Love takes extraordinary forms. For example, I never thought I would go on a golf holiday, sit through Lord of the Rings or blitz the cooked onion into bread sauce. These are all things that never would have entered my life if I weren’t married to someone to whom they were important. Another thing I never thought I’d do was to cook for my dog.
When we got Barney, our border terrier, 11 years ago, we showed up at our local park early one Sunday morning for our first puppy training class. Even through my bleary, under-caffeinated eyes, I clocked one woman immediately: flawless hair, too carefully dressed for the hour and the occasion, and a dead ringer for Meg Swan, the neurotic dog owner played by Parker Posey in Best in Show, Christopher Guest’s brilliant parody of the dog show world. As the trainer passed around treats to help us encourage our little darlings to sit and stay, she demurred, producing from her pocket a Ziplock bag of something brown. ‘Organic liver treats,’ she said, noticing my gaze. ‘I make them myself.’ My immediate thought was of course you do, swiftly followed by what a massive weirdo.
But then as the weeks went on, and I became further embedded into the sometimes rather recherché world of the London dog owner, I quickly realised that the joke was on me. I shared the story of Organic Liver Treat Lady with my new dog walking pals only for it to be met with shrugs of, ‘Oh yes, I do that,’ from many of them. They all looked quite normal.
Dried liver is the gateway treat for most of us, even if it does make your kitchen smell like something long dead is hidden behind radiator. It didn’t take me long before I was baking the foul-smelling, swamp-mud-looking cubes of gastronomic delight for Barney. And where liver treats lead, can frozen yoghurt and banana pupsicles, pumpkin pupcakes and parsley doggy breath bones be far behind?
The answer is, no. I apologise, scorned and derided Organic Liver Treat Lady. Eleven years on, I am you. I cook for Barney and our 11-month-old Dandie Dinmont puppy, Gracie, every day. I’ve adapted the meals I cook for them – adding some salt, more herbs, some chilli, the odd dipping sauce – so we can eat them too, so it’s not an enormous extra effort or expense. The pack that eats together, sticks together I say.
It may be that I’m alone in being surprised by this development. My family and friends have taken it in their strides. You see, when I am not being ridiculously over-indulgent with my dogs, I am being over-indulgent with everyone around me. I’m a feeder by temperament and a food writer by profession. If you come within 10 metres of me, the chances are I’ll give you something to eat. I can’t help myself. ‘Try this,’ must escape from my lips a dozen times a day.
Every, single day, Barney and Gracie do more for me than I could ever do for them – they force me from my desk into the fresh air, they teach me lessons in perpetual cheerfulness, show me how to live in the moment and remind me always to expect the very best from people. And for that, a handful of apple cheddar chews or a little lamb and barley casserole seem like very small payment indeed.
Dogs’ Dinners: The healthy, happy way to feed you dog by Debora Robertson, published by Pavilion Books. Illustrated by Cinzia Zenocchini.
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