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My four adorable four-legged urchins attract a lot of attention on walks. People frequently stop us so they can get a photo. We often hear “Are they a mama and her babies?” or things to that effect. (Oddly enough, they usually think Ambrose, both the largest and youngest—not to mention male—member of the pack is the “Mom.”) I always get to proudly say, “No, they’re all rescues from all over the place. We’re dedicated to giving homes to animals who are already here rather than supporting the breeding of more.” (It’s clunky, I’ll admit, but I carry my soapbox with me on all my walks for just such opportunities.) More often than not, the people are truly surprised to hear that purebred dogs are available for rescue.

Mixed breeds are superb pets, but if the person/people I’m addressing happen to be “brand loyal,” such as we are with Westies, I tell them that to adopt their favorite kind of dog, all they have to do is visit the American Kennel Club website and look up that breed. With very few exceptions, if any, you’ll find a rescue organization that specializes in that specific breed.

Today, while walking my pooches around Minneapolis’  Lake of the Isles, I was stopped by a nice lady who herself had a beautiful Westie whose name translated into “Sweetness.” She said she was worried about the long-term allergy meds she was forced to give her dog would shorten her life. She asked me what I fed my dogs, and I explained at length about the raw-food diet they’re on, which has eliminated all signs of allergies from this allergy- and skin-problem-susceptible breed and has kept their teeth clean without the need for daily brushing.

To my surprise, she really seemed to want to give this a try for her dog and even made me memorize her email address so I could send her some info about it, as neither of us had a pen or anything to write on.

So, once I got home, I sent her this info…

Here’s a brief run-down of what we feed our dogs:
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For approximately one month’s worth of food for four Westies and one cat, we order 50 lbs. of raw ground chicken and turkey with bones included, from Everett’s Meats on E. 38th Street and Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis. (Call 612-729-6626 and ask for Steve; he does our orders and is well familiar with what dog owners need.) Then we just scoop it into a bunch of take-out containers and stack them in the freezer, thawing what we need as we go.
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For fermented veggies*, which emulate what dogs would be getting in the gut of their prey—already starting to break down so dog’s are able to utilize the full nutrition in a way their digestive systems can’t  from eating straight raw veggies—we just keep a Tupperware container in the fridge and collect egg shells, fruit and/or veggies that are turning (NOT grapes, raisins, onions, walnuts or the seeds inside the cores of apples, the latter of which contain arsenic, and all of which are bad for dogs).

Stinky, slimy lettuce is a perennial favorite. Then we periodically put a bunch of the stuff into a blender or food processor with a little water and some salt and puree the whole thing. We leave it out for two to three days, topped with a bit more salt sprinkled all over the top, at room temperature; then we separate it into old yogurt containers and the like and freeze what we’re not using.

To serve, ladle a couple of tablespoons worth over the raw food and watch the pups go nuts!
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Also, once a day, my hubby serves them a portion of raw chicken wing or thigh so they’ll work on the bigger bones to clean their teeth.
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For one of the three small meals we feed them per day, I may add a teaspoon of plain yogurt for the good bacteria it adds (but not too much more or the dairy part may cause issues) and some salmon oil for Omega 3s and ground flax seed for fiber.
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If all this seems too labor intensive (it usually takes us about 1/2 hour once a month to package the meat and about the same for the veggie puree), you can buy stuff ready to go at Woody’s Pet Food Deli on 50th Street and Xerxes Ave. in Edina.

You can also buy frozen raw from Chuck and Don’s Pet Food Outlet. The trade off is, of course, you’ll be paying a lot more.
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You’ll find your dog poohs MUCH LESS on this diet and that it dries to dust in a day or two. And, though it’s anecdotal evidence only, my Westie, Oliver, has not had a recurrence of a bladder stone he had removed almost a year ago. Such things are thought to be caused sometimes by diet. He was switched to raw food when we adopted him just a bit over a year ago. We’re sticking by this diet for the long haul.—Sid

* The following is excerpted from an article on fermenting foods by Sarah Longstreth with Sheena Meddaugh printed in the August/September 2011 “Sprout!” newsletter for the Seward Co-op:

Fermentation is really quite common. If you eat chocolate or sauerkraut, drink beer, eat cheese, yogurt, or kefir you’ve had a fermented food. The fermentation that I’m speaking of is a bit different, though, in that it uses salt in the form of a brine to preserve the food. The salt initially inhibits putrefying bacteria as the mixture develops lactic acid. The lactic acids are produced by beneficial bacteria (present on the surface of all fresh, whole foods) as they break down the starches and sugars present in the vegetables. Once developed, these acids act as a natural preservative, keeping the freshness of taste and texture while maintaining (and even increasing) the vitamin and beneficial bacteria content of the ferments.

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I was discussing the importance of the human-animal bond today with my PetPAC colleague, pet photographer Patrick Nau. We noted the current expansion plans for the business Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet, where Nau’s beautiful pet portraits are on display and for whom he does newsletter and advertising photography.

I wondered what might allow Chuck & Don’s to achieve success like this in the midst of the Great Recession, then I answered my own question. Studies have shown that pet-related businesses are one of the few recession-resistant ventures. Many people, myself included, will sacrifice their own comforts to provide for their animal companions. Why is this, when so many of us are losing sleep at night over our climbing levels of debt and dwindling incomes? It’s certainly not “rational.”

What I decided must be a motivating factor is the fact that our companion animals are our “anchors to sanity.” (Patrick really liked that phrase.) With them we find a relationship wherein we get out of it much more than we give, no matter how much we give. What work or interpersonal relationship can consistently boast that? Being around our animals lowers our blood pressure, reduces our stress, makes us feel unconditionally loved and accepted, gives us a sense of being necessary to another living being, etc. Is it any wonder we place such a high value on this relationship?

When the rest of our lives may appear to be spinning out of our control, we know we can still go for a walk with or play fetch with our dog, sit quietly in a rocking chair with our cat, talk to our birds, and so on. We are reminded by our animal companions of the simple pleasures, of the joy to be found in living in the moment. We may not be able just now to shell out money for expensive trips to Cancun, all the latest in techno-gadgetry, or visits to a high-priced psychiatrist to diminish our stress, but as long as we have our dearest four-legged (two-winged, etc.) friends with us, we just may not have as great a need for any of those things. —Sid

My husband, Anthony, with Blanche and Oliver

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