Saturday Mar 25

“One day you’ll own a pet and you’ll understand,” my step-mom, Hons, said to us kids when we were cornered on the staircase landing by her attack cat, Mr. Button. She swooped him up into her arms where he purred while loathingly staring us down. Technically, Mr. Button, the most stunningly beautiful Himalayan/Persian, was our family pet,but we all knew (and he did too!) that he only loved Hons. I should say, Hons and the taste of blood. I used to joke around with my friends that Mr. Button was a cat vampire and he only needed blood to survive. His untouched bowl of cat food was evidence of his obvious culinary preference.


When my mom got her cat, Casey, my brother, sister and I were anxious about his food preferences. It turned out he had a healthy addiction to canned tuna. When my mom sings, “Tooooo-nnnnaaaa, Casey!” he hungrily prances to the kitchen with his furry white tail writhing in anticipation. Our scarred calves and forearms were grateful for Casey’s “normal” cat menu selections.
Years ago Mr. Button passed, and any other cat that we adopted almost seemed too tame. Only a few were as handsome or had such a vivid personality. One that stands out was Prince, a black cat who would stand up on his hind paws and beg like a dog for his cat treats. Sadly, we lost Prince too soon, and it took us a long time to heal from his sudden passing. But a few months later my parents had no other choice to take in the extremely personable and charming feral kitties, Tina and her brother Ike.
Ike has taught me that some cats, particularly ones saved from the treacheries of wilderness meals, like table food more than cat food, treats, blood, or tuna. On any given morning, one can find Ike scoping out the kitchen, making sure my dad and his spray bottle are nowhere in sight. Stealthily, he leaps onto the bar stool next to my brother, and then onto the kitchen counter. He checks again for my dad and the water bottle. Then Ike eats my brother’s breakfast of scrambled eggs-- from my brother’s plate. Luckily when my dad is around, my brother kindly offers Ike his leftover eggs by putting his plate on the floor.
My parents told me during a recent phone call that they’ve had to start hiding their loaves of Pepperidge Farm White Sandwich bread. Ike, again, quietly pounced onto the kitchen counter, and stole a loaf, tightly wrapped in its packaging. And, as if to brag, he raced around the house with the twist-tied end between his jaws. As you can imagine, Ike is quite familiar with my dad’s spray bottle. But he endures those searing spirtzes all in the name of food, which only fuels my respect for him.
The funny thing is, even with Ike, I never really thought about pets and their menu selections until my husband and I finally got a pet of our own, Bleu, a black Labrador Retriever. Oh, that dog has made me understand, just as Hons promised. As a puppy he developed several food allergies to the point that he only ate rice or pasta for over a month. To this day if I pour a box of elbow macaroni into boiling water, he sprints into the kitchen, obediently sits down next to my feet, and wags his tail in anticipation.
I have to admit I love every minute of Bleu’s begging, of his keen awareness that an open freezer means ice cube, and of his sense of smell that leads him to fresh green beans that need snapping. In middle school, plenty of boys called me a dog. But today I’m honored when some says, “You’re like a dog.” Most days I think Bleu and I are the only two who are so truly, honestly, insanely addicted to food that all worries or concerns or thoughts disappear when the smell of a perfectly seared juicy grass-fed steak fills the kitchen’s air. (And I’m known to steal food from someone’s plate, much like the pooch...)
Bleu, and the cats of my childhood, inspired this month’s From Plate to Palate. So give them a little crumb. Or a whole plate. Let them enjoy good food, such as Arlan Hess’ Dog Muffins or Kathryn Miles’ Ari’s Biscottis. Or excuse their poor table manners and rodent chasing as F. Daniel Rzicznek and Cal Freeman so humorously do. Even just a table scrape can make their day as you’ll see in Sarah Lenz’s “Garbage Disposals in my Backyard.” No matter the species or breed, let’s celebrate food with our pets this month!

