Dan Rattiner's Stories

Thank You, Ina Garten: How to Keep Your Dog Happy, Eager and Eating Well

Dan shares his dog feeding ritual and Bella's reactions.

This is our little dog. It’s a she. Polite. Dainty. The Emily Post of good manners and proper decorum.

She’s a rescue. She is tan and white, has a King Charles face, terrier ears, furry pantaloon legs at the back and a big bushy straight-up tail that says Papillon.

At meal times, she likes to eat soft and hard dog food, mixed. She also has to take pills. She gets three at each mealtime, disguised inside a soft treat. She tells you, by 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., that it’s mealtime by sitting five feet from you facing you and swishing her tail and looking up into your eyes with a look of happy yearning. I place the food in a bowl and slide the bowl on the floor near her. Sometimes she sniffs it and eats. Or sometimes she goes over, sniffs and walks away. She will never return to a prepared meal that has been sniffed at that one time. You have to throw it away.

The other morning, I turned to the Food Network and watched East Hampton’s Ina Garten on her Barefoot Contessa cooking show. She stood behind a counter with stuff on it and piece-by-piece created a fine breakfast bun with raisins and almonds and honey. Bella—the dog, for that is her name—curled up on the floor near to me asleep.

I looked at my watch. Then I got up, which woke her up, and observed her getting into her full sitting position where she could exhibit her stare of happy yearning.

“Brunch,” I shouted.

I walked into the kitchen, took out a big pot and banged at it with a wooden spoon. Bella sat and began swishing her tail. I got behind our wooden counter.

“First, out of the fridge, we get the plastic container containing the soft smelly chicken stew.” I held up the container. She licked her chops.

“Now I take your two bowls off the floor, fill one with fresh cold water from the sink. There. Now it’s back on the floor. As for the other, I set it here in front of me to make your meal.”

Dan Rattiner's dog Bella on the couch
Bella on the couch, Photo: Dan Rattiner

I open a counter drawer.

“We put away the pot and wooden spoon. Too big for what we have in mind. And we take out this salad fork. A regular fork would do, but I prefer the salad fork.”

I show it to her, then set it down and go to the pantry.

“And here is your big bag of hard dog food. It’s been zip-locked tight at the top to keep it fresh.”

I thump it on the counter.

“Now it’s back to the fridge for the bag of shredded cheese.”

I get the shredded cheese and set it down. “This morning, mild cheddar.”

I turn around, and from a shelf behind me, bring down this little basket containing a vial of her pills and the package called “Pill Pockets,” which are soft marble sized dog treats to push the pills into. The basket is plopped on the counter. I rub my hands together, hold them up to show there is nothing up my sleeves. She wags furiously.

“So here we go,” I say. “First, I take this metal scoop in the hard dog food bag, fill it three-quarters full and shake a sprinkling of the hard dog food into the food bowl. Hear it tinkle? Now, with the salad fork, I scoop out a little wet dog food from the plastic container, not too much, there we are, and I plop it down on the hard food and mush it all around with the fork. Just a little mushing, though. Want each bite to be slightly different from the one you took before. Variety is the spice of life.”

Another licking of chops and wagging of tail.

“Now comes the best part. I take out three of the little pockets. Boy, are they smelly good, I must say. I shove a pill into each, squeeze them closed like this so you can’t see the pills, and then I reach into the shredded cheese bag and bring out a pinch to smush atop each of the three pockets. The frosting. There, now one, two, the other and into the bowl. And voila!” I hold the bowl up high. She follows it with her eyes. And now I bend down with it and slide it over to next to the water.

“Bon appetite!!” I shout.

And then, she waits. She’s waiting for me to tiptoe away backwards. Only when I am a full two feet away will she rush in and make the decisive first sniff. And I have to back away further. If I step forward, she stops. So, I continue to back out and have to pretend not to watch her. She’s going at it. Tail wagging furiously.

Thank you, Ina.

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