Note to Pet Food Manufacturers: Nails and plastic are NOT food groups!

Although it's been approximately four years since I switched all the fur people here at Tucker Tells All to a home prepared prey model raw diet, I still keep a wary eye on the goings-on in the pet food industry.  Sometimes I don't know why I do it ... since news of recalls and other problems are intensely disturbing, as well as more frequent than one might believe.

Ultimately, though, I do it because even though my animals rarely eat commercial pet food, there are a lot of other animals out there that do.  Dogs and cats whose families love them every bit as much as I do Tucker, Olivia, Tanner, Phoebe, and Finn.  I know some people who feed home cooked or do-it-yourself raw diets who seem to feel it is their obligation to recruit others into their ranks by means of fear and guilt mongering.  I don't happen to be one of those people.  I do have friends and family who either cook or provide a raw diet for their pets, but the majority of them eat commercially prepared foods.  Most dogs and cats, at least in the U.S., do.  It is for all those animals that I still continue to sign up for news of recalls and safety issues in the world of commercial pet food. 

And the truth is that the news is, more often than not, quite disturbing.  Like this report I got wind of just last night: 

One of the scariest parts about this, to me, (as if nails and visible pieces of plastic in our pets' dinner bowls is not horrifying enough!) is that this is a company with a generally good reputation.  They have several grain-free foods for both dogs and cats and their Whole Earth Farms line, one that a budget-conscious co-worker is currently using for her dogs at my recommendation, is, while not grain-free, still is (or was), in my considered opinion, one of the best foods out there at that price point.  

So I was not happy to have to tell her this morning about the email I got last night.  Having just bought a brand new large bag of this food for her two Labs less than a week ago, and with a husband out of work, she isn't sure what to do.  Sure, if she takes the food back to Petco, they will refund her money.  But then what?  What food to try next for her two big, active food-hounds, one of whom had been chronically itchy and scratchy, but who, with the change to this food and the addition of some fish oil to his diet, and a splash of organic apple cider vinegar in his water bowl every other day or so, had made a marked improvement?  

Participate in any dog (or cat) discussion forum or e-list, and  debates about food abound.  What food is best?  Second best?  How to find a food that the animals in our care will thrive on, and that we can afford.  Or, in the case of many cats, that they will actually EAT!  With all of that to worry about, we should not have to spend so much time obsessing over whether the carefully-chosen food that we spend our hard-earned money on is going to be safe.  We should not have to peel back the lid of a can of food and examine the contents for plastic or nails before spooning it into a bowl for our pets to consume.  Why is this so difficult for pet food companies to understand?!!!

After the mass recalls of 2007, I began to feel as if the process of choosing the foods I would feed to my animals was like some bizarre whack-a-mole game that I could never win.  I could carefully read labels all day long, but as we know, labels are important but they don't tell the whole story.  They don't tell you whether the ingredients in the food have been handled and stored properly.  They don't tell you that if you are buying a food that contains fish and if that food is also made in a co-packing plant that manufacturers many brands of well-known and respected pet foods, that it is almost certain to contain ethoxyquin, a preservative that was formerly used as a rubber stabilizer and is a known carcinogen.  In fact, because of the issue of the co-packers I just referenced, you often don't even know if the company whose logo is on the bag or can you're buying is even the one responsible for actually making the food.  (Hint: in many cases, they are not!) 

The only way to know these things is to dig deeper than most people have the time or energy to go, if they even knew to dig that deep in the first place.  And remember that whack-a-mole game?  The one we played as kids in arcades?  You had a big rubber mallet and you whacked the moles as they popped up out of their holes?  As the game progressed, the moles popped up faster and faster, and the holes they popped up out of were further and further apart.  