Photo of Ike by Howard McGuire II
Apart from obsessing about food and wine in Connotation Press and on her blog The Everyday Palate, Amanda McGuire also writes book reviews which have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Literary Magazine Review, and Mid-American Review. Her poems have appeared in Noon: Journal of the Short Poem, The Cream City Review, 27 rue de fleures, So To Speak, and other literary journals. She teaches at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Cal Freeman was born and raised in West Detroit. He received his BA in Literature from University of Detroit Mercy and his MFA in poetry writing from Bowling Green State University. In 2004 Terrance Hayes selected him for the Devine Poetry Fellowship. His poems have appeared in such journals as Nimrod, Ninth Letter, Folio, Commonweal, The Journal, Drunken Boat, among others. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI with his wife, Sarah, and his stepson, Ethan. He teaches poetry and creative writing at University of Detroit Mercy.
Bandito Benny: a Horation Alger Tale
I have known dogs to beg for table scraps, and who hasn’t? Depending on your sensibility, this can be cute or obnoxious. In the presence of adults and children deemed too big to bully, a scale carefully defined in his mind, our Jack Russel Terrier ignores human food. When our family sits down to eat, he’ll simply wander over to his bowl and listlessly sort dry dog food with his nose, occasionally pecking at a few kernels of kibble to avoid suspicion of food envy. Begging dogs do not qualify as cute for my wife, Sarah.
This is not to exonerate the little cur, though. He is not above seizing an opportunity to pilfer human food. Nor is he above preying upon the smallest and most innocent among us. Once Benny identifies his mark, he goes about mugging the child with a stealth Dickens’ Fagan, that pickpocket orphan boy, would even envy. 
The first little girl he victimized was my friend Justin’s three-year-old daughter, Kelly. Justin and his wife stopped by one summer evening for drinks and dinner. We heated up some pizza for Kelly and set her up downstairs with a DVD of Dora the Explorer. We were already a couple shots deep, so nobody noticed when Benny followed her. 
I was enjoying some tapenade and crackers, pulling from a bottle of Strohs, when I heard Kelly squeak, “No, bad!” Next was some sort of skirmish and the sound of a dropped plate. Kelly came up the stairs in her pink corduroys and Spongebob shirt to announce, “Your dog’s crazy.” Luckily there was still some pizza left. Justin fixed her another plate and sat her with us at our high top kitchen table where she felt assured Benny could not get to her food. 
That is crazy,” I remember Sarah saying as she brought up Kelly’s tippy cup full of pop. “It’s like he knew he could steal food from her because she’s so small.”
Socio-pathology in canines inevitably surprises us. After all, our language tells us that the creature is inchoate. Just howling at the moon, barking up the wrong tree, the same euphemisms we use, incidentally, to characterize human folly. 
Dogs are not keen enough to play the right angle, we’re taught to think, yet our dogs train us all the time. If the incentive runs the right way and a treat is involved, they will shake, roll over, and perform various vampire tricks that will leave the owner beaming with pride, possibly throwing out an adage to the admiring guest like, “A dog gives what one puts in,” all the while missing the irony in the phrase.  
In all fairness to Benny, though, he does also hunt honestly for his meals. He will chase after squirrels (nabbing an average of two a year in the time we have known him), chipmunks (catching one a couple summers ago by tearing the downspout off our house until the befuddled little creature fell out, too stunned to skitter away). He eats what he can and leaves them on the back lawn, necks broken, brains shaken beyond thought. Imagine being hungover in the hot sun and trying to fit a squirrel carcass into a grocery store bag while flies leave maggots in its eyeholes. 
I have seen him swallow a mouse whole as I shouted “Drop!” but his real taste is for rabbits. Last summer he definitely had himself a feast. 
Our neighbor Jerry is a retired Teamster driver and a big fan of Benny. Each morning he leaves two dog biscuits in the branches of the blue spruce in our yard and spies while Benny pirouettes on his hind legs until his sniffer tells him just where the dog cookies have grown. He never goes out in the yard without checking this cookie tree.
Jerry and I were sharing a Budweiser in his garage, covering the typical topics, how there hasn’t been a good politician since Kennedy, the size of the Michigan Lotto jackpot, how “if it aint bud it aint beer and if it aint country it aint music,” and how the sons of bitches two doors down from him had been in a booze and pot-fueled row again last night, when the dog darted beneath the back deck. I heard a short growl and something shaking like a maraca. When I glanced through the board slats, Benny was gorging on the rabbit. I had been warned before that rabbit meat in summer was especially bad news, but when I yelled, the dog wouldn’t come. This is no surprise: the incentives, after all, ran the wrong way. After a few minutes of my ineffectual shouting, Jerry grabbed the garden hose and zapped Benny until he scampered out.
The next day the dump he took on our walk was pure liquid. Fearing another $200 vet. bill, I told myself he just needed to work it out of his system, but two days later when his nose was dry, his crap still watery, and his hind legs were beginning to buckle, I knew I’d be reading between the lines of the essentials and non-essentials at the veterinary clinic and ultimately getting soaked. 
Our vet. gave Benny a shot of fluids and two different sorts of pills that I was to grind into spoonfuls of peanut butter twice a day. It worked, yet he learned no lesson. The next week he was again hauling out after anything that came into our yard, narrowly missing squirrels and rabbits with his jaw snaps. 
Incorrigible, opportunistic, and remorseless, Benny is too cagey to beg for food. If he hungers, he pulls himself up by the collar and chases after small game. If he thirsts he is not above supping from the downspout runnel during rain, and if a kind old man on a fixed income leaves him treats, he will give no thanks; he’ll simply assume that cookies grow on trees. 

