Moving away from WordPress

Going forward, I will be blogging directly from the (just newly refurbished) website, rather than using WordPress.  WordPress has been very good to me, to be sure.  But I’ve noticed lately that ads are appearing on the WordPress page with ads for the very foods that I’ve spent years trying to persuade folks not to feed.  It’s giving me the creeps.

Besides, it’s much more convenient now to have everything right on the website.  I’ll keep this blog activated for a few more weeks, then I’ll shut it down.  From now on, please visit the blog here.

Remembering Shelby Gomas

A little under two months ago, word reached me that Shelby Gomas – the founder of Feline’s Pride – passed away. I’ve wanted to write something, say something, for the longest time, but I’ve been without words.

The words came, clumsily, this morning, when my husband and I were making cat food and we ran out of enough glass jars to put the food in. We looked at each other and agreed, “Yup, we’re going to have to use the Shelby containers.”

The Shelby containers. Shorthand for the square plastic storage boxes we’d accumulated dozens of over the years from purchases of Feline’s Pride food – known affectionately in our house as “Uncle Shlebee’s food.” (Long story.)

When I went into the basement pantry to retrieve them, I spied the tall stack of plastic containers that had once protected pound after pound of frozen, healthy, magnificent raw food I’d gladly fed our critters. My heart sunk a little knowing I couldn’t email Shelby and share my goofy little story about how he’d come to mind this cold January day. He’d have laughed if I’d written, “Hey Shelby! When I see stacks of petroleum-based food storage units, I think of you!”

Shelby hatched the idea of Feline’s Pride a few years back after I ran into him on the Feline IBD Yahoo e-group. He’d seen firsthand how a carefully prepared, correctly served raw meat based diet was the healthiest thing for carnivores and launched his company, selling about the only pre-made raw cat food I ever felt comfortable buying. Shelby “got it” about what was truly appropriate for carnivores, and didn’t fall prey to the common folly that other raw cat food manufacturers did – which was to toss in all kinds of healthy-sounding – but entirely species-inappropriate – ingredients like blueberries and flax seed and potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to see more companies elbowing their way into the business of making healthy, fresh, cat food. But I will always hold out immense respect for those that shy away from adding what amounts to filler – under the anthropomorphic fantasy that what’s very healthy for humans is appropriate for small cats – even though it’s tempting and easy to market such formulas.

Shelby was special. He was very funny. He adored his animals. And he saw every cat who ate the food he made as an adoptee.

Having been a homemade cat food advocate for a long time, I never felt comfortable serving any food I hadn’t made myself. But when Feline’s Pride came along, I started supplementing the food I made with orders from Shelby. Anyone who knows me – and what a fussbudget I am about what goes into my cat’s food and my innate suspicion about anything anyone else prepares – knows that I must have had a very high degree of trust to serve someone else’s food.

The cardboard boxes with the food inside almost invariably arrived with special gifts for the cats — homemade catnip toys and sometimes even a personal note of affection for Duke and Nettie. For about a year there, I found myself getting ‘lazy’ and just buying Feline’s Pride. I put my grinder away, and was frankly grateful as life and my job got more busy that I was able to buy and confidently serve cat food that was as good as anything I could make at home.

I went back to making my own food all of the time in the middle of 2010, in part because – frankly – I missed doing it. And because after losing Duke earlier in the year, I wanted to return to the labor of love that began because of Duke.

It’s staggering to think of how much love-charged water has passed under the bridge since a handful of us first started waking up to the the importance of reexamining the whole paradigm of feeding small cats. The founder and moderator of the Feline IBD e-group, Lee Ellis, started her own pet sitting service, and continues to share the word with her clients about the benefits and wisdom of a healthy diet. One of the godmothers of raw feeding, my first mentor, Michelle Bernard, has taken her knowledge and insight on healthy feeding for cats and become a vigorous advocate for healthy raw diets for her beloved dogs.

Natascha Wille of the Raw Meat Cat Food Company (formerly Feline Future) remains, after over 15 years, an articulate and insightful advocate for raw feeding. Then there’s wonderful Margaret Gates, who launched an amazing movement and site with the Feline Nutrition Education Society – and some of the best ‘educational commercials’ online sharing the important message about raw feeding – without ever getting preachy or so weird no one will watch. It’s an amazing site.

And Dr. Lisa Pierson – who I am honored to count as a friend – has a recently revamped website on cat care that knocks it out of the ballpark when it comes to one-stop shopping for thoughtful, sound, advice on every aspect of cat health, including nutrition.

