Thursday, December 13, 2007

Food, Glorious Food!

Lesson Number 7: Everyone Deserves To Be Fussed Over Now and Then, or...How To Raise a Princess Dog, part two

Everyone who reads any material on dog ownership knows that table scraps are a big no-no. I understand this, in theory. As someone who grew up with three dachshunds in the house who commenced vomiting whenever they ingested something that wasn’t made for dogs, I had great intentions of following this Golden Rule for dogs.

Alas, but great intentions are often thwarted by a combination of reality and cuteness. Bijoux learned how to beg without actually going through the motions. Her legs were too long and gangly to sit up on her rear end and beg in the traditional canine method. As a puppy, she begged by barking. We curbed that bad habit, but as a very creative animal, she found a way around that. In her later years she refined the art of begging. If her subject (usually me) was sitting at the dining room table, she would stand at the side, wagging her tail and either sneezing or letting out a “Hrrumph”. When that got her nothing (as was the usual case), she would disappear from sight…but only for a minute. She was under the table, and in the next moment, her head would suddenly pop into my lap, where she would rest it as she looked at me with those eyes (See Lesson on Cuteness). Her upper half would be completely still, but her entire rear end would move along with the intensity of her tail wag. When she was completely annoying, we commanded her to “Go lay down!” She backed up, not taking her eyes off of what she desired, until her back feet stepped off of the hardwood floor onto our area rug, where she plopped her body down in one clumsy motion. Eventually she would slink back over, only to be sent out again.

We discovered that Bijoux had certain “favorite” people foods by trial and error; that is, when we accidentally left a full lunch or dinner plate too close to the edge of the table and walked away from it to grab the ketchup or other accompaniment, Bijoux would calmly sneak over to it and make a calm, collected, well-thought out attack. We would return to the table to catch her, paws on the chair to hold her up, gobbling food like there was no tomorrow. After being scolded, she would slink away…but the memory of the food she ate lasted forever. After each instance (if it was something she really enjoyed), her begging would dramatically increase in urgency.

One of her favorite foods throughout her life was toast with peanut butter and jelly on it. It was something about the smell combined with her memory of the taste and texture (from her first Grand Toast Theft). Whenever this was on my menu, she went ballistic. She sat and stared at me as I ate it, cocking her head to one side and then the other. If I looked at her, she would sometimes pick up one paw, as if to tell me, “Hey…shake my paw. I’m offering! And then you can reward me with some peanut butter and jelly toast!” Eventually, when that got her nothing, she commenced light whining. Gradually the whining would build up to a bark/sneeze combination. It was surely one of the cutest things I had ever seen, and always got the best of me. In her early years, I would wait until the cuteness got to be unbearable before I would treat her. Later on and until the day she died, I always saved the last corner of my peanut butter and jelly toast for Bijoux, no matter if she asked for it or not. Wait. Who am I kidding? She always asked for it.

Toast in its raw form was just plain bread. Bijoux didn’t care about the formality of using a toaster. I once returned home from work to find a torn, empty, plastic bread bag on the kitchen floor. Thinking back to the morning rush in the house, I marveled at my own stupidity, having left a brand new loaf of wheat bread on the kitchen counter, completely within Bijoux’s reach. Looking at her guilty little face, tail tucked between her legs as she backed away from me slowly, and noticing that she looked physically fine at this point, I decided that she had waited probably a whole five or ten seconds after I left the house to “make the kill”. The poor loaf of bread never had a chance.

The other food that was in Bijoux’s top two was rice. The story of her attachment to rice has a strange “full circle” quality. As a puppy, Bijoux had some intense and mysterious intestinal problems. For many weeks she was on a diet of broth, chicken, and white rice. She loved it.

Over the years, Jim became quite fond of making Stir Fry for dinner. When Bijoux caught a whiff of the rice, she was beside herself. I started to put some rice in a bowl for her, and she ate dinner “with us”. She became so excited about the rice that she devoured it quickly, practically without chewing or breathing. We noticed that after her rice binge, her chest seemed enormous before the rice worked its way through her system. After we made this discovery, we took some control over her rice meal. We allowed her to take a couple of bites, and then one of us would command her to “Sit”. She sat down right in front of her bowl, head hanging down towards her meal, ears dangling millimeters away from the rice, and waited. We let her sit there for a moment or two, to make sure she had swallowed and taken a breath, and then one of us would say, “Okay!” That was her signal to continue eating. We repeated this exercise three or four times, and she would walk away from her empty dish satisfied, but not overly plump as before.

In her final months of life, she wouldn’t eat her dog food. Desperate for her to get something in her stomach, I cooked chicken and rice, and sometimes scrambled eggs, for her daily. At the end she wouldn’t even touch the rice, and I understood that she wouldn’t live much longer.

Click here for part 3!