A right dog’s dinner
When food writer Debora Robertson confessed to cooking for her dog, she didn’t expect to find that she wasn’t alone
Debora Robertson finds she’s not alone in cooking dinners for her dog
One of my favourite family stories is about my Great Uncle Jos. He kept fancy hens and rabbits of which he was inordinately proud. When he began to court my Great Aunt Dolly, he took her to see these precious creatures and encouraged her to pick her favourite rabbit. Weeks later, he presented her with a beautiful box tied with satin ribbon and inside was a pair of gloves trimmed with Favourite Rabbit. He was one of the great northern romantics.
I sometimes wonder what he would make of my London neighbour taking her hen to the vet because it seemed ‘not quite herself’. This hen lives in a fuchsia-and-chartreuse £500 eglu chicken coop. Fancy hens, indeed.
I sometimes wonder this while standing at the stove, lovingly stirring lamb-andlentil stew for my border terrier, Barney. I grew up in a small market town in Co Durham where, if dogs weren’t quite seen and not heard, they were adored but not indulged. They ate leftovers from the table, tripe from the butcher’s, weren’t allowed on the furniture (although we children did sneak them into our beds) and the greatest compliment you could pay somebody was that they had their dogs ‘at a word’.
When I got my first dog as an adult, I expected to create the same relationship with him as I had with childhood dogs. At our first puppy class, a woman fed her dog homemade organic liver treats and— muffling a laugh—i instructed my husband not to let me turn into that person. And yet, 10 years later, as I write this, Barney sleeps on a fine tweed blanket on his favourite armchair, making those sharp, sleepy yelps, his feet peddling away, dream-chasing squirrels or skateboards. A jar of homemade oatmealand-banana dog biscuits sits on my desk.
I see now that dog biscuits are the gateway snack. You begin by rustling up a tray of peanut-butter bites and, before you know it, you’re hand-feeding your dog turkey-andquinoa (Uncle Jos, if you’re up there, it’s pronounced keen-wa) balls as you mentally run through his menu for the week.
I confess I now cook for Barney a lot, but then I cook for almost everyone who comes into my orbit. If I’m going to bake a cake to send to my husband’s office, some cookies to thank our neighbours for lending us their hedge trimmer or a tray of lasagne for the friend who’s having a bad day, then it’s a very
‘I cook for Barney a lot, but I cook for everyone who comes into my orbit’
short leap to creating something special for Barney, my constant companion, patient friend, keeper of secrets, cheerleader and conscience.
Recently, I decided to come clean about cooking for my dog. I wrote about it for the Daily Telegraph, slightly holding my breath as even I think it’s a little ridiculous. Then, a surprising thing happened. I was inundated with emails, tweets and letters from readers who do the same, relieved to share their embarrassment along with their favourite recipes.
Shortly after the piece appeared, smart cookware shop Divertimenti asked me to teach a class on cooking for your dog. A publisher invited me to write a recipe book. A magazine called to ask if Barney would like to review the latest gourmet dog treats.
And it’s not just me. Around the country, restaurants and pubs are not only welcoming dogs, but are introducing special menus for them, too. In London, the M Victoria Street restaurant offers a ‘six-leg menu’– a two-course Sunday brunch for you and your canine companion. Once a month, the chef also hosts a masterclass in cooking for your dog.
In America, the latest trend is for food trucks serving healthy dog treats. One of them, Fido To Go, describes itself as ‘Chicago and San Diego’s premier gormutt food truck’.
Evidently, we adore our dogs so much that many of us will go to embarrassing lengths to make them happy. In truth, however, the way I feed Barney now is an extension of ‘scraps from the table’. Those turkey-andquinoa balls? I make a salt-free batch for the dog at the same time as making seasoned ones for the rest of us. Barney’s salt- and onionfree stocks and stews are easy adaptations of our everyday dinners. His carrot-andoatmeal biscuits, cut into rounds instead of bone shapes, are delicious with cheese.
Not only is it healthy, it’s pretty thrifty, too —and that, at least, is something Uncle Jos would have admired.
Facing page: Barney supervises the newest batch of Debora’s biscuits. Above: Cecil Aldin’s For What We Are About to Receive (1929)