Nearly eight years ago I adopted my first dog, Chesnee. When I adopted her she came along with a red martingale collar, a red four-foot nylon leash, and a small bag of Science Diet kibble. And off I went into the world not knowing much about dog behavior, training, or health and wellness. Chesnee was a few months under one year of age and already spayed. I suppose that is how all adopted dogs come.
I was working for Harley-Davidson at the time and met the owner of a "natural" health and wellness pet store when they approached us to do a poker run. I guess this was my first experience with broadening my horizons when it came to dog food. Once I finished my bag of free Science Diet I switched Chesnee onto Instinct kibble. Supposedly it was better.
Honestly, I really did not care much about dog food. When I put the dog bowl down, my dog never touched it anyway. She grazed. I was a free-feeder. What did it matter anyway?
Shortly after having Chesnee I experienced something horrific. I was about to take her to an agility class when she started throwing up bile. I thought nothing of it at first. Seconds later she was acting very funky. She was losing motor skills and consciousness. She fell to her side and started defecating solid feces on the family room floor. Something was wrong. I called my primary vet but they were "full." I picked Chesnee's half dead body off the floor and rushed her to the car and headed to an emergency clinic. By the time I arrived to the clinic there was blood pouring out both ends of my dog. I remember being so embarrassed as my dog laid in a pool of her own blood barely moving on the emergency clinic floor. All questions stopped and they immediately took her from me.
This was my first time going through a major health challenge. I knew nothing. I had never researched anything. I placed my faith in the vets at the clinic. I waited in the waiting room but was told I should go home and they would call me after running some tests. I received that call and was told my dog needed an immediate plasma transfusion, perhaps two. Her liver was failing. I fell to the floor in tears after the vet told me what was happening. Was she going to die?
The transfusion was successful but she was not doing well. She was barely moving, still bleeding....it is hard for me to remember much else considering the state of shock I was in. The clinic had to keep her overnight for the next few days so she could be monitored. I checked in and called over and over. They would only tell me "she is resting comfortably" AKA your dog is not doing well and she may die.
After a couple of days at the emergency clinic and an early phone call I placed to check on her, they told me her tail wagged slightly. It was then I knew she was fighting. It was my first glimmer of hope. Luckily, she continued to improve (against all odds) and she survived. I was so thankful for the vets and technicians at the clinic. They saved her life.
Shortly after, she was just about due for her yearly at my vet. I already switched vets from the previous one since it was closer to another part-time job I had. And then again, I received some bad news. My dog tested positive for heartworm. I shook my head in disbelief. How could this be? I JUST recently adopted her and I was diligent about making sure she got her dose of Heartguard prevention every 30 days as my vet instructed me to do.
And so another journey of healing started. Chesnee could not be treated immediately because her liver was not healthy enough to handle the poison of the heartworm treatments. So we waited. Once she was in the clear the lengthy process of recovery started. She probably put on 8-10 pounds of weight during treatment (your dog has very limited activity). When we were getting close to the end of treatment, I was excited to get my dog back. Ready to let her be a dog again. And fortunately, it all worked out for me. She fought and survived her liver failure, and fought and survived her heartworm treatment. And even better....after all of this...when I put her bowl of Instinct kibble down....she all of a sudden started eating immediately. Score!
When I look back through the 31 pages of patient history for my dog Chesnee, I question to myself if I always did the right thing. Does it matter? Probably not anymore. She is alive, and she is healthy, but it makes me realize the important of proper diagnosis, research, and a knowledge of overall health and wellness. At the time, I knew nothing and trusted other people to make the decisions for me. Looking back, I wish I knew more.
Fast forward a few years later. I have learned more about dog training and behavior, but still am lacking information on general wellness, vaccinations, spay/neuter, proper nutrition, etc. That is when I meet the breeder of my current Dalmatian, Settler (hence Settler's Kitchen). I inquired for years before actually getting a Dalmatian (waiting for the right time - thanks for the patience Mary Lynn), but when we first met, a seed was planted regarding a raw diet. A raw diet!? I was completely unfamiliar, unconvinced, and not intrigued. At the time I was also close friends with a groomer who was big on raw feeding. She knew SO much, but still it never caught on with me. I did not fully get it.
When I finally committed to getting a Dalmatian puppy in 2015 I was feeding Orijen kibble and also Honest Kitchen. I was transitioning to Honest Kitchen because I was looking for a food with less fillers (but were there really?). Chesnee was incontinent (most likely due to early spay). The carbs, grains, fruits and veggies; the less she seemed to have the less incontinent she was. Chesnee seemed to be doing okay on it and just that simple change helped me see an improvement. However, this is not to mention after I had her tested for everything (UTIs, stones, etc - and the vet told me she would need to be on Proin the rest of her life). Fortunately this was at a time where I was happy doing all the research in the world and looking for alternative ways to help my dog if I could naturally do so.
After a few years of dog training and learning about behavior, I was strongly against free-feeding. When my new 8-week old Dalmatian puppy turned his nose up at everything offered...I had no choice but to pick his bowl up. Sorry, kid, you'll have to miss this meal. My breeder had started the puppies on raw probably around 3 weeks of age. In the back of my mind I wondered if I should make that switch back to what she had started them on. My breeder is incredibly knowledgeable and really started inspiring me to start learning more (realizing I was REALLY missing the boat when it came to learning about health and wellness). So, I did it. I just decided to start feeding raw. I knew nothing. I did not understand it. It made no sense to me. I had no idea what to feed. How much to feed. What supplements were needed. But I just went with it. I am so lucky to have such an amazing breeder. It almost mind boggles me when people tell me they don't have a relationship with their breeder.
And there my dogs were, the savages within, eating their raw. And I kinda liked what I saw. It was at this time I wanted to read as many books as I could get my hands on. I wanted to look up ratings on dog foods. I wanted to know about why vets make certain suggestions. I wanted to know how long vaccinations lasted. I wanted to know what the vaccinations were for. I wanted to figure out the pros and cons of early spay and neuter. ....And so I continue this journey to this day trying to learn as much as I can (and it is a process because there is A LOT to learn). And the hardest part about all of this....is not crossing that line and shaking humans back and forth when I see some of the health challenges their dogs are going through and how they could simply be improved, if not solved by, raw nutrition.
So, this was the start of my passion of nutrition. I feed raw because I simply do think it is the best. There is a huge lack of quality control in the pet food industry and it does not surprise me when I hear about all the problems people have with their dogs. What do you have to lose? Just TRY it.
This is why Settler's Kitchen has been started. Because I am learning too. Because there is a lot to learn. There are differing opinions, lots of myths...but we can help each other. At the end of the day I am so encouraging for people to ask questions and to do their own research. While there is certainly a time and place for medications and drugs, why not set up your dog to defend and heal its body by giving them some of the best ammunition to do so: a good diet.