Letters from the Editor: Food insecurity

“I’ve failed as a parent” was my first thought when I forgot my puppy’s food and water bowls at home a week ago.

It’s kind of a ridiculous sentiment; a dog is by no means a child, and it was easy enough to find bowls and buy food for my tiny Maltese-Poodle mix to eat. However, I’m fairly protective of Luna and frequently terrified that some horrific misstep will leave her starving, or sick, or struck by lightning, or standing under a fast-plummeting anvil labelled “Acme Corporation.”

In reality, I threw off her eating schedule by little over an hour and she still had plenty of water, but the panic was impossible to erase.

Worrying about my dog of under 5 pounds (most of which is hair) occupies a great deal of my time, and historically, my coping mechanisms are not the best—stress eating being a notable example.

In a previous letter, I mentioned I had picked a dog with a pattern of asocial behavior uncannily resembling my own. So, while the food bowl fiasco of October 2017 should have slid by as an easily corrected mistake, it had an unforeseen side-effect that has left me with the grim suspicion that my early feelings of kinship were correct. Following this incident, Luna began eating all of her meals in one sitting.

In and of itself, this shouldn’t be odd, but I’m talking about a puppy with a stomach roughly the size of an egg. She usually won’t touch her breakfast until about noon, the time at which she scoops up a mouthful of food, comes to sit with me while chewing, then wants to play for half an hour before she gets another mouthful. Sometimes she won’t even finish her dinner, but will leave nibbles for an early morning snack.

When she got sick on the couch last week after gobbling up her dinner in under a minute (then again a few days later in similar circumstances), it suddenly clicked with me what was happening. Luna, the poor, puffy little thing, was trying to eat all she could when presented with the opportunity, because she’d become uncertain of her eating times.

When I stress eat, it’s usually a combination of wanting to soothe my nerves with something comforting and familiar. I get anxious and I want to eat, because cooking calms me down. When food tastes good, I feel good, so it’s a convenient crutch.

It just isn’t a healthy one.

This week at my house, we’ve been giving her food a little bit earlier than usual, so she gets used to seeing it and knowing it’s available to her when she wants it. I’ve stood by her food bowl while she eats a bit so that, when she’s comfortable, she walks over to me instead of staying at her bowl. Most importantly, we all try to pay attention so she doesn’t end up making herself sick.

While I feel terrible that I’m apparently passing on my various insecurities and terrible coping mechanisms to my dog, I’m also somewhat relieved to know the tricks for helping her out. I learn a lot from Luna and hopefully, as she grows up and fluffs out, she’ll continue to learn from me too.