Take a walk down the pet food aisle, the next time you’re at the supermarket. Marvel at the rows of canned meat and bags of hearty pellets — all those wasted by-products scraped from the slaughterhouse floor and the oily sludge trellises of the fishery, all that scrapple repackaged for consumption by animals who really have no choice in the matter. This is what we’ve ordained to feed our domesticated beasts. It’s a wonder they don’t come after us with…well, tiny little torches and pitchforks.
Take a pensive moment under the fluorescent glare of the pet food aisle to contemplate the fact that you’re surrounded by more dead meat than you’d find in some morgues. Try not to imagine all the chopping, carving, slicing, cubing, mashing, and grinding that went into each and every one of those perfectly stacked cans. The chow packets are as bulky as body bags. Don’t be fooled: there’s nothing “tender” about a “cut.” There’s no gourmet Navy chef at work behind the “Sea Captain’s Stew” of salmon guts commingling with cow testicles in a broth of poultry gizzards. Take a whiff — smell all that yumminess? That’s the fine odor of dismemberment, dried and fortified with “more great taste!”
If cats had taste they wouldn’t lick themselves clean. If dogs had taste, they wouldn’t drool all over my fine carpet.
But I digress. Sometimes it’s the dried foods that are the worst of all. They come in all shapes and sizes — little formed fishies, tiny X’s, teensy squares. More than “nine lives” are in them, their bodies stewed together in some giant vat to produce a brown muck that is subsequently formed and baked and bagged. All traces of life are removed and transformed into a magic “formula” that animals would never find in nature, but which pet nutritionists are more than happy to endorse. Imagine pouring milk over your breakfast cereal and spooning up a brown pellet of soggy meat. That’s what you’re doing to Fido every day, when you’re not otherwise teasing him with a dog biscuit that’s shaped an awful lot like a skinned human leg bone.
The more you think about these things, the more repulsive they become. But we don’t want to think. We want to feel good about spending less on our pets than we do on our own meals, and we want to feel loved for selecting them the fanciest of feasts. But what really creeps me out is the happy little packaging that leads us to believe we’re somehow making the right choices. I’m talking about all those picture perfect cats and canines, from the snarky fatcat models like Morris to those dopey-but-lovable Alpo dogs. Like famous athletes on cereal boxes, these are celebrities in the animal kingdom, right? Wrong: Morris would be dead meat in an alley fight and Lassie would get so mauled by the pack she’d single-handedly redefine the meaning of dog biscuits. Even when the animal sponsors are cutely drawn, they’re kind of creepy to me. The “Meow Mix” brand logo is, essentially, a dismembered cat, it’s alphabet soup of body parts formed into letters that spell the brand name. The happy-go-lucky names and slogans don’t help. Like, do I really want my animal to be “Friskie”? Couldn’t that get me arrested in some states?
No, there’s nothing cute and cuddly about the pet food aisle — all those perfect pet faces on the packages are utterly unnerving. Look at them, lined up in rows and columns like some animal cloned pet army — gazing up at us, head cocked to one side with unknowable intention, licking the Pavlovian drool from their lips and baring their sharpened, pearly white teeth! It’s a bad veterinarian’s living nightmare.
And did you ever notice that in every pet package, the animal is smiling? Smiling! Animals do NOT smile! They don’t waive hello and say “howdy-do” or “it’s grrrreat!” or “hmmm…snuggle!” They snarl and champ and would bite the hand that feeds them if they weren’t so preoccupied by the puzzling sound of food pouring into a ceramic dish. Seriously — the “photoshop tricks” on the pet food packages don’t fool me. I can still see that look in their little kitten and puppy dog eyes. And I recognize it. It’s the same look you see on Wild Kingdom or Animal Planet, when they show lions tugging a string of bloody muscle from fresh kill. The glint of primal satisfaction from gnawing on all that gamy goodness.
Now, I know there are a lot of “alternative” pet foods that are out there — from scientifically formulated dietary mixes to “vegetarian” snacks to chocolate covered dog biscuits. But the more that pet food becomes like human food, the more human food becomes like pet food. Most of the prefab stuff you buy at the grocer’s is close enough already, thank you very much. And until Fido can pick up the tongs properly, he isn’t getting any of my salad.
So I guess we have little choice but to slop it all out in a pretty little dish and leave the stinking dead meat in the open air. It sits there in a puddle in the corner like a torn carcass in the Serengeti, drawing flies. Fluffy comes and goes as she pleases, lapping at the corpse cuttings, happy that her owners have provided her with every morbid morsel.
Mange! And I mean that both ways, carnivores.
And don’t even get me started on the TV commercials. Where you see puppies hopping on laps like happy little children, licking their owner’s faces, I see wild animals getting a little taste of their prey before the bestial mauling and fanged carnage begins. Dogs love bones. And we are pet food. Don’t forget that.