Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review ~ Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I

John Mutford's The Real Canadian Book Challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog motivated me to set a goal: read 13 Canadian books about dogs within the next year, and review them here at Gabe n Arch.

At first I wondered if that was an achievable goal - are there really that many Canadian books about dogs worth reading? A quick scan of and suggestions from John himself quickly assured me that yes, indeed, there should be an ample selection to choose from.

I started with Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I, which was first published in 2006. It is a physically small book - about 5-1/2 x 7", with 182 pages including the acknowledgements.

MacGregor is a well-known columnist (The Globe and Mail) and author, having written about things central to the Canadian psyche: hockey, canoes, cottage life, cold weather, and that ever-elusive "Canadian identity." Oh, yes, and dogs. MacGregor has been the proud guardian of five mutts throughout his life - and he does stress that these dogs are mutts, no pedigrees, no papers, most hawked out of little red wagons pulled around by different generations of neighbourhood children.

The Dog and I is a collection of previously written columns and new material, all drawing on MacGregor's own experiences with his dogs. Dog owners will chuckle or nod with recognition over many of the stories. I had to smile over MacGregor's description of his dog Willow's fetch obsession. Yep, been there, done that. But, be prepared for some sadness. Personally, I have not yet run across a dog "memoir" that doesn't include the death of a beloved dog. If you are like me, keep tissues nearby when reading this. A wad may be sufficient; or you may need a box.

I thoroughly enjoyed MacGregor's discussion of the differences in how dogs live now, compared with 50ish years ago. This is something I often ponder myself. I wonder what my parents - born and raised in rural Saskatchewan at a time when electricity on farms was still a novelty - would think about Gabe's weekly swim at the canine pool, Archie's regular acupuncture treatments, and the homecooked food (with added natural supplements) both enjoy. Even more interesting is - how did we arrive at this point? What cultural shift precipitated this change in doggie lifestyles? I'm not sure MacGregor has the answer, but he is not above poking fun of his own forays into big box pet stores to pick up some salmon sushi dog treats.

The Dog and I is a great little book. Even though each chapter is essentially a short story, there is flow and continuity throughout (which is great, because I am generally not a fan of short stories). However, this format does work well if you are the kind of reader that goes in fits and starts - if you only have time for a few pages as you take public transit, wait in line, or squeeze in a few minutes of reading time before bed. If you take it to the beach or cottage, make sure you take a backup - this one will only take a couple of hours to get through. But, they're hours enjoyably spent.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dogs on Thursday

Audacious is my middle name ...

... stealing my mom's berries is my game.

I wanted some saskatoon berries for an ice cream topping, as part of a "harvest on the table" post for my gardening blog. *ahem* However, someone decided that the berries were very tasty. What's interesting is that Archie has never even tried a berry before. I've offered him many over the years.

Gabe, however, is a whole other ballgame. Gabe picks his own. Will try to get a suitable picture for another post.

PS: Please pretend you don't see my weeds!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sultan of the Shade

While Archie is happily baking in the sun, Gabe and I retreat to the shade. If it starts to feel a bit cool, we may stick an appendage - such as a nose - out, but just a little bit. It's a whole new meaning to Snoopy's "Joe Cool."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sultan of the Sun

Archie is my heat baby. He will seek out the hottest, sunniest spot, so I gave him a little help over the weekend and set up a bed for him in the garden. Don't worry - he gets tossed in the pool every once in awhile by yours truly, to cool him off a bit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A dog and his ball

At Archie's first physio appointment, the physiotherapist (Theresa from Canine Reb) taught me massage techniques and showed me stretching exercises to do with Archie. She also asked me to buy a large exercise ball for our next appointment. That's all she told me. I had no idea what to expect.

Archie has always been crazy about any game that involves a tennis ball, but I wasn't sure how he would feel about this one!

I inflated the ball a few weeks before our next physio appointment, so that Archie could get used to seeing it in the house. When Theresa arrived for the second appointment, she showed us what to do.

I am supposed to sit on the sofa with the ball between my legs and get Archie on top of the ball, coaxing him on with treats. Once he is comfortable on the ball, the goal is to get him to stretch by reaching for a treat. The balancing and the stretching combined will improve his core strength. Another "exercise" I can do with Archie is to get him on the ball and then rock it back and forth. Again, the balancing should work his core. Theresa told me to do this 3-4 times a week; on his "off days" we are supposed to do his regular stretching exercises, which are basically the same sans ball.

So, how is it going? Really, amazingly well. I am surprised because Archie's always been somewhat of a scaredy-cat, and new physical objects as well as new experiences are generally cause for alarm. Not this time! Theresa was able to get him on top of the ball in minutes, and each time I've tried this by myself with Archie, things have gone just swimmingly. He actually gets excited when I get the ball out ... instead of getting on the couch first and then onto the ball, he hops right onto the ball. He stands on the ball, balancing like a little seal, reaching for treats like nobody's business. He loves it. We've been doing the ball exercises everyday instead of 3-4 times/week. Hope that's okay - it's so much fun!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gabe n Arch on!