Then? Then there was Shelby. An upstart if there ever was one. His vision and passion – much more than his business sense (I’m guessing) – were what kept him going, but bless him for that. He always put cats first. And talk about someone with a heart always in the right place.

Thank you, Shelby, for making such a difference when you were here. Thank you for all the meals that my cats enjoyed because you made them when I was too busy. Thank you for sharing your deep passion and love for our animal companions. If I had a hat on just now, I’d “doff it” to you.

You’re missed.

You were appreciated.

And there are many cats thriving and well today because of your dedication.

For all that, we are ever grateful.

Please learn from my mistake

We nearly lost Nettie this week.

Now that I’ve calmed down sufficiently, I’m following through on the suggestion of a dear friend who suggested I share the lesson from our story in the hope that it might spare someone else from going through what we did.

While enjoying some pleasant early fall weather out on our screened-in porch with Nettie, who so covets her time out in the fresh air monitoring the bird and squirrel action, she suddenly started “mouth-breathing” and gasping for air. She’s had some slight asthmatic tendencies in recent years, but nothing alarming. And certainly she had never exhibited anything like this before. Within a minute, it was clear this wasn’t passing. She continued to mouth-breathe, interrupting that every 15 seconds or so with what sounded like a howl of agony. She appeared to be suffocating.

After rushing her in to the vet, she was whisked away immediately to get oxygen therapy, blood work, and x-rays.

I sat in stunned silence in the waiting room. Forty agonizing minutes later, the vet reported that while it was difficult to know with absolute certainty what had happened, the two most likely scenarios were either an acute asthma attack or a blood clot in her lung. Radiographs showed that the middle lobe of her right lung was collapsed, although there was no way of knowing with certainty if that was a new development or something she’d had for awhile that went undetected time. The collapsed lung was consistent with both scenarios.

Over the next hour, as we tried to sleuth our way through the mystery, I was asked repeatedly if there was any chance she’d “gotten into” anything. I was adamant that she had not. No, I said, there was nothing that she could have gotten into. I am a zealot about what I introduce into the environment in our house – everything from floor and window cleaners to what I use to clean the litter box is scrutinized to make sure that anything she might get on her paws or her fur is cat safe.

We faced two awful options: a) presume it’s a blood clot and euthanize her; b) presume that it’s a severe asthma attack that she might recover from but, given her suddenly deteriorated and precarious state, first subject her to a one- to two-day hospital stay where she would undergo extensive diagnostics to see if they could figure out what was happening.

Obviously, option A was awful. But I wasn’t crazy about option B either. It’s wrenching to think of leaving a beloved animal alone and frightened and confused in a strange place – but particularly wrenching when you think that this might well be the way your beloved, loyal, furry friend spends her last days.

We went to her. She was laying on her side, her head in the oxygen mask, a catheter in her leg, looking like she was most certainly dying. It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. We made the decision to euthanize and while the vet went to retrieve the paperwork, we stroked her, we told her how much she was cherished and loved, and tried mightily to come to grips with the idea that this amazing creature wouldn’t be coming home with us. How could it be that at 2 pm we were enjoying the shade of the porch with her and at 4 pm we were saying goodbye?

Just when it seemed things were at their lowest, about 30 seconds before the vet came back in the room? Nettie pulled her head out of the oxygen mask, opened her eyes, and began to look mighty fine.

Err, what?

She meowed at me. She began to lick her paws and groom her face. The look on her face said, “Hey! What’s going on here? This is new.

The vet came in and was pleasantly taken aback at what she saw. “This girl is really perking up!” she said, surprised as we were. My mind was racing and grasping for any explanation that made sense; I was trying to figure out if there was any possible cause for this very sudden and strange eruption of symptoms.

I recalled the question first asked when I brought her in: “Did you bring anything into the house that she could have gotten into?

No!” I’d insisted.

And then? Looking at Nettie, I suddenly remembered. Only the day before, we’d had brand new indoor/outdoor carpeting installed on the screened in porch.

The “new carpet smell” from that carpet was so strong that I remember thinking for a microsecond, “Wow, this is a mighty powerful new carpet smell coming off of something in a room surrounded on three sides by screens!” But I didn’t gave that passing observation so much as a second thought. I was busy. And hey, everyone knows “new carpet smell” is normal. It certainly didn’t occur to me that there might be a problem letting Nettie hang out there for nearly 24 hours sleeping on it, her nose half an inch away from it.

Well, I got new carpeting installed on our porch yesterday . . . and the off-gases seemed mighty strong.”

As soon as I said it out loud? I wanted to kick myself.

