Local caregivers make food for their pets
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For many animal caregivers, pets are more than just pets – they are family members– and they want the same level of health for their pets as they do for their favorite humans.
Hence, some caregivers choose to cook or prepare food for their pets with the hope of healing diseases, to proactively ensure good health or because they enjoy sharing meals with their dog or cat.
In 2000, Stacy LaPoint's German Shepherd, Jade, was diagnosed with Addison's Disease – a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of their hormones – and so she started researching online how she could improve her beloved dog's health.
She quickly learned that diet was integral to recovery.
"I found out what was really in pet food and I was shocked," says LaPoint. "I found some books on the topic of making pet food at home – people all over the world do it – including a 'species-appropriate diet' which actually means a raw carnivorous diet for dogs and cats."
LaPoint started grinding, blending and freezing fresh meats – including bone and organs of chickens and vegetables – in portions that would last a few days in the fridge once thawed.
The results were amazing. After six months of being solely on raw, meat-based food – no dry kibble or cooked grains of any kind – Jade's condition improved dramatically.
"She went from acting like a 7-year-old senior to being playful and excited all the time like she was 2 or 3 again," says LaPoint. "She lived another 7 1/2 years and died a ripe old age. I know a lot of dogs live a long time on dry food but the truth is, her quality of life was so much better with the raw diet – I wished I had always fed her that way."
Family and friends were amazed by Jade's improved condition and asked LaPoint to make their pet food, too. She agreed.
"Eventually, pet food making consumed my life and I decided to hire an animal nutrition consultant to help me make sure my recipes met regulations and launched my business Companion Natural Pet Food in 2001," says LaPoint.
The Riverwest-based business is now called Fresh Is Best. The company's food and treats are in independently-owned pet boutiques in Milwaukee and across the nation.
"Animals deserve to eat what they were designed to eat. They are family. They should thrive, not just survive," says LaPoint.
Kate O'Keefe also started making food for her dog, Iggy, with the hope of improving his health after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year.
Because of the diabetes, Iggy needed insulin twice a day and the vet also suggested a diet that was low fat and high fiber. There are pet foods on the market supplemented for diabetes, but Iggy did not like them and so O'Keefe added boiled sweet potatoes and ground beef to get him to eat the new food.
"As a treat, we throw in a few teaspoons of low-fat cottage cheese to the mix," says O'Keefe, who is a nurse practitioner. "We add fish oil to his food once a day and fiber once a day to his meals as well. We finally have his diabetes and cholesterol under control."
Some pet owners choose to cook for their pets because they are picky or they simply enjoy making food for them.
Rob Rausch makes a steak for his bull dog, Reggie, twice a year.
"He and I have a steak dinner every Christmas Eve and on his birthday, June 21, which I randomly picked," says Rausch.
Rausch, who is single, says he enjoys cooking for people and since he has not had a girlfriend in a few years, Reggie has become his regular dinner date.
"I know I'm not supposed to, but I usually give him a little sample of whatever I cook for myself," he says. "He also gets a lot of exercise, so he's not overweight, even though he eats a a lot of bachelor food."
For a few years, Lisa Malmarowski, who works for Outpost Natural Foods, has cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (from Outpost, of course) to supplement the diet of her 10-year-old cat, Olive.
She then cuts the chicken into little pieces and freezes packets of meat so she or her partner can unthaw them a couple times a week.
"Olive knows what 'chicken dinner' means. And she begs horribly when we eat chicken," says Malmarowski.
Bay View's Russ Fascia makes food for his two cats and also cooked for his dog, Basil, before he passed away. He buys his food from Outpost as well.
"It's a greener, cheaper and more healthy diet that supplements their kibble," says Fascia.
Fascia's recipe is a mixture of one-third protein (ground meat of some kind), one-third vegetables (carrots and spinach primarily) and one-third brown rice. Sometimes he adds nutritional yeast or seafood.
"If I have leftovers that don't contain onion, I'll sometimes put that in. It's not too different than making baby food," says Facia, who has a school-aged daughter.
Denise Cawley makes homemade treats for Carmella, her Scottish sheepdog. The treats are made primarily from veggies, fruits and meat scraps.
"I keep a bag in my freezer of chicken scraps, peelings, garlic and ground-up bones from chicken stock," says Cawley.
To make the treats, she defrosts her freezer items and puts them in the food processor with enough oatmeal, flour or rice to hold it all together. She then spreads the paste onto parchment and cooks it at 300 degrees until it's completely dry.
"I feel good that she gets a higher quality snack than what I can buy at the grocery store and they are dirt cheap," says Cawley. "They're not pretty, but the dog doesn't care."
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