Dog in the kitchen

I have four large rescue dogs – one more than is allowed in the City of Durango. My “foster” Airedale, Buster, never found a home, so he’s ours now and the reason we’re over the limit. Large dog pillows are everywhere, but especially in my galley kitchen. You know the old saying: “No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best.”

Well, my dogs are not my guests, but probably like yours, they’d rather be where they can counter surf. Given that all are well over 50 pounds, with two at 100 pounds, there’s not too much they can’t reach.

Like the trainers in this week’s food feature, I cook for my pets. One of my dogs requires it because she has a sensitive gut and allergies.

I buy rice by the 40-pound sack and nearly dumpster dive into the chicken section of the meat case looking for markdowns. I get a lot of them.

Around the holidays, I buy the reward turkeys that you get every time you spend 50 bucks or so. They go in my freezer, too.

I drop poultry into a soup pot, simmer with a little onion, celery and carrot plus salt and call it good. I usually end up throwing the veggies in my composter, but I feed my standard poodle most of the meat, since she can tolerate poultry. I add probiotics purchased at the local farm store, where I can get them for about one quarter the price I’d pay at the vet.

She’s going on 15 but rail thin.

The other three dogs – two older than 12 – get premium corn-free and wheat-free dog food dressed with chicken broth and occasionally vanilla nonfat yogurt, sometimes an egg, no more than once a week, usually with a little bacon grease, unfortunately.

Some of their food is made from a base of sweet potatoes and fish, but most of the time I just buy huge sacks of Costco’s best food. These three dogs are fat, even though they eat modest portions.

Most of my dogs like watermelon, apples and pears. The poodle would eat pounds of fruit a day, but her gut tolerates only occasional tastes. Whenever she gets into the other dog’s food or eats strawberries from the garden patch, she gets sick. She still goes after that which hurts her.

Yesterday the airedales and my black Lab was treated to a half pound of pasta that boiled past al dente. One of them ate a half zucchini and a tomato that I left in the back seat of my car.

I guess you could say that while I am choosy when it comes to dog food, I’m not careful when it comes to putting food where it can’t be stolen.

That’s why I never have sugar-free products – especially gum – in the kitchen. Xylitol, an ingredient in sugar-free gum, can kill a dog.

So can a couple of raisins.

The vet I interviewed for this week’s food feature said that raisin toxicity is very unpredictable, with some dogs tolerating and others finding them deadly. The risk is neither breed-specific nor weight-related, so take no chances, she said. Her own dog ate raisins from oatmeal cookies and had no reaction. Of course this was long before it became well known that dogs can die from fruit of the vine.

Dark chocolate can be toxic. The amount that is ingested – and dangerous – is weight-related. Small dogs can get sick from a few chocolate chips. The darker the chocolate, the higher the risk.

I think of all the Easter baskets my mother’s schnauzers invaded and the chocolate, foil- covered eggs that got peeled in the pre-dawn hours of Easter morning. They were either lucky or among the few canines that can eat chocolate.

As for onions, you shouldn’t give these or garlic to dogs, either, yet I flavor my chicken stock with onions and it doesn’t seem to bother my pets. I wouldn’t recommend you try it, but if you add anything to your dog’s diet, add change in small increments and watch the dog afterward. Some dogs will eat whatever is offered and never know when to stop, so it’s up to you to be the watchdog.

My dogs mean a lot to me, so taking the time to cook for them isn’t a sacrifice. And if you plan ahead, and watch for sales, it’s probably not as expensive as you’d think.

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