Thursday Sep 28

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.