The Torah of Dog Food

Image: Linda holding Princess, the poodle. (Photo: Ruth Adar)

My wife and I have three aging toy poodles. They all came from Poodle Rescue, and we have had almost ten happy years with them. Now we’re all getting older together: Linda and I are 70 and 64, and the poodles are 14, 15, and somewhere past 20. Their names are Jojo, Princess, and Gabi; we call them our Jewdles.

Princess is having the hardest time with aging. She’s Exhibit A for “Why Puppy Mills are Bad” – she has every kind of deformity or ailment associated with toy poodle inbreeding. She’s an affectionate little bundle of fluff, and when she stopped eating last year, we were distraught. She didn’t have extra weight to lose, and soon she was nothing but fluff and bones.

The vet looked at her sadly, and suggested that maybe if we offered her a bit of chicken and rice, it would tempt her. Sure enough, when I gave it to her, she showed the first interest in weeks. Apparently “people food” was the ticket. I got instructions from our vet, plus a cookbook by a vet in Hawaii, and went to work. Since the food I prepared started out with chicken as the protein, we called it “chickie.”

It was wonderful seeing Princess return to life. She gobbles chickie as fast as she can (not very fast, since she’s missing a lot of teeth.) But we were amazed at the changes in the other dogs, as well. Gabi (age 20+) had never seemed to care about food – until chickie. Now she is a chow hound, and her coat has returned to its original silky beauty. Jojo has always been a chow hound, but she’s looking good, too.

It has made me wonder what was really in the expensive commercial dog food we used to give them.

I’m committed to chickie-making now; there’s fresh in the fridge and frozen in the freezer. I make a couple of batches a week. As I said, it’s my new hobby. I thought that I’d write it up and add it to the blog, in case someone out there in Internet-land has an old dog that has quit eating.

The master recipe is simple:

  • 1/3 protein, usually meat or leftover meat.
  • If the meat is extremely lean, I add a bit of olive oil.
  • 1/3 pureed vegetables and fruit
  • 1/3 whole grain (brown rice, oats, or quinoa)
  • Plus enough water to cook that amount of grain.
  • A bit of sea salt, for the minerals. (The vet’s recommendation.)

I make chickie in an Instant Pot or a dutch oven in my oven. Cook the meat, add salt and olive oil, add the veggies, grain, water, and cook. In a pressure cooker, I cook it for 1 hour. Otherwise, I cooked it on low overnight in a Dutch oven in the oven.

For protein I’ve used turkey, chicken, beef, or eggs. Occasionally I’ll make “cold chickie” which includes some leftover yogurt, cottage cheese, and hardboiled eggs that have been sitting around in the fridge.

Leftovers are also great for the vegetables. I include produce that is past its prime. I puree all of it so that it mixes into the protein and the dogs don’t just pick out their favorites. I’ve thrown in everything from old lettuce to seaweed. If you decide to make chickie, please do check out this list of foods that are bad for dogs – don’t use those!

Grains were easy. I started with the rice, but then got close to the bottom of a box of quinoa, and thought, why not? They loved it. Same with oats. I buy the grains in bulk now, which cuts down on packaging.

The water is usually just water, but when I have cooked a whole chicken or something else that has bones, I boil the carcass to make a broth that I can put in the freezer to use for chickie. Bone broth has good stuff in it for arthritic joints – and everyone in our house has arthritic joints!

This has also cut down on waste at our house. I keep an eye on the produce in the fridge, and chickify anything that’s still healthy but past the point of us picky humans eating it. Proteins are often leftovers, too, although to keep up with the demand I’ve used ground meat from the store, too.

There’s one more thing: because our dogs are very old, and Princess is in the early stages of kidney failure, the vet suggested some powdered supplements that we sprinkle on top of their food. If you decide to go the Chickie route with your dog, check with your vet for breed-specific or dog-specific needs.

You might ask: why is it worth my time to cook food for three old dogs? And why is it worth space in this blog?

Torah is not limited to “holy things.” A life of Torah is one in which everything is made holy – even pet food. Here are some of the Jewish values I experience and act out in making chickie for the Jewdles:

Tza’ar ba’alei chayim is the Hebrew name for kindness to animals, an important Jewish value. For example,Rebekah extends hospitality to the camels as well as a human visitor in Genesis 24:19.

Hakarat tovah is gratitude. These little dogs have been our faithful companions and comforters for ten years. I express my gratitude by taking care of them now that they are old.

Bal tashkeet is the Torah commandment not to be wasteful. A lot of things I used to throw away now go into the chickie: faded produce, leftovers, and little bits of whole grain from the bottom of the package. I don’t buy packaged grain at all any more: rather than buy a plastic bag or box of grain, I buy in bulk, using reusable bags, and store the grain in permanent jars in the kitchen.

So there you are: the story of my peculiar new hobby. It gives me a lot of pleasure to see Princess gumming her little dish of chickie, while Jojo and Gabi gobble theirs up.

Gabi, Princess, and Jojo
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Two Post-Protest Thoughts

Image: A Protest Sign. Lady Liberty captioned “I’m with her.” Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

I am exhausted. I spent the morning at the synagogue and the rest of the day (when I thought i was going to take a nice nap) at a protest at San Francisco airport. Now it’s late and I want to post something but the body is saying, “Lie down, already!”