Arlan Hess is a Lecturer at Washington & Jefferson College where she teaches Literature and Creative Writing. She received her MFA from Vermont College and has completed research at the University College of Wales-Aberystwyth and University of Padua. In 2004, she founded Paper Street, an on-line journal of poetry and flash fiction.


  Dog Muffins
For over five years, I have been preparing an organic, human-grade, (mostly) wheat-free diet for my dog, Radar. In February 2003, I adopted him from a no-kill shelter for dogs, cats, and horses. He was different from my first beagle, Cookie, who was quiet and aloof; after several harrowing days of panic and exhaustion, I began in earnest to train him: sit, shake, lie down, roll over, the usual commands. He responded with devoted attention and his destructive behavior changed significantly within days.
Of course, I was training myself. Like all the books say, I had to acquire the confidence to lead such a demanding and energetic dog. Yet despite the advice of many, I have come to believe with complete conviction that only good food, plenty of exercise and wrapping one’s doggy-mommy around his dew claw, eviscerating all of his toys, sleeping in her bed and leaving hair all over her furniture, floor, and clothing makes for a really happy dog. Ray quickly became the center of my universe, my soul mate, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Later that first summer, while Radar was running around the yard, he injured himself; I didn’t see it happen, so I can only assume he was chasing a rabbit or squirrel. When he ran back inside that afternoon, he wouldn’t lift his tail. He only wanted to sit. He was shaking slightly. I knew something was up, but he carries a lot of shelter baggage (don’t we all?), and often behaves the same way after loud noises or during storms. He wasn’t bleeding, so I didn’t call the vet right away. When he refused his dinner, I knew something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The next day, Radar was diagnosed with a cracked vertebra in his lumbar region. He was prescribed pain medication and absolutely no stairs, furniture, or exercise for at least six weeks. Dr. Hough said it was rare for a dog so young to suffer such an injury, but that he probably had “poor nutrition in the womb.” I covered all of the furniture cushions with laundry baskets and piles of books, closed doors to rooms, blocked off the deck, and moved downstairs to the guest room to sleep on the floor with him. For Ray to make a full recovery, I would have to do everything exactly as instructed.
Still, after two days, Radar had barely touched his food and I was very worried about managing his pain. The doctor’s phrase “poor nutrition in the womb” drove me to the Internet, where I discovered a book called Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. I called Borders; they had it. On my way home, I stopped at the grocery and health food stores to buy Pitcairn’s required ingredients, including Brewer’s Yeast, vitamins, calcium, and kelp powder. As I prepared his formula for recuperating dogs, Radar sat in the middle of the kitchen floor ogling me intently. He knew before I did what was about to happen.
He looked healthier immediately—no exaggeration. He was grinning from ear to ear, and had that old twinkle in his eye. Although he still had weeks of convalescence ahead of him, I had a brand new dog. With the blessing of my veterinarians, I haven’t fed Radar store bought dog food since May 2003.
Flash forward two years. During a particularly brutal cold snap one winter, I mistook Radar’s refusal to go the bathroom as an intestinal blockage; it was, in fact, just too cold for him to run outside to poop in the snow. Another set of X-rays revealed not only a healthy stomach, but also a completely healed back. Dr. Hough even pulled out the previous X-rays to confirm that all signs of the previous break had healed. After I started preparing dog food from scratch, all earlier health problems, including regular vomiting and ear infections, stopped as well. Turns out, like with humans, dogs are what they eat. (Duh.) I decided that I would only feed my dogs human-grade food from that point forward.
Now I have two beagles; I found Clio, collarless and chipless, living on the street in January 2009. Because both dogs take entirely too much pleasure in eating the exact things I do, I make treats from scratch, as well. One for me. One for them. Everyone’s happy. I get a cheap thrill giving them “people food” without guilt. In fact, I am more likely to feel as if I am eating their food instead of the other way around.
What follows is a basic muffin recipe, except I have substituted applesauce for cooking oil and removed sugar all together. I add blueberries, cranberries, peaches, carrots, zucchini, depending on my mood and what’s in season. If I give them full-sized muffins, I cut back on their regular feedings. If I make mini muffins, I use them as treats. They (really, we) love them all.
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 c. skim milk
6 tbsp. unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup of shredded/chopped fruit or vegetable.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in another bowl. Add liquid ingredients to dry. Blend with as few strokes as possible. Line muffin pan with paper liners—I use the recycled, non-bleached kind. Fill liner 3/4 of the way full. For regular-sized muffins, bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick/fork comes out clean. Mini muffins will take less time depending on the oven. Both sizes freeze well.