In the frightening and confusing aftermath of those 2007 recalls, I felt like I was right back in that arcade, whacking those moles for all I was worth, trying to win that prize.  Only the prize I was trying to win wasn't a teddy bear.  It was the health and well-being of my animals.  And I felt like I just couldn't win!  This food contained species-inappropriate ingredients like high-glycemic grains.  That one contained potentially carcinogenic preservatives or artificial vitamin derivatives also known to have causal links to cancer. The next one I considered might look great from a label standpoint, but when I made inquiries into who was co-packing the food, I found that it was one that had a poor track record with recalls.  

The decision I ultimately made was to eliminate 99% of commercial pet food and treats from my animals' diets.  I wanted to feed them the diet their wild ancestors would eat, from food sources I trusted.  Make no mistake, there are pet food companies out there that I feel have earned my trust, and that of my fellow pet owners, but they are few and far between.  And this morning, I feel betrayed yet again by one that I had trusted.  One that I recommended to someone else, who loves her dogs a great deal and is trying to do the best she can for them on a limited budget.  

So to all those pet food companies out there to whom we are entrusting the safety and health of our beloved animal companions, know this:  we have our eye on you, and we are holding you accountable.  Oh, and one more thing:  nails and plastic are not food groups!  And you really shouldn't need us to tell you that.  


A Trip Down Memory Lane (There's A Mouse In My House)

Inspiration being a bit lacking these days, I've decided to take a page out of some of my fellow bloggers' books, and re-publish an old post.  (It was originally published on November 11th, 2011.) I hope you enjoy it. 

There's a mouse in my house.  Or at least there was.  I think ...
Ok, that's a lie.  I know there was, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt. I just don't want to believe it.  Unfortunately, I don't have much choice.  Consider the evidence ... 

Picture it:  my house ... about 7:00 am EST, one week ago.  After a late night at the office (what else is new?) I stumbled, bleary-eyed, out of bed, down the hall, and into my dining room, en route to the kitchen to serve breakfast to the fur people, who were alternately capering ahead of and/or behind me, or twining enthusiastically around my ankles in anticipation of their morning repast.  Whereupon, to my abject dismay, my bare foot encountered something squishy and unidentifiably disgusting, but thankfully no longer warm, where it had expected to find only the same smooth, aged heart of pine floor I traverse each and every day of my life. 

I let loose with a distinctly high-school-girlish shriek, jumped sideways, and landed on one of Olivia's snow white paws, which she, incidentally, did not in the least appreciate, but which was helpful to me as the bone-piercing yowl said indignity elicited from Her Royal Caliconess aided in bringing me more fully to consciousness, and flicked on the light in the dining room.  Peering down through eyes that were still sleepy but nonetheless now wide open in shock and the anticipation of horror, I spied what at first looked to be a very long, rather thick, lizard tail and the much-masticated remains of a lizard-ly lower torso.  

Initially, I relaxed, albeit marginally.  Stepping in lizard guts before I'd even had my first cup of coffee is not exactly my idea of living the dream, but I could deal.  Yeah, well ... think again.  Being the utterly fearless, bad-a$$ girl that I am, I reached down, grasped the end of the alleged lizard tail, and peered closely at it.  Still battling the effects of the previous day's  sixteen hour workday, I at first did not trust what my tired eyes were telling me, and so did an about-face back into the hall to look more closely at what I was grasping under the strong lights in my bathroom.  This is where it all fell apart.

Because in the harsh fluorescent lights of said bathroom, it quickly became all too clear that what I was holding, IN MY BARE HAND I MIGHT ADD, was not a disembodied lizard tail, but rather the tail of a mouse, and that what was attached to that tail were the gruesome remains of said mouse's lower torso and its left hind leg and foot.  

Quicker than you can utter a string of words all approximately four letters long, I had, acting purely on instinct, flushed what remained of the sad little corpse down the toilet, then proceeded to gag into the sink and spend the next twenty minutes washing my hands under water so hot that it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for the rest of that day I went around sporting first degree burns on hands that, previously sorely in need of a manicure, were now sore in a more literal sense of the word.  All I can say is, it is for precisely situations like these that the acronym FML was coined.