We are celebrating here at Gabe n Arch today.

I opened my "Daily Mutts" this morning and caught the words "Gabe n Arch" in the body of the email. I was momentarily disoriented. Did I accidentally flip to a different email? Did I not read correctly?

Nope, there is was, plain as day. published an excerpt from the review I wrote of Patrick McDonnell's The Gift of Nothing. In the email, below the daily strip, it said: "Gabe n Arch: The Beagle Boys Review MUTTS Books We couldn't resist posting this great review from the Beagle Boys (pictured above). From the review: I am not particularly ... MORE >>>"

How exciting! I had to share the news so I forwarded the email to Chloe, my long-time friend and coworker. Chloe is pretty web-savvy and was most likely to understand the blogging-about-another-blog concept (as compared to, say, Maxine). I ran to Chloe's office, which is in a different building. Yes, I ran through the student reception area and past all the administrative people in their pods. I ran carefully, wearing my clunky thick-soled Skechers flip flops. I arrived breathless and unable to speak coherently. Unfortunately, I also somehow messed up on forwarding the email, so I ran back, past all the students and administrative people, re-sent the email, and yes ran back again, clunking my way past people too polite to stare.

Hours later, I am still beaming. I admire Patrick McDonnell for his work with promoting shelter adoptions; and I do very much enjoy Mutts the comic strip as well as his books. It was an awesome surprise.

It just made my day :-)

Maxine and Jane later visited my office and started joking about how Gabe and Arch are superstars. Arch in the Beagle Paws calendar; Gabe n Arch on They suggested a line of "Gabe n Arch" merch. I think we'll start with the whole cabana boy joke Gabe's swim instructor and I have - tiki water bowls with little umbrellas, inflatable rafts patterned with dogs in Hawaiian swim shorts, Hawaiian swim shorts, doggie flip flops, and an inflatable palm tree (aka restroom facility).

Happy day!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Homecooked dog food - the Gabe n Arch way

There are a lot of different options out there when it comes to feeding your dogs. What works for us may or may not work for you. I feed Gabe and Archie a homecooked diet for a number of reasons:

(1) - It's extremely difficult to find processed dog food that Archie is not allergic to. To my knowledge, the only things Archie is NOT allergic to are beef, bison, vegetables, fruit, and dairy.

(2) - Our vet recommended homecooked (even though she advocates for BARF and sells BARF products at her clinic).

(3) - I am more comfortable handling homecooked than I am handling the raw food in the BARF diet plus I've read a lot about BARF and I'm not convinced it's the way to go.

(4) - I like having control over what my dogs eat, especially following the dog food scandals in 2007.

When I was researching homecooked diets, I found one recommended by Stanley Coren, a psychologist at UBC who specializes in dog behaviour. I am a big fan of Dr. Coren's and when I ran his recipe by my vet, she gave us the green light.

However, we had to make modifications to the recipe due to Archie's allergies. The biggest change is that there are no carbs in my food. Based on what I've read, I actually think no carbs (or low carbs) is the way to go with dog food. Dogs in the wild would eat few carbs, mostly in the form fruits, and most likely would never eat grains or potatoes. (If you're questioning whether wild dogs would eat fruits, I'll let Gabe answer that - he forages for berries in my yard, happily consuming all the raspberries and saskatoon berries he can reach.)

Our basic "recipe" is 1lb cooked meat to 1-1/2lb uncooked vegetables.

Each week I make a batch of dog food that contains:

6lb cooked ground beef
9lb uncooked veggies
apprx. 1 tsp salt
2 c beef broth

I was a Canadian school child in the 1980s, when our government switched us over from Imperial measurements to metric. I am one of those people who put x litres of gas in her car to travel y miles; and I buy my fabric in metres but sew with 1/4" or 5/8" seams. Please excuse me for using both metric and Imperial measurements - I think most Canadians reading this will understand. The rest of you, feel free to convert where necessary :-D

You will need 5-6 kg of raw hamburger to get about 6lb of cooked hamburger. It will be closer to 5kg of lean beef; and closer to 6kg of regular ground.

As far as vegetables go, I've tried a lot of different ones, and now I almost always use: precut coleslaw mix, celery, parsnips, and zucchini. Everything is fast and easy to wash and cut up. I don't peel the parsnips or zuchinni. The zucchini is from my garden - in season, I use unpeeled fresh zucchini; the rest of the year it is frozen. If my veggies don't quite add up to 9lb, I'll throw in whatever I can find in the fridge or freezer that is safe for dogs. If you are considering using a homecooked diet or if you just want to feed your dogs more vegetables, please research which ones may be hazardous to your dogs.

I start by breaking up the raw ground beef and placing it in a large roaster. Once that's done, I chop up 2-3 cloves of garlic and sprinkle that on top. Garlic in large quantities is bad for dogs, but they love the smell of it, so I always put just a little bit in. I also sprinkle on about 1 tsp of salt (on my vet's recommendation).

