Returning to veganism has been pretty easy for me – I was ready to do it, and I feel very strongly about the social, ethical and environmental issues that led me to make this commitment. During the past six weeks, I have shared many meals with omnivores and not regretted my decision or been tempted by their entrees. However, I struggle to reconcile my issues with animal product consumption with my pets' nutritional requirements. I currently have two dogs - actually, I am pet-sitting for two weeks, so I’ve had three dogs to keep me company on these cold nights! The permanent resident dogs are numbers six and seven for me; I’ve also fostered countless others over the years, and am familiar with basic dog care requirements. When I got my first dog in 1995, I learned about the factors that constitute good dog food and educated myself about raw foods and “biologically appropriate diets” a la Pitcairn and Billinghurst. I fed my Great Danes either premium kibble, home-made dog food, or a combination, but none had food-related issues that required specific diets.

One of my current dogs, Henry, is an aged spaniel mix with a variety of significant health issues. In addition to a severe heart murmur, he has had idiopathic epilepsy for years. He had severe immune system failure in the summer of 2008, leaving him lethargic, inflamed, bald and with a daily fever. After using a western medicine approach and watching him continue to fail, I consulted a holistic DVM who provides acupuncture and herbal remedies in addition to traditional veterinary care. I credit Henry’s complete recovery to a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs and an allergen-free raw diet. Since that time, I have occasionally fed him premium, gluten-free manufactured pet food, but he starts scratching within a week. Standard pet food gets him going the same day. It is clear to me that Henry thrives on – and will not tolerate anything except – a simple, partially-cooked diet of meat, bones, vegetables, oil and selective grains.

Around the time that Henry was on the edge, I started thinking about bringing home a second dog. After meeting a few available dogs, I was close to giving up when I found out about a young, unwanted dog left tied to a tree. I took one look and knew he was the right dog to bring home. He was about 4 months old and had very soft puppy fur and big feet. I named him Tobey after the Toblerone candy bar because his brindle coat looks like  chocolate with honey and almond nougat. He’s now about 80 pounds, appears to be a Great Pyrenees – Plott Hound cross and has always been in excellent health. Both dogs are soft, have clean teeth and (I believe) have no significant odor, all of which I also attribute to their diet.

This brings me to careful consideration of the meat aspect of their diet. Both humans and dogs are omnivores, meaning we *can* eat anything. However, this does not direct that I, a human, should or must eat meat. I cannot, at this time, make that same decision on behalf of my dogs, given my understanding of canine nutrition. I do not believe that veganism is optimal for their health.

However, purchasing commercially-produced dog food (even the most premium, organic, grass-raised-input-animal-primary-ingredient food available) directly conflicts with my values about the social, ethical and environmental impact of industrial meat production. I do accept that other animals will die so that my dogs can eat meat. However, I refuse to participate in a system that values efficiency over ethics, dehumanizes and takes advantage of workers, allows animal cruelty and results in environmental degradation. Therefore, I have to find meat that I know was raised and slaughtered in a manner that I find acceptable. In short, I must commit to only buying meat that was grass-raised and finished by small-scale independent farmers and processed humanly in a facility that never condones the many horrors of standardized meat processing that is practiced throughout the country.

At this point, I think you might be wondering if I have gone over the edge of reason; I assure you that I have not. I do believe that my moral commitment to veganism would be compromised if I purchased conventional meat (in the form of meat or dog food) for my dogs. I now have a great relationship with a local producer who sells me their freezer-burned, gristly, mis-packaged and under-selling items at about $2/pound. I have met the livestock (I've even farm-sat for them in the past) so I know first hand about the animals' quality of life and manner of slaughter.

I use organic veggies, and get the soft/mis-shapen/squishy ones for very, very cheap (50 cents per pound or less). I also use the ends of things I cook for myself (broccoli stems, carrot ends). I boil the veggies in water until they are soft, add a handful of quinoa or barley, and let it sit with the lid on for about 30 minutes. I then let it cool and mash up. I blend in raw ground or chunk meat. I also lightly cook organ meats and chop them up. I add olive oil and stir it all together. I try to make the meat to other ratio about 1:1 or 1.5:1 depending on how meaty the bones are. For example, if I get some very meaty shank bones, I will put less meat in the mix.

My home-made, organic, part-raw dog food costs about $1.50/pound. Far more importantly, it is aligned with my values of food consumption. And that is priceless.  


Joan C. Kozar
02/27/2010 15:21

Mary, Henry looks gorgeous! Congrats on the good care. He and you must be feeling so much better.


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    Note from
    Mary Alzire

    Thank you for taking the time to visit my site.  You can comment on any post by clicking its title. I welcome your comments and questions.

    "The Year of the Vegan" is a diary of my challenges and triumphs during 2010 - a year in which I will not consume any animal products. This commitment is motivated by my disgust about the hidden and externalized environmental, social and societal  costs of our nation's food network. Join me considering what we eat, and why.

    This year is also a year of personal transitions - from graduate student and freelance writer living in rural southwestern Virginia to fully-employed DC resident.


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