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"AT YOUR SERVICE"
BY
NOMI BERGER
Books Nomi has written

She came to me at noon eight months ago with only a set of stainless steel dog bowls and an opened bag of expensive kibble.

According to her owner, she’d been fed that particular brand since puppyhood.

Great.

And she was a ”grazer.”

Not so great.

I might have been a first-time pet owner, but I’d done my homework.

Feeding 101 said that bowls were to be set out for each meal at the same time daily, then picked up – empty or not – twenty minutes later.

Knowing she’d been traumatized enough by the first major upheaval in her three years, I immediately filled both bowls, placed them on the kitchen floor and left them there.

I pretended not to be waiting, but I was.

I continued to wait until five o’clock, when she finally crept into the kitchen, sniffed at the bowls with something close to disdain, and crept out again.

She needs time, I told myself, as the hours passed. And passed. And passed.

In the morning, I changed the tepid water in one bowl and wondered what magic powder to sprinkle over the mound of stinky pellets in the other to make it more appealing.

By ten o’clock that night, I was panic stricken.

She hated me. She blamed me for taking her away from the only home she’d ever known. And she was going to punish me by starving herself to death.

After a second guilt-ridden and sleepless night, I broke the first rule of dog training. I knelt on the kitchen floor and hand fed her three smelly pieces of kibble. Before I could praise myself for my bad behaviour, she threw up on my shoe.

As I cleaned up the tiny mess, I had a huge lightbulb moment.

She wasn’t punishing ME. She was punishing THEM. For abandoning her. For betraying her trust. Clearly, she didn’t want any reminders of her former life.

Out went the old bowls and old food. In came two new bowls and a new brand of food. That evening, I held my breath as she sniffed suspiciously at both bowls, then finally lowered her head to eat a single, brown nugget of kibble. Followed by a second. Then a third. Two sips of water, and she padded slowly out of the kitchen.

It was a start.

“The pity party’s over, little girl,“ I muttered as I picked up the food bowl twenty minutes later. “New rules.”

At eight the next morning, breakfast was served. Twenty minutes later, it was removed. At six in the evening, dinner was served. Twenty minutes later, it was removed.

No sooner had this routine been established than it stopped. She either refused to eat or threw up whatever she did eat.

“Small dogs are the pickiest eaters,” the staff at the pet store reminded me each time I came back for yet another brand of food. Whether in bags or tins, dry or wet, nothing pleased her for more than three days.

In breaking the second rule of dog training – switching foods -- I’d figuratively opened a can of worms. I’d also reversed the order of things in our home. She was now the undisputed pack leader. I was her devoted follower.

I tried mixing safe “people” food in with the dog food. Assorted fruits and vegetables. Raw and cooked. The results were the same: three strikes and they were out.

When I’d exhausted all store bought options, I turned to the one source guaranteed to succeed: REAL food.

“You’re going to spoil her,” warned my fellow dog owners.

Undaunted, I made dozens of small meatballs from extra lean ground beef and extra lean minced chicken. I froze the majority of them in plastic bags and kept out enough for three days’ worth of meals.

At breakfast, I crumbled two of each tender, juicy ball into bits and filled her bowl. To my supreme relief and delight, she gobbled down every morsel, then looked up pleadingly for more.

“Not until dinner, little girl,” I said with a self-satisfied grin. “Not until dinner.”

When we reached the three-day mark, I crossed my fingers and prayed.

By the end of the week, I did an exuberant victory dance around the kitchen.

One month later, in an effort to balance the protein in her diet, I tempted fate and added thawed, frozen peas to her bowl. She loved the combination.

I then added dried cranberries. Bingo!

Happily, I introduced lunch, consisting of several fresh baby carrots and a dried, wild salmon strip. And yes, shame on me, I hand fed her again. My reasons: to slow her tendency now to inhale her food like a miniature vacuum cleaner, and to keep her from choking.

She crunched away on each bit of carrot, each piece of salmon, then washed everything down with thirsty slurps of water.

I was in heaven!

But my joy was shortlived when I tried to ensure that she was getting all of the proper nutrients in her new diet. Brown rice flopped, followed by white rice, whole wheat pasta, gluten free pasta, yogurt, eggs, oatmeal, cottage cheese and unsweetened applesauce. I repeated each of the fruits and vegetables I’d given her before, with the same discouraging results.

The one fruit she would accept – on an irregular basis – was apple, a single wedge cut into small chunks.

Then came the day she discovered organic, unsalted tortilla chips. I tossed her one as a treat and her brown eyes glazed over in ecstasy while she snapped and crackled her way to doggie nirvana.

After that, whenever I called out, “chips!”, she’d come running to me from wherever she was, stumpy tail wagging, eyes bright with excitement, mouth slightly open. I’d never seen her more animated than in her ecstatic response to that one simple word.

“Chips!” became our code word. It was the secret weapon in my small arsenal of commands to which she consistently responded. It was both bribe and reward for any task well done.

If only it had worked on stabilizing her erratic behaviour at mealtime.

Because last week, she suddenly stopped eating her thawed, frozen peas.

“Chips!”
 

 

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