Also, in case you were wondering, my day did not improve one iota for the remainder of that 24 hour period, though it did not, fortunately, get any worse.  Although, let's face it.  Stepping in the remains of a dearly departed rodent, and then grasping said remains in one's bare hand all while scarcely awake and ambulatory is pretty hard to top!

Now for the back story.  A few days prior, I had rather absentmindedly noticed that Finn had developed an apparent obsession with the lower kitchen cabinet to the direct left of the sink, which he has not showed the least bit of interest in for the entire almost two years he's been with me.  

This is not surprising, as it's a seldom-used storage space that plays host to extra rolls of paper towels, assorted serving platters, and other kitchen miscellany.  In other words, it is not routinely used to store anything he would find interesting, i.e. food, treats, or anything even remotely edible. Therefore, it should have clued me in to the fact that something was not as it should be when he took to standing sentry beside it for long stretches of time with all his faculties avidly attuned to something I could not see or hear.

More back story:  I live in the Soho area of South Tampa, a block or so off the water in an area that, due to its close proximity to the water as well as its many historic homes, is known to have issues with mice, as well as their more insidious cousins, rats.  I have lived in my house for five years and never had any problems with them myself, but more than once I have been walking with the dogs along Bayshore Boulevard, a long, winding necklace of prime waterfront strung with the pearls of high end real estate valued in most cases in the multi-millions of dollars ... FYI - in case you were wondering, NO, my mouse-house is not one of these - and stumbled upon the toes-up corpse of one species of rodent or other, so it really should have dawned on me that Finn's sudden and nigh-to-rabid preoccupation with a seemingly innocent kitchen cabinet spelled trouble.  

Alas, it did not.  And I have paid, and dearly, for not paying due attention to what my little house panther's unusual behavior should have been telling me, especially when considering that my next door neighbors, who recently moved out of state and put their as-yet-unsold house on the market, were of the, if you'll pardon the pun, pack-ratly persuasion, and I find it very plausible that in the packing up of the worldly belongings stored in their garage, they may have unwittingly disturbed a rodent domicile or two in the process.

All of this is bad enough.  But as the saying goes ... where there is one, there are likely more.  Which makes me wonder if there are other cousins of the unfortunate mouse dispatched so efficiently, albeit cold-bloodedly, by Finn, lurking in the cabinet by the sink, or elsewhere in my house.  I have not seen any signs of this, but I have nonetheless contacted an exterminator to come out so I can be reassured (or horrified) by a professional assessment of the situation.  I also have to face the almost certain reality that my sweet little kitten not only killed, but also consumed, the unfortunate rodent.  

In the initial aftermath, I was not altogether sure what I feared more ... that Finn had consumed the mouse, or that he hadn't.  After cautiously pulling back my bedclothes, peering  under the bed, and searching various other places throughout the house for any additional pieces of this disturbing puzzle, all the while in fear that my explorations were a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane moment in the making, I was forced to accept the fact that Finn had dispatched his kill in the way cats have been dispatching their kills since time out of mind.  Which, inevitably, led to the fear that the mouse had been poisoned, and that my little kitten might now be in danger of being poisoned also.  

FORTUNATELY, this has proven to not be the case.  Finn, one emergency vet appointment and a full week later, is absolutely fine, thank heaven.  But I have a newfound respect for my youngest "child."  He might be my baby, but he's apparently also got some hunting chops, and he takes his house panther role more seriously than I would have imagined. 

I also, I have to admit, feel kind of bad for the mouse.  Because as bad as my day sucked on the morning that the sole of my bare foot encountered his earthly remains, that poor mouse's day sucked a lot worse.  Imagine if you were a mouse ... and the last thing you saw on this earth were these eyes staring you down ... 

RIP, little mouse.  (And I hope there are no more of your friends in my house!) 

You might also like:  Finn One - Picture Frame Zero


Who Let The Dog Out?

