3: Hungry Like a Wolf

3: Hungry Like a Wolf

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Hungry Like a Wolf

Fun fact: Australian Shepherds, unlike Australian Cattle Dogs, aren’t actually Australian; the breed was developed in the United States.

My husband Michael has the equivalent of a preschool education when it comes to food preparation. He knows the basics, like how to spread Nutella on rye. His food pairings are imaginative and desperate. He shouldn’t be in the kitchen in the same way a color-blind person shouldn’t be an art director of a fashion magazine.

Michael does know his way around a refrigerator filled with leftovers though. The key to his survival has always been his prowess at warming up said leftovers in the microwave.

This brings me to the most sacred day of leftovers: Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jewish people. Many non-Jewish people know it as the annual Jewish observance of fasting. The fast begins at sundown on the night known as Kol Nidre and continues to sunset the next day. There is always an extravagant feast on Kol Nidre before sunset to hold everyone over for twenty-four hours of starvation.

I love all the Jewish holidays because my mother-in-law does the cooking. The agreement we have is that I set the table and she provides the food. This has served us well through the years, and was negotiated on a table napkin one year after an especially challenging cooking experience. As part of the deal, I even get to keep the leftovers.

Notwithstanding the Jewish holiday contract, I am still entrusted with the care and feeding of the entire family and that includes taking care of our Australian Shepherd, Slugger Free Spirit Red Sox Koenig, who does not participate in the Yom Kippur fast.

Slugger is a purebred Aussie, a stunning red merle with a soft coat in shades of white, tan and reddish brown. Unfortunately, as Slugger has aged, he has developed a throat condition. He often gags as if something is caught there. So one September, around the time of Yom Kippur, I tried changing his food from dry pellets to wet food. I hoped it would be less harsh on his throat. So it wouldn’t be wasted, I spooned his uneaten moist food into a plastic container and put it in the refrigerator.

As she does every year, that Kol Nidre my mother-in-law brought a complete holiday dinner to my house. We rushed through eating so we could get to temple in time for the evening service. We stuffed chopped liver, brisket, and noodle pudding into plastic containers to be eaten the next day when we would break the fast on Yom Kippur.

That year, as he does each year, Michael fasted the entire day. His ritual is to break the fast at exactly 5:00 p.m., even if the sun has not set. He is fond of saying “It’s always sundown somewhere in the world.”

While Michael struggled through the last half-hour of his fast, I took Slugger for a walk. When I returned home twenty minutes later, I saw that Michael had pulled a container of leftovers out of the refrigerator. The top was removed from the container and placed next to a box of crackers on the center island in the kitchen. Dry, beige crumbs littered a blue disposable plate. A dirty knife rested on the black granite countertop.

How nice, I thought. Michael has helped himself to some chopped liver.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

No response. He pointed to a mouth full of food.

Michael had moved on from the appetizer portion of the evening to a warmed plate of beef brisket and kugel, which are egg noodles baked in soft cheese and sugar. He was watching a movie with a TV tray in our family room.

I picked up the plastic container to put it back into the refrigerator, but something didn’t look right. I took a closer look at the contents. I showed it to Slugger, who raised his nose into the air. Sniff, sniff, and sniff. He licked his chops.

I sniffed the contents, too. I imagined what Slugger must be thinking, “Why is Michael eating my food?”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m wondering, too,” I said aloud. “But thanks for sharing. You’re a good dog.”

I wasn’t sure what to do next. Should I tell Michael that he had just broken his holiday fast with dog food? Or should I call all the family members on my contact list and tell them the story? After a twenty-four-hour fast, some entertainment is needed.

“What do you think, Slugger?” I said. “Call the relatives? Post the story on Facebook?”

Slugger cocked his head to the side.

“That’s what I thought. You’re such a bad dog.”

I looked at Michael happily enjoying the rest of his dinner. I decided that if the dog food was good enough for Slugger, then it was good enough for my husband. I spooned the rest into Slugger’s bowl, grabbed my cell phone and called anyone who would answer the phone. Like food, this was a story best served fresh.

~Tina Koenig

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