Here's a great recipe for a homemade stew for your dog. A friend of mine started making this for her aging dog and his health has improved dramatically. She uses organic ingredients; makes a big pot of it, then freezes it in ziplock bags.
Cooking for pets / Not everyone opts for commercial pet food
Adrianne Marcus, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, December 28, 2002
The day Hecate arrived, a tiny, scrawny tar-black kitten, we had just come back from Bodega Bay with a fresh salmon right off the boat. I cooked it. We ate it. She ate it. And she never looked back.
I was doomed, from that moment on, to cook for my pets.
Well, "pets" is a misnomer. Pets would make those compliant purring or wistfully whining sounds at your knee. "My demanding companions" would be a better phrase. Like, What's for dinner, Mom?" Bark. Stare. Yelp.
Hecate is, alas, long gone, but not before she parted to the dogs the need for home-cooked meals.
In a household of dogs, there is always one picky eater. It's a lot like on an airline when you discover you can order a special meal. The rest of the pack sees this; in moments, they become picky as well.
Lady, our wolf hybrid, wanted meat, preferably lamb, in any form. Dea prefers chicken. Preferably boiled. And the puppies? Anyone else's food. Since the new puppies, Mercury and Misty, came, I have been part of the Silken Windhound group, about 140 of us lucky enough to be owned by these dogs first bred in the 1980s by Francie Stull in Austin, Texas. Actually, as my friend Shelley says, they should be called Silken Whinehounds because they do that at mealtimes and when they want attention.
Because it had been six years since the last puppy entered our home, a white Borzoi called picky Nikki, I thought maybe I'd have an easier time with these dogs, whom, I was told, would eat anything.
Not in this house they don't. They have carefully observed Nikki, who would willingly starve to death rather than eat plain kibble.
The puppies took their cue from her and began turning their snouts up at the proffered kibble buffet. So I turned to the Windhound group, asking what they fed their dogs, and the answers came back: high-grade kibble with a few things added.
Some used a raw diet, called BARF (no, that doesn't stand for what the dogs do when discontented) that consists of things such as raw chicken and beef, and evidently many Silkens and other sighthounds thrive on it.
I did try part of it with my borzoi, but only the chicken necks, and for me, it didn't work. So I still cook all their food, including the chicken and turkey necks. And I disguise the kibble with various ruses.
Now, the good parts: Before there was kibble we humans made our own dog food. Oatmeal, sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes and ground meat, cooked together, was their food, and a healthy diet it was. Some of us still do this. I do supplement with a high-quality kibble minus preservatives and corn; barley and rice and sunflower seeds are just fine.
There are things we eat that dogs should not eat: onions, which can cause anemia in dogs; garlic, although if you examine the ingredients on many dog food cans you find garlic as one of the ingredients. Grapes (which mine love) should be carefully rationed, as should raisins. A month ago, I discovered that two of my dogs had extremely loose bowels. I couldn't figure out why, until I caught them under the fig tree, chewing up those overripe figs that had dropped.
Yesterday I cooked an entire turkey for them and for us. I stripped the meat off the bones, minced it in my blender and carefully integrated it with their dry food. The older dog gets hers mixed with senior dog kibble. Turkey soup will follow as a moistening agent, and because sighthounds, unlike regular dogs, have almost no fat on their bodies, I add olive oil in small quantities to their food. They also eat whatever butter they can steal.
For they are masters of theft: counter surfers, Styrofoam spotters. The rule is simple: Leave nothing on the counter you intend to use later. We had a wonderful lunch one day that was too big to finish, so home it came in a Styrofoam box. I walked out of the kitchen long enough to answer the doorbell, and when I returned, less than a minute later, the box had vanished. I found it five minutes later, opened and the contents, plus a chunk of the Styrofoam, devoured.
It isn't just our edibles they are after: The paraffin candles left out in a box on the table the night after a storm left us without electricity were fair game. We found them chewed and spit out on the rug - 12 candles. I called the poison control center to be sure that this would not damage their stomachs. "No," the man said, "children do this as well." What could be the attraction in the taste of paraffin is beyond me. Perhaps it is those wax lips from Halloween that they are trying to recapture. There are other definite no-no's beyond onions, garlic, grapes and the like. No chocolate. Do not leave a box, a bar, a bit of chocolate out. Given a European chocolate bar of the darkest persuasion, my husband turned his back on it, and our borzoi ate it. It turned out to be a $65 bar of chocolate because that is what it cost to take her to the vet.
Dogs cannot metabolize chocolate, and probably not wine, either.
But cooking for pets has its rewards. Sleek coats, content animals and great bursts of energy are the norm around here. I make them turkey barley soup come winter, grating up the carrots and string beans (which they would pick out if they could), and forget about mushrooms. My dogs hate mushrooms and can pick them out in a heartbeat, dropping them indelicately on the floor next to their food bowls.
A great recipe by Emily Olson in Menlo Park is what her Windhounds love, and I can vouch that it's a two-bark favorite.
Doggie Turkey Stew
2 lbs. ground turkey
1 cup uncooked brown rice
6 cups water
1-2 sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch green veggies (broccoli, green beans, watercress, nori, etc.)
3 cloves garlic
Emily throws it all in a big pot and simmers it until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender, then she either mashes it all with a potato masher or purees half the stew in a blender. She also admits that sometimes she uses frozen veggies: no onions, however. And just keep adding water as the rice absorbs it - what you are aiming for is a thick stew consistency.
I make the same kind of stew with hamburger and whatever vegetables are in the crisper. I also use squash in my mixture. Cottage cheese and yogurt are doggies' favorite treats: I spoon a couple of tablespoons of these into their bowls with kibble.
Debs Herold, who raises both Windhounds and greyhounds, buys a frozen meat mixture that comes in packages and mixes it with water and a dry high-protein kibble. In the winter she adds ground-up chicken necks to increase the fat content, and she adds molasses as well.
Her secret to good-eating dogs who -aren't picky is to allow them to have the food no longer than 30 minutes and try to feed them at the same time every day. There are, of course, special days. On Sunday morning, when we have scrambled eggs, guess who else has scrambled eggs? And one pancake each on those rare pancake days. Minus the syrup.
My son-in-law, who, so far, has denied his child the comfort of a pet, claims I feed my dogs better than some humans. He's right. I probably wouldn't make pancakes for him. But then again, does he have all the qualities I find admirable in my dogs?
My furfriends are incredibly loyal, always glad to see me and don't give me lectures on what I should or shouldn't do. And even better, they live totally in the present tense and show up, on time, for their meals.
Adrianne Marcus is a poet and fiction writer, and the author of "The Chocolate Bible." E-mail her at email@example.com.
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle