My dog eats better than I do.
Or at least I watch what he’s eating more closely. I know I have brought home tortellini for the family dinner table without looking past the “Seven Cheeses” on the packaging. I’m not sure I can even name seven Italian cheeses. There is a bag of pretzels in the kitchen that are allegedly “Honey Wheat” and I have yet to check if there is any actual honey in the ingredients.
Some labels I just don’t read. Others, I scan the fat grams and carbs and throw it in the shopping cart. I make sure that an ample share of that cart is fruits and vegetables and I pat myself on the back on my way out.
I am reading the labels for Rocket, a Jack Russell terrier mix I adopted from the Boulder Humane Society last month. I reported and wrote the cover story for the NBJ Animal Nutrition issue in August and I learned a few things about dog food and dog treats. I learned that pet food recalls are too common and some manufacturers are too careless. I learned that there are better, healthier options. I heard the term “functional treats” for the first time was educated about the advantages of grain-free and raw diets for dogs.
I learned that natural and organic is the fastest growing categories in pet food, growing 13.5% in 2012, easily outpacing the 4.7% NBJ calculated for the market overall. As of last month, I am part of that trend.
There is a bag of Zuke’s “Natural Energy Bites For Dogs” on my kitchen counter right now. I put the Charles Bear “all natural healthy dog treats” in a jar, quick puppy bribes when I need to convince Rocket that my daughter’s ballet shoes are not chew toys.
I read the labels.
I don’t read for specific ingredients as much as for what isn’t there. The word “China” puts the product back on the store shelf immediately. In news stories on recalls, “China” is almost always in the first paragraph. Charles Bear puts “Made in the USA” on the web site. Somehow, pet food recalls are scary in a way that the food I bring home from Safeway is not. I have come to believe that the food from the grocery store might make me fat but I don’t worry about it killing me, at least not in the next week. Pets are different. I lost my last dog to pancreatitis and I’ve spent the years since wondering if something he ate, something I fed him, soured in his gut and ended his life early.
Rocket is the newest member of his family and though I am a single dad to two kids, I know I make all the decisions for him in a way I can’t for my kids. There is an outside world of temptations for them and that “I grew up on it” shrug provides a great rationalization for the guilt I should probably be feeling. Rocket doesn’t watch commercials like the kids. He isn’t going to argue that he needs Oreos or the latest version of Doritos. He has yet to ask for a Happy Meal. He will not throw a fit in aisle nine.
I make the decisions for Rocket. All of them
There are five ingredients on the label for the Charles Bear treats. I recognize all of them. The Zukes bites boast coconut oil and turmeric antioxidants. The trainer at the Humane Society suggested I use frozen meat-flavored baby food to calm Rocket when he’s in class (He’s a Jack Russell puppy and “calm” is not in his repertoire just yet) and I am wondering if that baby food should be organic.
My own kids got Gerber.
In Boulder, city ordinance says I am a “pet guardian” and not a “pet owner.” I want Rocket around for a long time. I want my kids around for a long time too but I dunked more than a few Oreos in my childhood and I can recite most of the Lucky Charms shapes from memory. I’m still standing. It was good enough for me.
Dogs are different.
“Good enough for me” isn’t good enough for Rocket.