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.