After Pet Food Scare, Could Homemade be a Help?

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The recent pet food scare that has resulted in many pet deaths has turned some to alternative ways of feeding their pets. Phil Klein, an expert in the field of homemade pet food, offers advice.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

It may sound crazy, even to the most devoted pet owners, slaving over a hot stove to feed Rufus or Whiskers home-cooked meals particularly, given the advice of many veterinarians, not to feed pets human food. But with the recent pet food contamination problem that's claimed the lives of at least 15 pets, with some estimates in the hundreds, people are reconsidering their options and even their recipes.

We want to hear from you. How have you been feeding your pets? Join the conversation, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog. It's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Joining us now from our bureau in New York City is Phil Klein, co-owner of Whiskers Holistic Pet Care in New York, an expert in the field of homemade pet cuisine, and Phil, nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. PHIL KLEIN (Co-owner, Whiskers Holistic Pet Care; Expert in Homemade Pet Food): Thank you very much for inviting us.

CONAN: And what is holistic pet care? How does it work?

Mr. KLEIN: Well, it is just about the opposite of everything you've heard learned, read or were told by a traditional veterinarian. When we deal with an animal, we try to see the entire scope of the animal as well as the individual problem that may exist or present, and we look at the physical, the emotional, the metabolic, the nutritional, all the aspects that we can and correct them that way.

CONAN: And I assume this pet food recall has probably been pretty good for business.

Mr. KLEIN: Well yes it has, but we're not real happy about it. We've been doing this for 18 years or so, and we've been screaming this scream, and I have the image of what's-his-name, the screamer, you know, with the hands alongside the head.

CONAN: Oh, Edvard Munch's "The Scream," yes.

Mr. KLEIN: Thank you, yes, I appreciate that. Thank you. And we've been screaming about this for lo these many years and swimming upstream like the salmon, but it takes tragedy to produce consciousness, unfortunately.

CONAN: Yeah, obviously this has been a terrible situation for a lot of pet owners, but I guess there's a certain impulse to say - see, we told you.

Mr. KLEIN: There is that, but the professional in me tries to restrain that very tightly.

CONAN: So when you're talking about making pet food for your pet, what do you make, typically?

Mr. KLEIN: Okay, here's a recipe. As a matter of fact, as we speak, my chef is currently walloping the pots subsequent to having cooked 50 pounds of turkey, 18 heads of cauliflower and broccoli, and maybe a bunch of two or carrots shredded in.

CONAN: That seems like an awful lot of vegetable.

Mr. KLEIN: It is. We're looking at about 20 to 30 percent vegetable. We try and keep the carb percentage very low, like in the five percentile, and mostly good quality protein.

CONAN: And where do you get the turkey, for example?

Mr. KLEIN: Well, I'll be happy to - wait a minute, I'll pull out my wallet and we'll give you the exact location. They're wonderful people. I drive pretty much 90 miles roundtrip to go to Raleigh's Poultry Farm(ph) in King's Park, New York, where I get all my organic ingredients, and I got this - let me see. I was just there the day before yesterday, no I'm sorry, April 3, and on April 3, well you see, this is for production level. For individuals, nobody's going to do this.

CONAN: And that may be a little too far to drive for our listeners in California, for example.

Mr. KLEIN: I agree, but you do have resources. You can go to a local stand-alone butcher shop, if you have any in your neighborhood, because I find that they produce and must present a much higher quality than the junk that's hidden under a little cardboard pan in a supermarket.

CONAN: Yet we're always told to feed our pets pet food. How come?

Mr. KLEIN: Well, let me ask you a question. I'm sure that you're very, very aware, and I'm sure this enlightened audience is very aware of the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the pyramids in which are depicted dogs and cats of that era. Okay? So we know that dogs and cats are at least 3,500 years old and have not changed materially in basic format since then, correct?

Okay, who cooked kibble for dogs for the pharaoh?

