The Price of Freedom
Posted by Admin Date September 28, 2016
At the shelter we cook our own dog food every day, using animal byproducts and sources of fiber such as black rice or potatoes. We have a 50-liter commercial pressure cooker and an industrial triple-ring LPG burner, which typically is fired for 2.5 hours every day.

Our 50-liter commercial pressure cooker on top of the 3-line burner.

Ingredients for the dog food are procured from various sources 3-4 times a week and stored in a commercial chest freezer.

The shelter's chest freezer, used for storing ingredients for making dog food.

The dogs are fed individually in feeding bays. We have 4 purpose-built feeding bays, and 5 steel cages which we use as feeding bays.

At dinner time, each dog is placed inside a feeding bay and given food specifically for that dog. As soon as one dog is done eating, the dog is taken out of the feeding bay and another dog goes in the feeding bay. The process takes about 40 minutes on a good day. The benefits of feeding the dogs individually are information and control. We know exactly how much each dog ate, and if a dog's appetite isn't normal for medical or psychological reasons, we are immediately aware of it. We can also control precisely how much each dog gets - the overweight dogs and the smaller dogs get smaller portions than the thin, athletic dogs, for example.

Feeding Bay 4 has a detachable ramp, so that Mavi - who doesn't like being handled - can exit own her own.

It is hard work to carry dogs back and forth between feeding bays, to shuttle back and forth with bowls, and to do it quickly.

More to the point, it is immensely time-consuming and labor intensive to procure the ingredients for the dog food, to prepare the food, and to individually feed the dogs. The effort of feeding the dogs shelter-cooked food drains so much time that whenever we have animals requiring intensive care, it immediately pushes the shelter beyond capacity, resulting in 16+ hour shifts for the caregiver.

Then there's the cost. At around 35 ~ 45 pesos or just under USD $1 per dog just for the ingredients, the food we cook is not as expensive as canned food, which would cost 2 ~ 3 times that amount. But it is not as cheap as feeding kibble (even though quality kibble is imported from other countries and as such more expensive than in most developed countries).

So why do we do it? Why don't we just buy jumbo-sized bags of dry food pellets, dump 'em in a bowl, and make them available for the dogs? Quality kibble is perfectly fine for household pets. (Non-premium or economy brands cause stone formation and should be avoided.) If premium-quality dry food is good enough for household pets, why isn't it good enough for the shelter dogs?

The answer is two-fold. There are two reasons we don't use kibble.

Good Nutrition = No Relapses

One reason is that a lot of the rescue dogs in our care came to the shelter in terrible condition. They were emaciated, they had mange. They were covered in fleas, ticks or lice, and had diseases like ehrlichiosis.

What we've noticed is that unless the dogs are fed highly nutritious food, they have a tendency to relapse. Perhaps they have weaker-than-average immune systems, which caused them to become ill in the first place. Perhaps the prolonged starvation and exposure to disease and parasites made them more susceptible to re-infestation. A good number of our dogs - too many for it to be coincidence - had a relapse even after they were healed and outwardly in good shape. Even though a dog may look fantastic after a few months at the shelter, it is best practice to continue feeding the dog highly nutritious food.

Almost all dogs in the shelter are free to roam around one of several dog yards. Protection from the elements is provided by a communal hut.

Since we stopped feeding the rescue dogs kibble, virtually none of them had a relapse. That's the minor reason we don't use kibble.

Yummy Food = Freedom of Movement

The other reason we don't use kibble is that, unlike shelters in developed countries, the Happy Animals Club does not keep dogs in cages (except for newly rescued quarantined dogs or dogs with behavioral problems). It is extremely difficult to get mixed-breed dogs adopted, and most of the dogs in the shelter will live out the rest of their lives in the shelter. For this reason we try to avoid putting them in cages as far as possible. Almost all dogs are free to roam around in the dog yards. The shelter is a sanctuary, not a prison.

If the dogs were in cages, we could give each dog a bowl of kibble and that would be that. The dog, stuck in a cage with nothing much to do, would eat the dry food over the course of a day.

But our dogs aren't in cages. Our dogs are free to roam around. And it is virtually impossible to feed dry food to a pack of free dogs. Individual feeding would no longer work, because you can't stuff a dog in a feeding bay and expect it to finish eating a bowl of dry food in 3 ~ 5 minutes. Kibble is fine if you can leave a bowl of dog food out for your dog to munch on over the course of an hour, an evening, or even a day. But it is too dry and too bland to be eaten quickly. Only a handful of the dogs in the shelter (the really greedy ones) would devour their dry dog food within 5 minutes. The dog food we cook is gobbled up quickly by the majority of the dogs, because we never feed the same type of food more than once every three days, because it tastes a lot more like what dogs were designed to eat, and because it is moist and thus physically more palatable.

The dogs in the shelter would be a lot less happy if they were in cages all day.

We could abandon the notion of individually feeding the dogs, and use kibble. This is in fact what we were doing early in the history of the shelter.

  • The good eaters would eat unlimited amounts of kibble and become clinically obese.

  • The bad eaters would not eat enough and steadily lose weight until they become ill.

  • The dogs would horse around and trample the dog food bowl, spilling kibble all over the place, wasting as much as half of the food.

  • The spilled dog food would get stuck in cracks, land on the ground, or end up under the floorboards, and rot if it comes into contact with water, causing a stink and breeding maggots.

  • Ants would find the kibble unless kept at bay with insecticide, and flies would land on it, spreading disease.

    In order to monitor the appetites of the dogs, in order to control the amount of food each dog gets, and most importantly, in order to ensure that all the dogs eat all or most of their food, we feed the dogs shelter-cooked food. We never serve the same menu twice in a row, ensuring the dogs don't get bored of the food. Our food is tastier than kibble, and almost all the dogs can finish their dinner within minutes. And it's nutritious, since we minimize cereals and fillers, and use only fresh ingredients.

    Yes, it is a little more expensive to feed the dogs shelter-cooked food, in terms of both money and labor. But that's the price of freedom. It ensures the dogs can remain free to roam around. And if you factor in time spent dealing with sick dogs and potential veterinary bills, then the price isn't much higher than kibble - it is probably works out to a net saving in terms of both money and labor.

    The alternative to preparing our own dog food would be to cage the dogs, and we hope that we will never have to go down that road.

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