Sarah Lenz holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a MA in Literature from Boise State University. She teaches English at the University of Findlay in Ohio. When not making noodles, she spends her time blogging at Prose and Potatoes ( and raising backyard chickens.


Garbage Disposals in my Backyard

They’re like garbage disposals, but with feathers. This is what I tell people when they ask what my chickens eat.  Last April, against all odds, I decided I wanted to raise laying hens in my backyard, in the city.  It turns out that it’s legal to keep chickens in Bowling Green, as long as you don’t let them “run at large,” which calls to mind the ridiculous scenario of a chicken stampede threatening the safety of innocent citizens.  I bought my backyard hens because of what I like to eat: rich, orange-yolked eggs with an intensely fresh flavor you can only get from eating them on the same day they were laid.  Though the eggs are fabulous, it turns out the most fascinating thing about keeping chickens is what they eat.

My four hens eat mostly organic, commercial feed, the chicken equivalent of kibble, which is carefully formulated to have the correct ratio of protein and fat.  I also feed them crushed oyster shells (for calcium necessary to build strong eggshells) and gravel (to aid digestion).  Anything else they eat falls into the category of either garden pest or something most people put down their garbage disposal.

Without teeth, or even a real stomach for that matter, it’s amazing what the chickens can and will eat.  Instead of a stomach, chickens have two main organs for digestion: a crop and a gizzard.  The crop is a pouch that stores food the chickens have swallowed whole.  After a hen has eaten a large meal, her crop bulges from the base of her neck like a goiter.  Then, the food makes its way to the gizzard.  The gizzard is tough and muscular and capable of churning food and gravel together like a rock tumbler.  Finally, the food pulp is absorbed through the gizzard and intestines.

I knew that the chickens that would happily munch on vegetable scraps.  All summer long, they got greens from the garden: radish tops, beet tops, wild purslane.  Dumping lawn clippings into their pen was like dumping a bag of Halloween candy into a preschool.  They went wild.

In August, cicadas—those bulging eyed, large-winged insects—invaded our neighborhood.  The cicadas began molting.  The tree trunks in our backyard were covered with the insects’ brown, papery skin.  “Let’s see if the chickens will eat cicada shells,” my husband, Kent, suggested with a mischievous glint in his eyes.  He tossed a cicada skin to the chickens.  One lucky hen inhaled the prize with a grisly crunching sound.  For entertainment, we collected cicada skins in bowls and threw them to the chickens.  Sometimes nasty fights would break out over the treats as if the hens were a bunch of hockey players fighting over a pork rind. 

