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

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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)

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