walking through an apple orchard, on a wooded trail, or through an open field.  They’re great for training (“Stay!”).  But they demand a high level of responsibility.  You don’t want to give your dog the freedom to decapitate others. The simplest solution?  If you’re out for a convivial walk where you’ll meet neighborhood dogs (and children), if you’re strolling in society in a populous suburb, if you’re playing How to Sniff Friends and Influence People on a city sidewalk…use a regular leash.  It’s safer than a garrote.

October 6, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Rice is Not Meat

Leslie and I attended a local all-breed dog show last weekend. Being shopaholics (or, as we prefer to style ourselves, “Consumer Advocate Researchers”), we hastened to the vendor area to see what was hot in premium pet products. There we met the genial vendor of a new brand of dog food - Nutripet. In a brochure, the food proclaimed itself the healthiest of the healthy. A large bag of Nutripet Chicken and Rice dry food was prominently displayed. As a health-conscious consumer, I asked the Nutripet rep if the company made any grain-free kibbles. He immediately answered, “Chicken and rice.” Somewhat abashed, I tentatively queried, “Doesn’t the chicken-and-rice have rice in it?” He looked at me sharply and announced sternly, “Rice is not a grain!”

As all the world well knows and much of the world eats, rice is indeed a grain. According to Wikipedia, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East and South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the West Indies. It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production – after corn. (For more on corn’s global reach, see Michael Pollan’s “cornography” in The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

It is quite disheartening when manufacturers entering the “premium” and “healthy” pet food market are billing a kibble made with rice as “grain-free.” This is the “through the looking glass” Orwellian world of pet food, par excellence. Next they will be telling us that salmon is a cereal.

At least the vendor did not tell us that corn is not a grain.

The corn IS grain!