Our president chose to celebrate Holocaust Remembrance Day with an executive order. It barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days. (CNN) Our immediate protest was on behalf of the people detained at SFO who had the bad luck to have planes that took off while their visas were still good, and landed after their visas had been Trumped. I have spent some time as an innocent airport security detainee (a story I’ll share another time) and it is terrifying and miserable. I felt for those folks.

I had planned to blog tonight about the social justice tradition in Judaism. I know I’m blogging a lot about what some readers may think of as “politics” and I wanted to explain why I feel that I’m still blogging about Basic Judaism. However, that was before I spent 2.5 hours in a crowd screeching “Let In the Lawyers” and “No Bans, No Walls” at the top of my lungs.

Another time.

A couple of random thoughts:

 

  1. Please don’t take dogs to protests. They don’t know what’s going on and shouting scares them. Today I watched fearfully as a couple walked around with a tiny dachshund on a leash. The dog was visibly terrified (panting and yawning) and it was in serious danger of getting trampled. I couldn’t get close enough to them to lecture them on the mitzvah of kindness to animals.

    Big dogs are in a different kind of danger in a crowd. They can scare people, and scared people do dumb and/or mean things. When there are police around, it is advisable not to scare them, either. So leave the giant pit bull at home, too.

    Yes, I have a dog and I love my dog. This is not about hating dogs.doggie

  2. Think twice before taking photos and posting them to social media. People wander around at these things taking photos, and now that I have been home, I see their photos on social media. My face is already all over the Internet, but not everyone wants to be on Facebook.

    This also goes for selfies: think about the people in the background. I have sinned once in this respect, but I won’t do it again. Moreover, it took my son so long to take this picture that I’m pretty sure people who didn’t want to be in it had a chance to cover their faces. What’s done is done (nothing ever disappears from the Internet) but I am determined never to do it again.

    Alternatively, you can take photos of people facing the other direction. I have some “scooter’s eye view” photos that will not be of any interest whatsoever to Big Brother. (See doggie photo above.)

I’m rambling, because I am exhausted. Those were my two points. Go to bed, rabbi!

A Suffering Dog – What Does Torah Require?

Image: A dog is locked in a hot car. I am taking a photo through the window to show the security guard. Photo by Ruth Adar.

Kindness to animals is not merely a “good deed.” Unnecessary cruelty to animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Chayim) is repeatedly forbidden in the Torah.

It’s getting warm outside. You see an animal locked into a hot vehicle. You think, “Is this my business?” and I assure you, the Torah commands that we act when a fellow creature is suffering.  In Exodus 23:5:

If you see a donkey belonging to someone who hates you fallen down under its burden, you may not pass by him, and you must surely release him.

Even if the animal is owned by an enemy, even if it is a work animal fallen down working, we may not pass by and we must surely help. An unusual grammatical construction in the Hebrew (“must surely help”) underlines the urgency of this commandment.

Why does the Torah add “belonging to someone who hates you?” The reaction of the owner – their feelings about us – are not part of the equation. If they are angry that we “meddled,” so be it.

So what are my options when I see an animal locked in a car on a hot day? This happened to me this past week: I saw the dog in the photo above locked in a truck in 90 degree heat (outside – goodness knows what it was inside the truck.) I had been parked next to the truck for 15 minutes waiting for a friend (I was drinking water, with the windows down to catch the breeze) before I noticed the dog. He was panting heavily and had no water.

I took a photo of the dog (above) and of the license plate of the truck, and went inside the business to find help. The business has a security guard, who walked back with me to check the situation. As we walked, a couple sprinted by us and released the dog from the car, taking him out on a leash. The man walked rapidly away with the dog, and the woman walked back to the business, telling us that she “appreciated our concern” but that they had been “checking on the dog every ten minutes.” The security person chose to drop the matter there.

Did the couple understand that they had been cruel to the dog? Probably not. My impression was that they wanted to avoid trouble. It is my hope that they will avoid trouble in future by not torturing the dog.

I share this story because I want to let you know that Torah requires we act when we see a suffering animal. Judaism is very clear about this: while it is permitted to kill and eat some animals for food, we are required to do so with a minimum of pain to the animal. That’s what we are paying for when we pay extra for kosher meat: we are paying for rabbinic supervision certifying that the animal was slaughtered in a kosher fashion. There are a lot of controversies about whether kosher methods are still the kindest available, and a growing number of Jews and others have elected a vegan lifestyle to completely avoid cruelty to animals. However, the principle itself stands: we are not permitted even to witness unnecessary cruelty to animals. It is up to each of us to determine exactly where we will draw the line of necessity.

Nothing about that dog’s situation looked “necessary” to me.

So, if you see an animal suffering in a car in the heat, what can you do?  If it is outside a place of business, notify the business (the dog or ar owner is likely there.) If that doesn’t produce immediate results, call the police with a description of the car, the dog, the license plate, and location. There are laws against animal cruelty in many locales. Keep trying until help arrives.

I would be very reluctant to break a window on the car. Breaking the window gets us into a whole new set of questions. Also, if we’re talking about dogs, unless the dog has collapsed from the heat, there’s always the possibility that the dog will run off and get hurt in traffic or that it will try to protect the car and bite.

May we each have courage and resourcefulness when faced with a situation requiring action!