Nettie’s breathing relaxed. Her heartbeat returned to normal. And we asked the vet, “Do we HAVE to take her to a hospital now if we don’t euthanize her? Couldn’t we just take her home?

The vet said that seeing her now, she had no objections to us taking her home. We’d put her on a short course of steroids to make sure the inflammation triggered by the attack was calmed down, and then see if we needed to continue with those. If she went back into crisis, I knew I had the option of rushing her off again.

While it’s impossible to know with certainty, it would seem that Nettie had an acute, horrible reaction to the new carpet.

So? We brought her home. She ate dinner. She’s on corticosteroid therapy for the moment. But our girl is home.

In the meantime, I did a little digging. And here’s what I learned: new carpeting is full of volatile compounds. The fibers are laced with all manner of chemicals that ‘off-gas’ when the carpet is first unrolled and installed: benzene, flame retardants, and pesticides, just for starters. One of the most potent sources of ‘indoor air pollution syndrome’ is carpeting. The smaller the person/being, the more concentrated the chemical overload in their bodies – and among the top ensuing effects? Asthma. The closer to the carpet the nose is, the higher the concentration in the body of off-gas chemicals.

And I was letting her lay on that for a whole day.

One source I found online cited a claim that said that if you put a small bird in a room that’s just had brand new carpeting installed, the bird is dead in 24-48 hours.

There are steps you can take to mitigate the problem, I learned: expose the carpet to fresh, moving, air for at least 72 hours before spending any time in proximity to the new carpet; apply something called a “toxin sealant” made for carpets (the most promising one one I’ve found so far is called “Safe Choice“) which you use in a two step process. Step one is a nontoxic carpet cleaner. Then that’s followed up with a nontoxic sealant that seals off the toxins and prevents further ‘out-gas’ of the volatile compounds. I’m waiting for my order to arrive and will apply it as soon as it comes.

In the meantime, Nettie – who I’m delighted and relieved report is doing very well – currently gets no access to the porch.

If I had it to do over again? I would have researched safe options for a floor covering for the porch. Or if I’d decided to put that carpet out there, I would have kept Nettie away from it for at least a week and treated it with a toxin/off-gas sealant before anyone went near it.

So? Learn from my mistake. Please be very mindful of what you bring into your and your cat’s environment. It’s troubling that we can’t do something as seemingly simple as get some new carpeting or buy a new mattress without having to first get educated on the arsenal of toxic chemicals they’re potentially laced with. But we do.

We are counting our blessings that Nettie came through this and are cautiously optimistic that she will heal.

Don’t let one of your cat’s nine lives get gobbled up by something as stupid as new carpeting.

Duke: 1994-2010

Four days ago, with the help of one of the most amazing and compassionate human beings I’ve ever known —  our vet —  I faced the wrenching, but loving, task of easing my most beloved Duke out of his failing body.  Aside from being one of the biggest loves of my life, it was Duke’s struggle with Inflammatory Bowel Disease over a decade ago that set me on the path to discovering the wisdom and curative powers of home-prepared raw food for cats.  The raw diet cured Duke’s IBD and was the catalyst for the website and my own passion for feline nutrition.

Without Duke, would never have come to pass.

Duke was doing so beautifully until a few weeks ago. He suddenly began dropping weight and losing his notoriously strong appetite. The diagnostics were inconclusive (healthy kidneys, clean bloodwork, clean urinalysis) but the best guess is that that he had some kind of cancer, perhaps of the liver.

Until last Monday morning, he remained as lively and engaged as an underweight, sick cat could be – still seeking out lap time, sitting with me watching the snow fall, and making regular short Cat Patrol trips around the house.  He was the essence of fearlessness and peace.  He had no appetite, but he was clearly not uncomfortable or in pain. Love and the homeopathic remedy he had over a week ago helped Duke glide through the transition of his last weeks.  I was a mess, but Duke was still Duke. Absolutely undiminished in spirit.

His exit was smooth.  I felt his spirit growing and expanding, then flying, big and free.

He left this earth space much better loved –  and its cats much better fed — than he found it. He was my most important teacher on cat nutrition but he was also my daily morning meditation lap buddy, a tremendously loyal friend for nearly 16 years, and a gentle spirit.  He was the easiest imaginable cat to live with, and still his presence loomed large.  It feels like a lot more than one orange-marmalade cat is missing from our home.

The Duke abides.

We miss that beautiful furry marmalade-orange body gracing our home so much that it’s staggering.  His adopted sister, Nettie, is keeping a close eye on us; like me, she keeps being caught off guard and looking around the house expecting to see that handsome fellow with the amber eyes come around the corner.

