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Soul Dog: How Bella is becoming a Forever Dog

    I have a friend who, whenever she’s surprised by something, says, “Oh, my shattered ass.”

    I swear it isn’t really me.

    However, I have uttered those exact words many many times while reading Forever Dog.

    Written by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker, Forever Dog blows the lid off the way we’ve been feeding our dogs for the last 100 or so years.

    the forever dog book by rodney habib and dr. karen becker.
    The front cover of Forever Dog

    Blowing the lid off the dog food industry

    It isn’t like I didn’t know kibble is just compacted dust. Actual food is ultraprocessed with heat and turned into these pellets that bring our dogs running around the corner when they hear them hit the bowl.

    When you cook your dog’s food yourself, you know exactly what’s going in her.

    I get it. We are busy humans, just trying to keep our heads above water some days. Kibble is convenient and making your dog’s food and treats takes time.

    As we’ve battled gastrointestinal issues with Bella, though, the importance of managing her food intake becomes very clear for me.

    A little more than two years ago, Bella’s biannual blood test came back showing higher levels of the liver enzyme ALT.

    We went through an ultrasound and a biopsy. Both tests revealed nothing. No cancer, no hepatitis, no pancreatitis, no Cushing’s disease, no colitis, no anything. 

    Yet her ALT levels remained elevated.

    All her test results were sent to a specialist.

    Oh, she’s probably allergic to some foods, so we began an “elimination” diet, also known as a (very expensive) prescription food, only accessible through your veterinarian.

    Now if you read Forever Dog, you find out a little more about these prescription diets, especially that there isn’t anything medicinal about them. 

    And you’ll learn a lot about the marketing juggernaut that the dog food industry has become. 

    (SIDEBAR: This, folks, is why I hate almost every day I spent in a marketing career and why I never really feel that good about marketing my dog photography. It’s a necessary evil.)

    You’ll learn a lot of science and a lot about the evolution of the dog-human relationship, especially as it centers around food and our digestive systems.

    Yep, it’s a good read for you to remember to stop putting all that processed shit into your stomach.

    (Um … another SIDEBAR: Do as I say, not as I do. Because pasta. And McDonald’s. And deliciousness. I can’t help it. I’m an eater.)

    Yes, the prescription diet worked. But I don’t want her living out her life on a diet of dusty soy protein and rice. She deserves to eat well.

    Health care and dogs

    When I navigated the American human health care system for the first time a few years ago, I realized that in Canada we follow a more preventive method. Down here, it’s more reactive.

    “How do we fix what’s wrong” works in the for-profit health care industry because the people in charge get to charge however much they want to make us better.

    “How do we prevent the wrong” works better in the single-payer health care system because prevention works to alleviate burden on hospitals where most of the costs are incurred.

    Forever Dog aims to help you create a healthful lifestyle for your best fur friend, lengthening her lifespan and lowering your vet bills.

    The surprises you learn

    I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, just because I’ve read Forever Dog.

    And I’m not trying to harsh on my vet. She’s awesome. She went to great lengths to help us figure out that Bella most likely has sensitivities to certain foods, and we’ve whittled it down to chicken and wheat. 

    She not only understands how much I love my Bella, but she also has her own pets that she loves very much.

    So much that she hired me last fall after her sweet Mia was diagnosed with mouth cancer.

    dog on a rock

    But I am determined to see her less often by improving Bella’s food intake.

    Kibble is, however, a necessary evil due to its convenience. 

    As Forever Dog describes, you can keep your dog on kibble and still have a healthy dog. It depends on the type of kibble you feed and if you can add certain superfoods to her daily intake.

    Like blueberries.

    And avocado.

    And mushrooms.

    Wait a damn second, you say. Avocado and mushrooms? I know, right? We’ve always been taught that both – and garlic – are bad, even poisonous, to your dog.

    Nah. 

    They’re actually very good for them. 

    Avocado is full of the good fats we need to stay healthy, just don’t let your dog have the leathery outer skin or the pit (choking hazard).