I only wish I had photos or video to accompany this post - unfortunately that would entail retroactively outfitting my home with surveillance cams.  Oh, well.  Life is full of little disappointments.

Anyway ... 

Yesterday I arrived home from work to be greeted at the front door by Tucker & Phoebe. Both welcomed me with their usual enthusiasm, and that was great.  Except that, when I left the house that morning, Phoebe had, uncharacteristically, been left in her kennel rather than loose in the house, and therefore should not have been ABLE to meet me at the door.  

The reason she had been left in her kennel, which she is almost never in, is because, also uncharacteristically, she had pooped on the living room floor in the middle of the previous night.  Not because she was sick, (which would have given her a free pass), but because it had been raining the previous night when it was time for the pre-bedtime potty ritual.  Phoebe hates to get her feet wet, and likes even less actually getting rained on.  The living room floor being dry both underfoot and overhead, she obviously concluded that this was a much more hospitable location to do her nightly business and apparently snuck out of bed to dispatch said business after I had fallen asleep.  (She has, maybe three or four times in five years, done this before, and I no more agreed with her conclusion this time than I had before.  I'll also admit to having scolded her mildly both those other times and this most recent one  - and although I know conventional wisdom holds that dogs don't understand scolding or punishment when said negative consequence doesn't occur immediately after the indiscretion, no one has ever explained this to Phoebe.  Because when I woke up yesterday morning, she would NOT get out of bed and come into the living room, knowing as she did what I would find, and knowing, as well, what my reaction would be to having found it.)

DISCLAIMER:  I am not one to shout at my dogs, or punish them physically.  For one thing, I don't believe in it, nor have I ever found it to be necessary, especially with these two.  I can ruin Tucker's whole day with a simple look - he is the most sensitive dog I have ever lived with.  Phoebe is much the same, though not quite as bad, but nonetheless, she was very aware that I would not think picking up poop first thing in the morning was my idea of a great time, and was not keen to meet with my disapproval.  In fact, it was her staunch refusal to accompany the rest of us to the kitchen for the morning dispensation of treats, usually one of the highlights of her day, that first clued me in to the fact that something was not as it should be, and once I was on the lookout, it didn't take me long to spy the Tootsie-roll size poops on the living room floor. These offending little rolls were dispatched easily enough, but them being there in the first place still ticked me off, so after I had flushed them down the toilet, I went to find Phoebe, who was hiding under the covers doing an Oscar-worthy imitation of a dead dog.  

"That was a bad girl, Phoebe," I told her, in much the same matter of fact tone as I would say the same thing to a kindergarten aged school-child (although, one would hope, not for the same offense - to wit - having pooped on the living room floor.)  No response.  "Do you hear me?" No response - perhaps the slightest twitch of a tail.  Until, finally, a singsong "Phoebe!" prompted her to return to her body from whatever inward place she had gone to marinate in the intense shame of such an egregious breach of decorum.  (And yes, this is all very much tongue in cheek.  I don't really believe that Phoebe was feeling true shame at having pooped on the floor.  She most certainly, however, knew that she had erred, and how.)  

Because it was still raining, she didn't want to go out to potty after her morning snack, either, save for a brief 90 second dash out to the nearest patch of grass to pee.  So to spare us both a repeat of the morning's Tootsie Roll incident, I decided to let her spend the day in her kennel, since the dogs were not coming to work yesterday because I had clients coming in.  To ensure that she continues to view the kennel as a happy place, I left her with a deliciously stuffed Kong, and departed. 

And that, naively, is where I expected to find her when I returned home yesterday evening.  I had not, however, reckoned on Tucker.  Tucker, it is worth noting, has a well-deserved nickname among my family and friends, who often refer to him as Tucker the Tapper. His front paws are far more dexterous than any dog paws I've ever seen, and he is wont to use them to "tap" at things that interest him.  He can close doors in this way (unfortunately he can't open them again, which many times has resulted in him locking himself in various rooms and being unable to get out again until I come home to let him out), and in the event he wants to get my attention, he has a habit of slamming the hall door with a force and volume that is pretty impressive when you consider he only weighs fifteen pounds.  Visitors to my home who were not in the know might assume, upon hearing this loud slam with no human in the vicinity, that my 1920s abode is inhabited by a poltergeist. Hey, what can I say ... it keeps life interesting.  