Love, however, is an ongoing event; Duke was such a conspicuous expression of love while he was in a body and now, without the confines of form to hold him back, he’s good to go.  I sure as heck wish I’d have had lots more years with that form, but I’m profoundly grateful for the gifts he gave me.

Godspeed, Dukie-boy.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  We love you all the time.

The growing chorus of voices for sane feeding

I’m obviously not much of a devoted blogger, given that it’s been well over a year since I last posted.  There are a few very good-new items, however, that I’ve had the best of intentions about sharing for months now, so here goes.

On the cat nutrition front?  It’s been a year of progress. A passionate and devoted advocate for healthy feeding, Margaret Gates, launched an absolutely amazing and comprehensive website that I strongly urge anyone with a cat to spend plenty of quality time surfing.  The Feline Nutrition Education Society (FNES) website represents one of the most user-friendly, information-packed, and impressive efforts to bring together the collective wisdom on raw feeding I’ve ever seen.  I’m honored that Margaret includes me as one of the many voices of FNES, as it’s a true privilege to be associated with the chorus of voices that are dedicated to educating cat caregivers about the wisdom of feeding cats as carnivores.

Meanwhile, my good friends at PetSage, a holistic pet supply store in Alexandria, Virginia, continue bravely at the forefront of educating anyone who will listen about healthy feeding of companion animals.  Earlier this month, they sponsored a booth at the two-day National Capital Cat Show in Chantilly, Virginia – the classiest booth at the show – to highlight the latest in feline nutrition and well-being. Dr. Andrea Tasi, an amazing veterinarian and one of the most articulate spokespersons for healthy feeding, spent one of the days with the great PetSage staff at the booth talking to scores of cat show attendees about why she uses and recommends a carnivore diet for her own cats and the patients she tends to as part of her feline-only house call practice.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when PetSage asked me to participate in the second day of this event, offering a lay person’s perspective on carnivore nutrition and explaining how easy it really is these days to prepare a homemade raw diet or use one of the growing number of premade options on the market today.  I was astonished at the level of interest in raw feeding at the show and realized that slowly but surely, more and more devoted cat caregivers are coming around to seeing the common sense that underpins feeding cats as carnivores.  Kudos and thanks to the pioneers at PetSage for sponsoring the booth and spreading the word in such a positive, upbeat, and sensibly persuasive way to more and more people.

If you ever find yourself in Alexandria, Virginia, do yourself a favor and stop by PetSage.  It’s a beautiful, large store run by a staff consisting of some of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met.  Plus which, the store is home to three of the coolest cats ever- Dempsey, Ripken, and Diva.

Finally? Speaking of cool cats, Duke – the mascot and inspiration for – just celebrated his 15th birthday.  This handsome furry orange cat-man has eaten nothing but grain-free, vegetable-free raw food for a full decade and he’s going strong.  Attaboy Duke.  His adopted sister, Nettie the Wondercat, will turn 14 next month and I credit raw feeding, Dr. Tasi’s homepathy, and Nettie’s steadfast spirit to the health she enjoys.  She’s had her health challenges for the past 18 months, but the little upstart is sassy as ever and keeping all of us on our toes.

So? Hats off to FNES.  Buckets of praise and gratitude to the awesome founder and staff of PetSage.  Happy Birthday, Duke. Attagirl Nettie.

Happy birthday, Duke

Duke, the magnificent cat-beast who jump started my passion about feline nutrition, turned 14 years old this month. He’s eaten nothing but grain-free, vegetable-free raw food for a full eight years now. (Well, okay, he’s stolen some cooked chicken off our plates now and again.) His blooming good health is, to my mind, testimony to the ‘miracles’ that can happen when a carnivore eats like a carnivore. The first six years of his life were, for him, a struggle with cramping, diarrhea, and all of the misery that comes from inflammatory bowel disease. His story is discussed in more detail on my website, so I won’t belabor the details here. I’ll only say that seeing that happy, healthy, and energetic boy-cat running around our house and demanding and eating his meals with enthusiasm and gusto fills me with gratitude that I caught on when I did to feeding cats properly.

I get a lot of emails from people worried about taking the first steps toward raw feeding. I remember that same feeling of trepidation: “What am I doing? Am I going to kill my cat here?” Although I was lucky to have a handful of raw feeding mentors in my corner, it still felt like a risky proposition: to feed my beloved, already sick cat something that didn’t have a reassuring label indicating “nutritional completeness” on it.