As time progressed, the let’s-see-if-the-chickens-will-eat-it game continued.  Among things they will eat are worms, garlic peel, slugs, egg shells, crickets, beans, oatmeal, popcorn, and cheese.  So far there are only two things they won’t touch: citrus peel and carrot peel. I understand not wanting to eat the bitter pithy rind of an orange.  But for some strange reason, my chickens won’t touch carrots.  At first, I thought the peel was too long for them to gobble up, so I began mincing all my table scraps.  Still the carrot peels remained untouched.  Even worse, I found I was wasting my time mincing food for the chickens when one day Kent dumped a bowl of leftover fettuccine noodles into the chicken pen.  They sucked up the 10-inch long noodles with relish.  Crops bulged.


F. Daniel Rzicznek’s books include Divination Machine (Parlor Press, 2009) and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press, 2007) He is also coeditor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, forthcoming in 2010. He currently teaches at Bowling Green State University.


Canis familiaris: An Inquiry into Appetite
As I sit at my desk with a venison-pork-kale-meatloaf sandwich on toasted Zingerman’s brewhouse bread with Canal Junction Farmstead grass-fed sharp cheddar and plain old Heinz ketchup (plus a glass of very dark beer) my heart can’t help but go out to my dog. He’s sitting eye-level with the desk’s edge, swinging his gaze from my face to the sandwich. Face, sandwich. Face, sandwich. When I’m half finished he sulks away into the bathroom, nudging the door with his head until it clicks shut behind him. His bitterness is easy to understand. Imagine this: from the day you are born, a relative stranger (or worse yet, a physician) decrees that you are to eat only fettuccini alfredo two meals a day for the rest of your weary life. You like fettuccini alfredo well enough and can manage it’s cream-infused dullness on a daily basis. One morning, though, the relative stranger scrambles some eggs and the scent drives you out of your mind. You manage to lick up a few atoms of egginess that fly loose as the stranger moves the goods from skillet to plate. The world is suddenly and irreversibly altered. Fettuccini alfredo doesn’t sound so hot anymore.
Beyond his natural canine (specifically: Labrador) inquisitiveness, I believe my dog Bleu’s daily ration of California Natural Lamb & Rice (“large bite” size) has led him into a career of experimental gastronomy. He’ll try anything once, and sometimes twice. A partial list of his forays so far: feathers, cake, anything plastic (spent shotgun shells, grocery bags, lighters, toy monkeys), piles of dust, fatty beef, old leaves, live ants, ground lamb, wool socks, raw chicken juice, chocolate, Newcastle Brown Ale, cattails, rabbit shit, fried eggs, snow, spilled soup, red long underwear, lollipop sticks, week-old french fries from the side of the road, scotch, goose blood, grass, fish (both live and prepared), ice cubes, rubber balls, lean beef, corpses of fledgling robins, medium-sized tree limbs, carrots, bedding, string, frozen green beans, pine needles, cheese, bread, toilet paper, ground venison, toast, milk, rain falling through a car window, plain pasta, plain rice, bacon, garlic, onion, loose leaf black tea, loose leaf green tea, candy wrappers, knitted slippers, musty catfish skeletons, towels, grocery lists, ladybugs, salt, wooden chairs, deer bones, Beaujolais-Villages, winter gloves, pork shoulder, detachable ice cleats, lightning bugs. Bleu is a reckless fool to be sure, as we all know dogs are allergic to chocolate by varying degrees, and I’ve read that both garlic and onion, when consumed on a regular basis, can attack a dog’s red blood cells, sometimes to the point of death. It goes without saying that a starter of dead baby robin followed with a main course of slippers does not a nutritionally (or spiritually) rewarding meal make. Like the adventurous gourmand who seeks out the Japanese blowfish that is said to kill a handful of the several thousand who dine upon it annually, Bleu’s fear of death is either non-existent (proving his gentleness of mind) or repressed (revealing a perhaps troubled psychological profile). The only logical explanation for his behavior is a mundane diet. This is why my wife and I give him bits of everything we eat in hopes of bringing some sense to his eccentric palate and to promote old-fashioned democratic generosity around the house. This, despite our intentions, has resulted in begging. On a bold day, Bleu will even attempt to lick our plates as we eat, or worse, he’ll heave his front paws onto the counter and snatch up whatever morsels of bread, raw meat or vegetables he can manage. More regular is the practice my wife has coined “counter sharking” wherein Bleu walks with his nose sniffing along the kitchen counter’s edge, drawn like a fuzzy black shark by the sounds and smells of cookery. Sharpen a knife, open a bag of carrots, grind some peppercorns, unwrap a block of cheese and he will appear at your side. Like any sane dog, he likes to eat.
With two bites of the sandwich left to go, I begin feeling sympathetic, even a little guilty. Why deprive my four-footed comrade the very joys I at times take for granted? The meatloaf is out thanks to the presence of onion. I take a small bit of the ketchup-stained bread and open the bathroom door just a crack. I toss the morsel into the darkness and hear rustling, then chewing, then licking, followed by the sound a tail thumping against linoleum. The world, for a moment, is a fine place to be in.

