The Pet Set
People may be cutting back on dinners out these days, but some dogs are living high off the hog.
By Leslie Bilderback 09/01/2012
In this economy, jobs are hard to come by, even in the food service industry. One popular solution is to forgo the preparation of human food and put that expensive culinary training to use cooking for pets. That’s right. Americans can’t afford to eat out, but we’ll spend our hard-earned cash on gourmet treats for Fluffy.
Small pet-food businesses are popping up all over the place, with surprisingly successful results. I suppose it was only a matter of time, as pets have become the accessory du jour. A purse just isn’t a purse without a small furry head sticking out of it. Pets are suddenly acceptable everywhere. I recently encountered a lap dog at the theater… in the audience…during a performance! (And no, it was not a service dog. I checked.) My neighborhood grocery store has a doggie water station out front, and many restaurants now allow dogs in their outdoor patio sections. It is only a matter of time until restaurants offer doggie menus. Oh, wait, they already do. In Edmonds, Washington, The Dining Dog Café offers a full menu for dogs, including cocktails, appetizers, entrées, desserts and, by special order, birthday cakes and cupcake trays.
I have trouble wrapping my head around this, as I have seen the things my dogs happily eat, and much of it requires no preparation whatsoever. (Nor is it bought in a store.) They are hardly discriminating.
And yet, gourmet food for Fido is sweeping the nation. I know plenty of bakers and chefs who have entered the lucrative niche market of pet food. One friend worked out a deal with his restaurant’s owner to use the equipment after hours for schmancy dog biscuits, which sell like gangbusters at Christmas. Two of my former students opted out of pastry chef jobs in favor of the Three Dog Bakery, a business that I thought was doomed to fail. I am happy to report that I could have hardly been more wrong; they are going strong in Old Pasadena, the L.A. Farmers Market and more than 20 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Another pair of chefs started Two Brown Dogs Gourmet, making all-natural doggie meatballs out of chicken, beef and pork with brown rice, oats and seasonal vegetables, for a growing customer base of discriminating panting palates. (You can order them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
There is nothing wrong with good food for animals. I love giving my pets tasty treats, and they love getting them. There is something a bit off, however, with treating your pet like a person. That America cares more about its pets than its kids is clear to anyone with retired parents. They’re among a growing sector of society that looks to animals for the social and emotional support that, generations ago, was provided by close-knit families and caring neighbors. This shift in family dynamic has boosted pet pampering into a $45 billion--per-year industry. Today you can buy doggy raincoats, boots, ball gowns, tuxedos and perfume. Dog TV is a real network devoted to entertaining your dog while you are at work. Pets no longer stay at a kennel but luxuriate at pet hotels, which offer raised beds, fish tanks for cats and a “bone booth” for receiving calls from human owners. To ease anxiety, there are pet psychotherapists, puppy Prozac and Neuticles—$900 testicular implants to restore your dog’s dignity.
If only we could channel all that time, energy and money into the education system.
It’s not that I am anti-pet. I have owned pets my whole life. My first dog was named Pup-Pup (which I owned as a child, when I lived on Wunderlich Drive—giving me, as you can see, the world's best porn name*). I’ve had rabbits (one named Shoey, which I named after a pair of shoes), several cats (two of which were named C’mon and Cherry, which made calling them in fast and easy) and guinea pigs that preferred eating each other to eating their guinea pig chow. In the back corner of our yard is a hamster shoebox graveyard that rivals Forest Lawn.
Currently we have two dogs, and while I love them, I consider them dogs, not “fur babies” (the insidious term being bandied about lately). They were rescued and added to our family as watchdogs, not siblings for the kids. They do a job and, in return, I feed them, give them water and pet them every night. They do not share our bed or wear Halloween costumes. I know this viewpoint is unpopular, but I subscribe to the opinion that animals are not people. We’ve domesticated them already, and I put forth that dressing them like people and bringing them to the dinner table is perhaps a step too far. I doubt the puppy purse set would accept it if the tables were turned, and they were forced to be led around on a leash. If you care so much about your pets, why not consider their doggy dignity? Besides, I see a contradiction in people who dress their dogs like children but have no problem eating other animals and tolerating their abuse. (I’m talking to you, foie gras hoarders.)
I’m just going to respectfully bide my time, because sooner or later, someone will figure out how to make them talk, and then humans will end up as the pets.
*To determine your own porn name, combine the names of your first pet and the first street you lived on.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. A South Pasadena resident, she teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.