He's also intensely curious about his surroundings, and rather than use his nose to investigate, he is more often apt to use his feet.  Any random item of interest to him is sure to be tapped, usually until he knocks it over, or causes it to move or shift position in some way.  I don't know why he does this - but he's been doing it since he came to me at ten months old, and it's just something that I accept as part of who he is.  Most of the time I find it charming.  

Yesterday, however, was not one of those times.  Because, in fact, the reason why Phoebe was not in her kennel where I left her is not because someone had broken into the house, let her out, and departed without stealing anything, and as far as I know, my home is not inhabited by a poltergeist. It was because Tucker, uncharacteristically left at home during a work day and deprived of his sister's company, undertook to use his incredibly dexterous forelimbs to tap! tap! tap! at the door of the kennel until he could shift the latch enough to allow Phoebe to push the door open from the inside and free herself.  

There was not, however, any poop on the living room floor.  


When Blogging Becomes A Four Letter Word

First of all, thank you to those of you who noticed we've been MIA, and cared enough to email and ask whether we're ok.  It's nice to be missed, and proves yet again, as if I needed any proof, how nurturing, supportive, and caring a place the Blogosphere is. The short answer is yes ... everyone at Chez Tucker is healthy and well.  

The longer, and more truthful, answer, is that yes, we're all fine, but the human in the equation, namely me, has lately been chronically busy, chronically tired, and chronically short of any sort of inspiration.  All this combined tends to make blogging a chore rather than something I enjoy, so rather than making a daily blog entry just one more item on my to do list, I have simply not been blogging much. 

Also, a recent string of long hours and seven day work weeks (the result of working on proposals for three new clients that the ad agency I work for is trying to bring on board) have started to make all the days sort of run together.  Which is why, in case anyone was wondering and too polite to ask, I posted a Wednesday post yesterday.  It's because, all day, I was wandering around in a daze thinking it was Wednesday instead of Tuesday.  Realizing only this morning that it wasn't was part blessing, as it means that I have one more week day to get my work done and that maybe I won't have to cancel plans I've been very much looking forward to in favor of heading to the office yet again, a trip I swear my car could make all by itself, but also part curse, as it means that I am not as close to the much-anticipated weekend as I had thought.  It also means that I am wearing the proverbial egg on my face, the result of posting a One-Word-Wednesday post yesterday when it was still only Tuesday.

Oh, well.  The picture of Finn was cute, I thought, and I hope those who saw it enjoyed it, even as they were scratching their heads and wondering what was wrong with me.  

For those who asked, my grandmother is still ill ... but still hanging on ... and she's out of the hospital, out of the rehab center, and living with my aunt.  This is good news, but also means that Tucker can't visit her, as my aunt's dog, B, is a bit wild and would not react well to canine visitors, and that's a bit sad, as I know how much she enjoyed his visits, and how much Tucker loved having a job as a therapy dog again.  

As for the future of the blog - I know that for the immediate future our blog posts will likely be sporadic at best.  Long term, I am less sure.  I love blogging, ordinarily, and I love reading other people's blogs, but lately I've been thinking that perhaps this particular blog has run its course.  I can't imagine blogging without the animals as the focus, but perhaps I would enjoy it more if I did it differently than I am now.  As much as I enjoy reading other blogs that are written from the animal's perspective, I've found that I don't really love writing from it.  I don't really know why that is, but it's definitely the way I feel, so it's something I may need to think about a little further.  Possibly a fresh start would re-energize and re-inspire me.  Or maybe not.  I guess we'll see.