“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, April 6, 2012

Part II, Day Six: Adventures in Canine Cuisine

When we put down a bowl of food for our pets, we hope they will look like this:
photo by Tara Freeman

When they lose their appetites, or when they look with horror and revulsion at what we have decided is now the best diet for them, we have reason to worry.  Especially if we really need them to eat at a certain time so that we can then give them the essential medicines they need to be well.

In a bout of informed optimism, my husband and I had bought Zoe a 30-pound bag of food.  The kind we had used for a couple years and liked, a natural-foods mix from Canada called Orijen which won a lot of dog food awards in recent years, was no longer available locally, but she had lost her taste for it anyway, so we were up for something new.

Our optimism was not just founded on the hope and belief that she would live along enough to eat all the food in that bag, but also that we had chosen a nutritious option for her that she would relish.

It didn't take long for her to get bored with it, and to wait for us to top it up with scraps from our dinner, and broth.  She has trained us well.

And then, when Zoe and I visited the integrative vets in Vermont, who treated her with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, I heard about another kind of food, called Sojos.  It's a mix of grains, with dehydrated vegetables and fruits.  You add water and raw meat to it, let the concoction sit for an hour or two, or in some cases, overnight, and then it's chow time.

Some of the samples have meat in them already, and others you add to yourself.

The idea behind this food is that dogs should avoid unnecessary wheat and carbohydrates and preservatives and fillers and should have as close to a raw diet as possible.  This is supposed to be good for any dog, not just one fighting cancer.

In Zoe's begging bowl, now, are the following ingredients:
rolled oats, rye flakes, barley flakes, pecans, tricalcium phosphate, dried kelp, parsley leaf, carob powder, basil, dried alfalfa, vitamin D3, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, celery, apples, whole egg, tricalcium phosphate, flax meal, ginger root, garlic
 Do you think this moist mix of the above will be tasty?  Or do you think she will run away?  Hmmmmm. . .

Mira had the same stomach flu I had early in March.  Is it just us, or do you think this looks like vomit?  This is what the stuff looks like before it sets, settles, and expands.
The first sample packet I try has turkey in it.  Zoe has been told by the integrative vets in Vermont to eat more turkey and fish.  (To learn more about the yin and yang of canine dining, read this post.)

Sadie getting her picture taken by Doug Plavin
I put out the bowl.  Zoe looks and it and leaves the room.  She won't come back until she doesn't smell it any more.

Next thing, I add the Chinese herbs the vet prescribed for her cancer, which makes the concoction smell worse, but then I doctor it with some canned wild salmon.  And then I use a decoy.  I let Sadie, Zoe's saucy dog cousin, smell the bowl.  Sadie wants some.  And as soon as Sadie wants some, Zoe hunkers down, does a body block to prevent Sadie from coming within an inch of her, and she eats it all.

This whole ordeal, however, takes two hours.  By the end of it, I'm exhausted, and my day has only begun.  I'm really glad I don't have to go to a job this semester.  Will feeding my dog become a full-time job?

For the rest of the visit with my sister, Mira, her husband, Doug, and Sadie, I am not ashamed to use Sadie to entice Zoe to the new food.

But it turns out that Zoe likes the other varieties of Sojos--I've been given samples of each kind--and by the end of the visit, I no longer have to exploit her poor cousin to get her to tuck in with gusto.

Mission Accomplished.  I have won the dog over.  She's ready to eat this new food, and I can put all the Chinese herbs on it and not have to cap them up up and stick them down her throat with her other pills, or shoot it in her maw with a turkey baster, like Zoe's new three-legged friend Milo's daddies have to do.  Phew.

All is well.

Or so I think.

I drive us home to Upstate New York and spread all my new purchases across the kitchen counter.  The three jars of Chinese herbs: one for bone stasis, one for fighting the spread of cancer to her lungs, and the other for her immune system.  We also have immunology drops (she gets 65 a day, one for each pound of her weight, which sounds insane, until I realize it's one whole dropper and I don't have to count) and a couple drops of vitamin A and D tincture.

This was me trying to consolidate the loot 
She already takes two cancer drugs, anti-nausea drugs, and anti-diarrhea drugs.