Cook the beef at 350F for about 3 hours. When it's done, the beef will have settled a bit, so that it looks a bit like a large meatloaf.

I break the "meatloaf" into about 6 pieces with a spatula, and then lift each piece out, making it easy to discard the fat.

I mash the drained hamburger well, measure out the 6lb, and refrigerate until it's needed again (in about 2 hours).

Once the hamburger is done, I wash out the roaster and chop up the veggies. I don't add any spices to the veggies, but I do add about 2 cups of beef broth, which I make ahead of time and freeze. The veggies will cook better with some liquid. I use beef broth for flavour and because Archie is not allergic to it. You could mix up some Oxo/bullion cubes in 2 cups of water; or if you think your dog is okay with bland food, just add 2 cups of water.

The veggies will need to cook at 350F for 2 hours. Once you get the hang of this, you can adjust the temperature to suit your time requirements. If you're leaving the veggies to cook while you run out to do errands, you could bake them at 300F for 3 hours instead. Or, if you're in a hurry, you could do them for an hour and a half at 400F. Whatever works for you.

When the veggies are done cooking, I always check to see how much liquid is at the bottom of the roaster. This is "guess by golly" - you do want some liquid because it will make the veggies easier to mash. But, you don't want too much liquid or the food will be too soupy. Even though I use the same veggies all the time, and always 2 cups of beef broth, you can never gauge how much liquid you will end up with.

I mash my veggies because Archie used to pick them out and just eat the meat. I think he probably wouldn't do that anymore, but I still mash. If you think your dog will eat veggies (eg there is no question in my mind that Gabe will eat them in any shape or form), then you can skip the mashing.

Add the cooled ground beef and mix everything together well. At this point, I put the mixed hamburger and veggies back in the oven for another hour. It's probably not necessary, but I like to believe the veggies get more flavourful from cooking with the beef for awhile.

A batch of this size feeds two moderately active medium-sized dogs for 10 days. Gabe eats 380g/day and Archie eats 310g/day. I usually put about 3/4 of the batch in the fridge and freeze the rest. Every couple of months, I can take a weekend off from making food.

Our vet says that the only thing our food is missing is calcium, so on her recommendation, I add a bone meal tablet (550mg) to each breakfast and supper. You can purchase bone meal tabs at most health food stores.

When I started doing this I thought there was no way I could make homecooked food once a week for the next 12-15 years. It seemed like a crazy amount of work. Within a few months, it became part of my routine and it's easier now. I learned things that make it go more smoothly for me, like:

(1) - I go for groceries Friday after work. As soon as I get home I put the hamburger to cook. The hamburger finishes Friday night and then I finish everything else on Saturday. This way I'm not tied to the oven all day on Saturday.

(2) - Pick your veggies carefully. The precut coleslaw mix costs a bit more than a head of cabbage, but saves a lot of time. Most veggies (excepting potatoes) do not need to be peeled.

(3) - Drain the hamburger first (by lifting it out of the roaster with a spatula or slotted spoon) and THEN mash. Don't mash first - it will take a long time to drain 6lb of hamburger in a colander.

(4) - If you have access to a second oven or a very large slow cooker, you can cook the hamburger and the veggies at the same time. I actually have a huge slow cooker (a
BBQ Pit) that fits 6kg of raw hamburger. There's a lot of cleanup to do all at once when you do it that way, though, so I only use the BBQ Pit when I'm short of time.

(5) - If you wanted to, there's no reason why you couldn't do up and freeze a huge batch of food all at once, so that it lasts weeks or months at a time. When I know ahead of time that I not be able to make food one weekend, I usually make a 9lb meat/13-1/2lb veggie batch for the 2-3 weeks preceeding.

Remember that you can use any meat or vegetables that you like; and that adding carbs will be a money saver. Dr. Coren's recipe recommends equal parts of meat/veg/carbs in weight, so if you use 6lb of beef, you can cut back on your veggies; and you can add 6lb of bread/noodles/rice/cereal(like porridge), which will end up stretching your batch of food further than ours goes.

And on that note: The ingredients I used this weekend cost $34.70 CAD.

Monday, July 6, 2009

John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge 3

John Mutford has posited a challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog: Take part in his Canadian Book Challenge 3 by reading and reviewing 13 Canadian books between 1 July 2009 and 1 July 2010. That should be easy enough; but since this is a blog about dogs I'm going to set a theme for myself: 13 books about dogs. I would see a lot of Stanley Coren in my future, except I have already read most of his books. Hmmm .... thankfully the author of the Stanley books (Stanley's Party, Stanley's Beauty Contest, Stanley's Wild Ride, etc.) is Canadian. Whew! That should cover about a third of my 13. And then of course there is Farley Mowat's The Dog Who Wouldn't Be.

Got any suggestions for me?