Be careful what associations you build into routines with your pets.  Be sure you’re comfortable doing them for the rest of your pet’s life.

Finley has not always been a good eater.  He was one to let his food languish in the bowl.  Back in 2004-5, when we rented a shitty twin that was overrun with mice, we were a little paranoid (or justified) about leaving food out, and this included pet food.  Our landlord went so far as to blame the infestation on the dog’s food, which was (and always has been) kept in a sealed Rubbermaid tub.  Nevertheless, we were loathe to leave Finley’s food out for such a time as he felt compelled to eat it. 

Growing up, my family’s dogs had always been grazers, eating their fill whenever they chose, and never having weight problems or mouse issues.  But Finley changed everything.  We were told he had some issues surrounding feeding time when he had lived with Mr. Apron’s sister, Bianca, and her other dog, a black lab named Corey.  We weren’t sure if he hoarded her food, or if she kept him from eating.  In our early years of Finley ownership, with his picky eating, we had assumed it was the latter. 

We coaxed, we cajoled, we laid down the law.  We tried picking up the food after a period of time, letting him understand that if he wanted to eat, now was The Time, and if he chose not to, he could wait for the next meal.  It works with children.  Unfortunately I think the issue of hunger operates differently in dogs.  I’ve heard of some who will eat until they burst, not having that sense of fullness humans (are supposed to) have.  So we tried all manner of topping.  After some early attempts at “garnishing” his food with broken dog biscuits, we made a discovery.  Some dog food company made a sort of gravy we would squirt on his food, and that worked well enough.  Through some accident (perhaps Mr. Apron’s father was taking care of Finley one day and got “creative”), we soon found that he loved ketchup and all tomato-based products, so we switched to that.  As we neared the end of a jar of pasta sauce, I’d fill it up with water, creating a vaguely tomato-scented gravy that worked well enough.  We’d slosh it on his food, and he’d immediately start licking it up.  We figured that a kibble or two accidently entered his mouth and reminded him, “Hey.  This is food.  You like it.  Eat it now.”  So he’d clean his bowl.

I’m not sure when the soy milk started, or why we even conceived that a dog would have a palate for it.  But I can’t remember a time now when I was permitted to finish my “sugar mik” at the bottom of my cereal bowl.  I feel like I’ve always poured that little bit on Finley’s food. 

And now, Molly’s.  She has a touch of the sibling rivalry, and whatever he gets (biscuit, ear medicine, tooth brushing, toweling off after a walk), she wants intensely.  So even though they are both now good eaters (it seems she has inspired Finley to eat quickly lest she steal his food), the milk persists.  Finley will now claw at his bowl (or hers; he’s not picky) to ask for his kibble or the milk.  This morning, as I absent-mindedly did a Sudoko puzzle at the kitchen table, I must have lingered too long over my empty cereal bowl.  Next thing I knew, Molly was sitting in the chair beside me, her plaintive eyes meeting mine, and she uttered a delicate whine. 

“Please Mommy, your milky?  Please? I can have it in my bowl?”

And now a ritual that began as a way to cajole our picky eater into consuming his food before the mice did has been passed onto the next generation.  We are cultivating a love of soy milk in our canines.

If they both live to be 20, and people ask us our secret, we won’t be talking about the raw meat we don’t give them, nor the 5-mile daily walks they don’t have.  We’ll just shrug, sheepishly and say, “It must be the soy milk.”

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