Monday, September 9, 2013

Oh my Dog!

 I was just looking through the first week's worth of posts and thinking what I should really call this blog is 'How I am a crap vegan'. While I'm admitting things that make me look like a hypocrite, here's one of my darkest vegan secrets - we have a dog - and not just any dog, a meat-eating dog.

As a vegan, pets are something I think about a lot. I think my veganism is based mainly on the belief that animals shouldn't be owned. This seems really extreme, but it's the ideal which seems to sit most comfortably with my perfect world. This belief was really easy while I didn't want a pet, but since I've been part of this family and got to know some other pet dogs I found myself having some really tricky conversations with myself. As soon as I thought about living with a dog I realised that no matter how I phrased it in my mind (companion animal, furry friend) I would really have all the power and would be making almost all of the decisions for the animal that came to live with us. And this was before I even thought about what I would feed a dog if it came and lived at our house. 

I thought and thought about it for ages and we talked about it as a family and when we got back from America this year we started looking in earnest for a dog, and it was an interesting process. We started off thinking about what dogs we liked and looked at breeds that might suit our family. I really like French Bulldogs, so I started doing some research and found out some pretty upsetting things about breeding French Bulldogs. So we started looking on TradeMe at what dogs were available and started noticing some really horrible breeding stuff going on there. Some breeders always had dogs and they were often from the same mother. So we started looking at other options. We visited the SPCA and met a lot of wonderful puppies there. I wasn't sure we could look after a puppy. I also felt a bit frightened of some of the breeds of dogs that were there. I was terrified of dogs when I was younger and found some of that fear coming back with some of the breeds. I've since met heaps of SPCA dogs, much like the ones I was frightened of, and they're pretty cool dogs.

Then our friend Paula came to stay. Paula had recently adopted an ex-racing greyhound from Greyhounds as Pets (GAP). We contacted GAP and met some really cool greyhounds (they are some of the most amazing dogs I've met) but while we were waiting for our application to be processed we started thinking about some of the needs of greyhounds and thought maybe we weren't quite the right house for greyhounds either. I realised for instance that probably Toki wouldn't be able to walk the greyhound by herself and that we may not be able to visit friends who had cats if we had the dog with us.

While all this was going on I was researching vegan dogs. I found some really promising examples of vegan dogs and some great vegan dog food options.

The day we decided we weren't going to be able to adopt a greyhound, I was really discouraged. I think we all were, we'd been looking for a long time and it felt like we would never find a dog taht we could care for and would like to live with us. In the depths of this discouragement I had a quick look through TradeMe, more to make myself feel worse than anything but I came across an advertisement for four-year-old corgi who needed re-homing. As you can imagine corgis were nowhere on our radar of dogs we might like. To be honest I didn't even know corgis still existed. But something made me call the people and we went and visited Brynn that day. My friend Sarah was visiting at the time and she came with us, which was great. Sarah has been a dog-owner, really understands where we're coming from vegan-wise and also worked as a librarian in a vet school in Sydney. Brynn was pretty overweight when we met him. The woman who had advertised him had several cats and dogs and chickens and rats and chinchillas and a couple of horses - all of which she'd rescued. She got Brynn off someone in Hamilton and helped him to lose some weight but was finding it hard to help him lose any more because there was so much cat and dog and chicken food around. He was pretty much scavenging everyone elses food. He had a really beautiful face and he was very friendly. On the way home Sarah did some research on corgis. We talked about Brynn a lot. Toki really wanted him. I wasn't so sure, there were two things I didn't want in a dog, one was a breed that shed hair and the other was a dog that smelled bad - Brynn seemed to have both these qualities. I also had this weird thing, where I'd kind of fancied myself sort swanning round Aro with my sleek greyhound and this corgi was not going to win me any cool awards. See what a hypocrite I am? I still feel really worried that people might think we were responsible for getting Brynn fat. I am basically an ego on legs. Anyway, we thought about it and decided that here was a dog who needed some stuff - exercise, good food, companionship - and we were a family that could give him that stuff. We rang them straight away and picked up Brynn that weekend and he's been the best dog for us.

He is really friendly and he is calm and he loves walking. When we took him to the vet I said to her, will he be sad if we don't feed him so much and the vet nurse said that sometimes dogs enjoy the attention associated with being fed as much as the food. She said, pat him, love him and exercise him and he'll be happy. And he seems pretty happy. He's snoring next to me know.

I still feel weird about owning an animal but these are some things that I also think about owning Brynn:

  • He's getting fitter and he seems to get happier and healthier as he does, when we first got him he had a lot of trouble getting up from lying down and he couldn't cock his leg to pee, he can do those things now and last week he scratched himself behind is ear with his back foot. Baby steps teehee.
  • I kind of feel like Brynn is part of our pack rather than our property - I'm kind of his alpha-dog, I have some power in our relationship but I also have responsibilities, I read that a dog will only respect you as an alpha if you act with fairness
  • On a totally selfish level, Brynn has really made our family complete, it's been so interesting to see how Toki's place in the family has altered. As an only child she has also always been the youngest child but watching her care for Brynn has made me see her in a whole new light. It's also really nice having another 'energy' in the house apart from me and her, which can get a bit intense
  • Also, selfishly, I love walking this dog! It  does amazing things to my state of mind. I work a lot by myself and now when I hit a hiccup I can take him for a walk. It also really seems to help for me to have another living thing to think about during the day, I can get quite self-centred when I'm working here by myself. I also love taking him for walks as a family, we have these great talks while we walk him.
Brynn eats meat. He's on a special diet regime because he really needs to lose weight. We really want to one day transition him to a vegan diet but who knows how that will work out. It may mean a change in vet. We had a chat with ours about it and she was quite dark on the idea, she even gave us a lecture about humans and how they need to eat meat. Teehee. But, I think we will find some support around us and will give it a go. The meat food is the thing that plays on my mind the most at the moment. I can't justify other animals dying so that mine can live. In my experience, this is what it's like being vegan, having things you really wish were different but aren't. All these ways that my life is not perfect help bring me down from my moral high ground and keep challenging me so I never stop thinking about things, I reckon.


  1. Wow, Bryn is looking so healthy! Nice, shiny coat and has lost heaps of weight. I smiled at the thought of him being able to scratch his ear with his back leg. Can you imagine not being able to scratch yourself? That would be so frustrating! He must be so awesome to have around.

    I wonder if you can find a new vet? From what I've read, dogs can definitely do fine on a (carefully planned) diet. I can't believe she made such an anti-vegan comment about your own diet. I reckon there must be a vet out there that can work with you on this, rather than be so judgmental.

    1. I think you're right about the new vet thing. I feel pretty sure we'll be able to find a vegan-friendly vet - I have my feelers out for one at the moment. There's actually a person whose just moved back to Wellington who makes homemade vegan dog treats. Did I tell you we went to a dog bakery in the States? Odd.

      He's looking a bit different, eh? He's still funny and snuggly though, and he still goes crazy for patting and games.