Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stooping to their level.

Pets are family in today's world, at least in today's Western world. Good or bad, this tendency is here to stay. And as with anything that is here to stay for the foreseeable future, it is silly to launch into a discussion of whether it should be abolished or not. Like arguing over whether trees should maybe grow roots-up, because that would somehow be more right. It's harmless and very entertaining to have philosophical debates on what it means for a pet to be a family member, as long as philosophers don't delude themselves into thinking that their conclusions matter very much outside the ivory tower. And personal opinion, although we were taught that it matters greatly, matters only to the person who holds it. My own pets are not my family and I use a simple criterion to make that distinction: no family members of mine lick their private parts to wash themselves. But this changes nothing in the world at large.

So I work with what is, rather than with what should be in a perfect world. Sometimes I even have fun with what is. And sometimes in retrospect I can even slip a philosophical foundation under that fun - old habits die hard, if at all. But it always starts out very simply, usually as a fulfillment of prosaic needs. Like hunger.

On many occasions a veterinarian's day lasts well into the evening, and the food supplies we bring with us have run out. We get hungry. It becomes hard to stay focused on cases, medical records and anything else that can't wait till tomorrow. The solution to this predicament is so glaringly simple and yet so shocking in its simplicity that few have actually resorted to it. Which is strange really, because veterinarians are not a squeamish crowd. Somewhere in the hospital there is always enough food to feed patients and boarding animals, even if the hospital does not routinely sell food. Do we just not think of what's in those bags and cans as nourishment fit for ourselves? Food is food, says my Old World heritage, and my rumbling stomach responds with complete agreement. Add to this a little scientific curiosity and a sense of communion with living beings under my care.

I remember well the first food I tried, maybe like a girl remembers her first kiss (and despite what you see it movies, it's usually neither perfect nor even that good). It was m/d, a prescription diet prepared by Hills pet food company for diabetic dogs and cats. This particular one was the canned version we were feeding a diabetic cat boarding with us. My immediate impression was that it was very tasty because it was sweet. And it was sweet because it contained corn; I could see the bright yellow bits of kernel and taste their fragrant sweetness. Corn is not the evil it is often portrayed to be, and its function here was to contribute protein, which it generally does quite well. But it was delightfully sweet. And the cat was diabetic. I've used the word "sweet" too many times in one paragraph, so I'll stop. I'll just say that this corn was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, Hills and other major pet food producers do solid research into the nutritional needs of animals, and they do it remarkably well. They just don't always implement it. But someone else usually does.

Since then I have tried all the prescription foods and many over-the-counter ones. Some taste awful and yet many animals don't mind them, and some taste quite good. A particular kibble designed for intestinal ailments gave me terrible heartburn; maybe it just wasn't very fresh. Some kinds of kibble, especially those made for pups and kittens, are almost devilishly tasty; I'd certainly eat them if I were a baby animal. But then I remind myself that animals' sense of taste is not the same as ours. And no matter what kind, kibble is pretty darn filling. So filling that I don't want any dinner once I finally get home. If a handful of kibble can do this to a 120-pound human, imagine what it can do to your dog or cat. Imagine it well next time your pet begs for more with eyes that seem to say it hasn't eaten in years. Better yet, don't even take my word for it. After all, if they are family, even kids or babies as many people insist, is it not normal to be curious about what the kids are eating?

Next step: a wine pairing!