Time, and results, shifted everything. My biggest concern now is running out of raw cat food and having to serve something that someone I don’t know has prepared. It’s been years since I’ve visited a pet supply store except to stock up on cat litter. And cringe as I walk by aisles of dry food.

And speaking of that, I made a recent, wonderful excursion with a friend to a local holistic pet supply store. It’s called Pet Sage. I’ve heard great things about this store for years, but since I’ve generally had little need for visiting places like that, I postponed a visit. Besides, I know myself, and I know how cranky I get walking around stores and seeing all kinds of ridiculous things for sale. I was, however, intrigued about a visit there given that the store had, courageously, opted to stop offering many of the dry foods it previously sold.

That’s huge! Honestly, my heart swelled to the size of South Dakota hearing that. And you should see the selection of amazing, truly healthy cat (and dog) foods they sell. What a relief to be able to walk into a store and see fresh food for cats and dogs in freezers rather than aisle after aisle of species-inappropriate meat-flavored cereal.

I left a retail store, for the first time in eight years, buying some food for my own cats. I picked up some Bravo ground rabbit and used it to make up a batch of food at home. To my surprise, since my cats have been distinctly disinterested in rabbit for some time, they dug in.

So? Happy birthday, Duke.

And eight paws up to Pet Sage. May you be the leading edge of a new trend.

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

Getting real about food safety squabbles

Big thanks to Rebekah, a website visitor, for the tip on a story from earlier this week about that big outbreak of salmonella that grabbed so much attention in 2006 and 2007.

Before I get to that, recall that for years, many of us opting for home-prepared raw meat diets for our cats and dogs listened to stern admonitions about the risks of raw feeding from a spectrum ranging from well-meaning veterinarians to less honorably-motivated marketers of many commercial pet foods. Given the presumably well-known risk to humans from eating raw meat, that’s a pretty easy sell: everyone knows that humans ingesting raw meat are taking a chance, especially given the grisly conditions at factory farms.

I recall vividly that in 2000, during an exchange with a leading figure at a major veterinary school about the value of feeding a raw diet to cats suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, an exasperating debate erupted between us about food safety. He indicated that no veterinary school could, in good conscience, implicitly or explicitly endorse raw feeding not only because of the risks posed to the animals from salmonella but because of the “very real risk to humans” handling the raw meat.

(It was never clear to me how humans handling raw meat intended for a cat’s consumption were at any higher risk than humans handling raw meat prior to cooking it for their own consumption. Not to be snarky, but I never suggested humans eat the raw food they were preparing for their cats, but okay.)

Implicit in this admonishment, I realized as I dove headfirst into the world of raw feeding, was the notion that commercial pet foods were somehow ‘safer.’ Free of dangerous pathogens. More sterile. Layer on top of that the strawman arguments about how homemade food has the ‘potential’ to be unbalanced (well, d’uh), and the be-really-wary-of-raw gang seemed to have their rationale all sewn up. “Stick with tested commercial formulas backed by years of quality research and it’s healthier for the animals and safer for humans.”

  • The massive pet food recall of 2007 quickly began to unravel the threads stitching up that rationale: There’s no need to belabor the details of that horrific episode here, except to remind readers that the Big Lie that big-name pet food companies exercise careful control over the ingredients that go into their products became harder to escape.

So what now?

The results of a just-released investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control, conducted jointly with the FDA, on the 2006-2007 salmonella outbreak in the US that sickened 70 people across the US, identified the source of these human infections.

Where did it come from?

Dry dog food.

Many have been quick to warn warn about the risk of feeding fresh meats that are stored in freezers but don’t think twice about selling bags of (potentially contaminated) dry food with no admonition about the real dangers associated with deadly bacterial overgrowth on those products. This latest CDC revelation notwithstanding, remember that the bacterial count on dry food can be very high and the danger of toxic levels of aflatoxin contaminating dry food is always present. Many dry pet foods are drenched in fatty flavor enhancers that provide an ideal medium for the growth of bacteria and fungus. And those bags of food are generally stored at room temperature and go unconsumed for weeks or months.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said on my website: No food you feed your cat is entirely without risk. Respect those risks and take steps to minimize them. It’s not that hard: use fresh meat from the highest quality source you can find, don’t leave it sitting out for ages, and don’t eat it yourself. Leave the raw meat eating to the obligate carnivores. Oh, and wash your hands for pete’s sake.

Whatever you do, don’t buy into the notion for a second that dry food is clean, pathogen-free, and therefore safer for you and your cat. Especially now.