    And the rule of thumb with mushrooms is that if it’s good for you, it’s good for your dog. If it’s bad/poisonous for, it’s bad/poisonous for him.

    And and the panic about garlic relies on a 1960s study that served insane amounts of garlic extract to dogs who then developed gastrointestinal issues.

    Duh.

    Insane amounts of anything will make my stomach upset too. Like whiskey.

    Otherwise, garlic is good for your dog.

    Crazy, right?

    Bella becomes a Forever Dog

    maremma sheepdog at mirabeau point park

    One meal a day for Bella is now what I call “mash.”

    I throw ground turkey or hamburger into the Instant Pot with some spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, quinoa and coconut oil and set it for about 10 minutes. I started doing this even before I got to the great ideas inside the pages of Forever Dog.

    She loves it.

    I throw a handful of frozen blueberries or about a quarter cup of applesauce onto her morning kibble.

    She loves it. 

    And I make her cookies out of last summer’s zucchini harvest that I shredded and tossed in the freezer thinking, “what the hell am I going to do with all this damn zucchini?”

    Zucchini grows like a MF in my backyard.

    She loves the cookies.

    Granted, she loves it all. I mean, I did say she’s an eater, right?

    A few weeks later, her coat feels silkier. Her chest and belly hair is matting less and it’s easier to brush.

    I can’t tell you that she seems happier or more bright-eyed. She’s a damn happy Maremma sheepdog who gets to go on wild hiking adventures and hang out with great friends.

    And she gets all the necessary love and snuggles that a reformed farm girl could ever want.

    Embracing a new way of doing things

    As I flip through the pages of Forever Dog, I think, “yeah, I can do this.” 

    It’s logical, science-based information that encourages dog lovers to make simple changes for the betterment of their pups’ health. 

    I won’t lie. Some days, it isn’t easy. Like last week when life started happening out of the blue and I didn’t have time to use the zucchini I thawed to make cookies. Into the yard bin it went after sitting in the fridge for too long.

    But I see the results of the little changes I’m making and I plan to soldier on.

    And I think Bella likes the changes, too.

    I could never tell you what her favorite part is but I damn sure know you better not mess with peanut butter time in the evening.

    May the goddesses help us if we ever dared to say “no.”

    The Soul Dog Journey Project

    These stories of Bella, to be told every Monday in 2022, are part of the Soul Dog Journey Project, a mission by my friend Marika at @souldogcreative in Seattle. After losing her Soul Dog, Kerouac, last year, she’s put together a 52-week project that gets us telling the stories of how we are connected to our dogs and what they bring to our lives. 

    Each week, there’s a new story prompt to get our creative juices flowing. This week’s prompt focuses on your dog’s favorite food. I wanted to share with you instead what I’ve learned about Bella and nutrition in these last couple of years.

    Don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments about your dog’s nutrition. Maybe you’ve banished kibble from your pantry and even gone raw? Maybe you’re reading Forever Dog, too, and want to change things up. I’d love to hear about it. 

    And if you’ve found yourself here because you have a Maremma sheepdog that brings you a deeper connection than you’ve ever known, well, you just know.

    nv-author-image

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    2 thoughts on “Soul Dog: How Bella is becoming a Forever Dog”

    1. avatar of cahlean

      Quite an adventure, and def eye opening to the realms of kibble. A journey for you and Bella for sure!

      Interestingly I’ve stumbled onto a blip of history of dogs (thank you dog breed books!) and the information is quite delightful – especially the theory on what early dogs ate! Essentially they ate what the humans ate, be it scraps or prime cuts or bits of both. We ate meats, they ate meats, berries, plants, etc, they ate them with us. Not sure when the transition into kibble occurred, perhaps as society industrialized and moved into modern, when it was easier to purchase ready to go bags of food vs prep a meal for your dog.

      1. avatar of angela

        Yes! The history dork in me loved those sections of Forever Dog that dealt with evolution and science-y stuff. According to the book’s authors, kibble has been around for about 100 years and is totally a matter of convenience and affordability.

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