I have also started her on artemisinin and omega oil twice a day.

And she's on K-9 Immunity tablets (that go into her food).  And Metacam to help with pain on odd days.

Are you getting the picture here of what our kitchen island looks like now?

My husband is scrambling eggs and is about to go out on the gentlemen's dog walk when he sees me make up a batch of Zoe's food.  He can't find room on the counter to prepare his own meal.  He doesn't a say a thing, but I can see from the way he hunches his shoulders that he's not happy.

He wants our old life back.

He wants our old dog back.

He wants her, at least, to return to eating from the 30-pound bag of food we bought in early March, and not to mess with all these new concoctions and alternative belief systems, and for our kitchen not to smell like a health food store.

But then, after I make up a batch of the new food and add raw organic turkey from Vermont, Zoe scarfs it all down and licks the bowl.  The herbs are all in there and she didn't know.  And then I stash all the new purchases in a bag that goes under some pots and pans in a cupboard between meals, and my husband, the gourmet cook, has his counter back.

By evening, he's sorry he ever hunched or frowned.  By the next day, my husband is adding the Chinese herbs and drops into Zoe's new food in a nanosecond.  I mix up a couple days' worth of the food and have it ready in the refrigerator. We watch Zoe eat her new meal with gusto, and then we have ours: comfort food.  Meatloaf made with local beef and pork, and potatoes au gratin and collard greens, all local and organic.  We open a bottle of wine and toast one another's health and Zoe's.

Peace prevails in our pack of three, and we mean it when we say, "Bon appetit!"


  1. I love the glancing but somehow also completely (to me) clear picture of the kitchen counter hunching moment. My husband is about as kind and calm as a human being can be, and in 11 years together he has never done more than "hunch and frown" when provoked by me--and he has certainly been sorely pressed at times. Only with him it's not a hunch, it's a shoulder twitch. Subtle, and no words involved, but just like you, I know exactly what's being felt. I love the whole scene--because your response is "you feel this: you want our old life back, you want our old dog back" only this understanding and acknowledgement, no arguments or confrontations or apologies, just sympathetic acceptance and understanding, and, in the end, forgiveness and acceptance all around, and restored harmony. I used to be fiery and confrontational: "I saw that twitch! What are you not saying! Spit it out! You're mad, I know it, etc etc etc." Now I just look, as Thich Nhat Hanh likes to say, deeply, and acknowledge, and let the harmony return on its on quiet feet, softly. Words become so much less necessary, and confrontation, of course, never had been necessary in the first place.

  2. Hi Anne, You are very kind to write this comment. It's so gratifying as a writer and fellow human to be completely understood by a reader, especially someone as wise and compassionate as you are.

    I think these kinds of contretemps, quiet or blown up, are bound to happen when your life changes in a big way to adjust to illness--whether it's a human being's, or a pet's, or a relative's, and we get better over time in reading the hunches and twitches and knowing what to do.

    Thank you for this!

  3. re: "I think these kinds of contretemps, quiet or blown up, are bound to happen when your life changes in a big way to adjust to illness-".. it's been a firestorm for me and my mom. Her new home care nurse is a balm. Now there is a third option (new informed opinions), someone to call in to help me with a disputed issue, someone whose job is to soothe my mom, not just manage logistics. The new Vitamix takes up space on the counter but is tolerated for new food forms like instant raw apple pear sauce. The new pressure cooker is revered for the broth it makes. Adjust, adapt, forgive, repair. Nap. Walk. Be calmed by the thoughts of others.

  4. I love this advice, Sara:
    Adjust, adapt, forgive, repair. Nap. Walk. Be calmed by the thoughts of others.

    I am so glad your mom has the home care nurse now. Just knowing she's there will make you worry less too.

    All best,

  5. Bon Appetit, Natalia. What a compassionate caregiver you are. My little Abbe is under the weather today, and even this small illness is enough to keep me glued to her. I can only imagine this feeling multiplied tenfold.

  6. Thanks so much, Brenda, and I hope little Abbe is on the mend soon. I understand your concerns! xx