Kathryn Miles is editor of Hawk & Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability, and an award winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies and journals including Best American Essays, World Enviornments, Ecotone, and Reconstruction.  Ari is a husky-jindo mix who enjoys herding cats, racing through the woods, and proving that everything is edible.  You can read more about both of them in their recent book, Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, A Leash, and Our Year Outdoors (Skyhorse/W.W. Norton).

Ari's Biscotti

I believe in Slow Food.  A movement first begun in 1986 as a response to the rise of fast food restaurants and the industrialization of grocery stores, Slow Food insists on three basic tenets:  food should good; it should be clean; and it should be fair.

Sure, there are plenty of moments when I’d rather just grab something out of a supermarket freezer or rely upon the convenience of a drive-thru lane.  Slow Food takes time, which is something we often find in short supply these days.  Even still, each time I sink my hands into the warm sponge of a bread dough or catch the scent of chicken stock reducing on the stove, I’m reminded in myriad ways why it’s worth it. I know where my food comes from.  I know every step needed to convert a humble eggplant into tapenade or a potato into a really great French fry.  And, when I sit down to eat, I feel better for having completed those steps myself.

I’ve been committed to this way of eating for years.  And yet, for most of that time, I continued to  make one trip down an interior, processed supermarket aisle: a beeline, right to the pet food section.  I did it without thinking, without a sense of irony.  This was food for a dog, after all.  It wasn’t people food, I told myself. The two were entirely different.

Or are they?

There are, of course, distinctions that should be made between what different species eat. Dogs have specific nutrient requirements, and we run the risk of a great disservice to any animal if we don’t adhere to them.  But for all that is unique about their diet, dogs also have a surprising number of similarities to us when it comes to their preferences and palates.  We each require roughly the same ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  And we do well sourcing these requirements with fresh meats, unprocessed grains (like brown rice), and plenty of vegetables, all of which should be, ideally, free of pesticides, herbicides, and preservatives.  In other words: Slow Food.

There’s no reason dog food can’t be Slow Food.  And happily, making it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  The recipe included below requires about 30 minutes, including baking time, and it uses ingredients most people have on hand.  If you’re willing to shop at a co-op or natural food store, you can ensure it’s clean and fair.  Even if you don’t, you’ll know the end result is good.  So good, in fact, your dog may find he or she was shorted a few biscuits.  But don’t worry: you can always make more.

Ari’s Biscotti

¾ cup plain low fat yogurt

½ cup peanut butter

2 Tbls. honey  

1tsp. cinnamon  

1 cup whole wheat flour (more for kneading and dusting)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine yogurt, peanut butter, and honey, stirring well.  Add cinnamon and wheat flour and mix.  Turn dough onto counter or pastry sheet and knead until smooth.  Roll out to1/4 inch.  Cut with cookie cutters.  Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes.  Cool well before storing.