CONAN: I didn't see any checkerboard patterns on any of the obelisks.

Mr. KLEIN: Okay, my next thing is - our paradigm truly - at Whiskers Holistic Pet Care, our paradigm is how did the dog or cat live in the wild 150 years ago, very specifically in that timeframe. That was before we screwed up our soil so badly so that the nutrients in the ingredients that the dogs and the cats ate in the wild were much more dense than they are, currently.

Be that as it may, if you go into those woods, you find me the trees in which live the Keebler elves cooking kibble, or find me a can opener hanging from a bush.

CONAN: The Keebler elves cooked up pecan sandies. We're not going to get on their bad side. They're all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLEIN: No, no, no, they're good - I love them, too, but they don't make dog food.

CONAN: No they don't.

Mr. KLEIN: And it is not an appropriate nutritional stream to put into an animal whose basic system design is predicated on high volumes of meat with very low volumes of carbohydrate.

CONAN: Well, let's just say that we're talking with Phil Klein, co-owner of Whisker's Holistic Pet Care in New York City, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. Let's go first to George, George with us from Salt Lake City. Hi.

GEORGE (Caller): Thank you. I've gone off of this. We had actually gone with our dog for probably about a year - I had a couple dogs at the time - where we were doing what they called the raw diet or BARF. It doesn't sound very attractive when you call it BARF, but…

CONAN: No, certainly, but it's not to be appetizing to me.

GEORGE: You take, you know, raw products, ground-up egg shells and all kinds of vegetables, nutrients, raw chicken with the bone, grind them up with a grinder, and you create their diet, and I try to do it for three or four ahead of the time and freeze them, but it gets so labor intensive.

CONAN: Yeah.

GEORGE: I will say with what he's talking about and with the raw diet, what goes in comes out, and there's a lot less waste in the yard, and the waste goes away faster, but…

Mr. KLEIN: And it doesn't smell as bad. Excuse me for interrupting, but tell the truth. It doesn't smell as bad, does it?

GEORGE: No, no, no.

Mr. KLEIN: Not at all.

GEORGE: It disappears faster. It goes from what you see to a white powder almost within three or four days.

CONAN: But let me follow up on that labor-intensive part. Phil Klein, a lot of people really don't - it's hard enough to find time in their day to cook for their children, much less for their pets.

Mr. KLEIN: I completely understand that. There are - at present, we represent 15 or 18 manufacturers of raw food diets that are drag and drop, as it were, plug and play. They come in little nuggets.

GEORGE: I tried those, too. Those are very expensive, also, and the (unintelligible) on that, they're hard to find, so…

Mr. KLEIN: Let me give you what I've come to very all these years and sir, George is it?

GEORGE: Yes.

Mr. KLEIN: You may want to consider this one. I think that I've come to a split that really takes into consideration the vast majority of things that will occur in the life of an animal-owning home, which is - and I apologize for the word own, I mean an animal-caring home - which is 50 percent raw, 45 percent can, five percent dry. I know that may be shocking, but there are good-quality canned foods out these despite this most recent hoorah.

GEORGE: That was what I was going to make. We have found a couple quality cans out there that I actually went yesterday and picked up a month's supply, $83 for my one dog. But I talked to the lady that owned the store. I said I'll bet you people that were laughing at me and some of the others that were buying this expensive dog food are probably…

CONAN: Not laughing any more. George, thanks very much for the call, and good luck with it.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: We just have a minute or so left, but Phil Klein, if people wanted to find out more information about this, where might they go?

Mr. KLEIN: They can call us at 1-800-WHISKERS, W-H-I-S-K-E-R-S, or they can go online to the Web site at 1800whiskers.com, and if you have an immediate need, you can call us. The phone number is 212-979-2532, or 1-800-WHISKERS is the fast, easy way to do it and no cost, and we'll be happy to chat with you and devise something specific for your animal.

CONAN: And just - well, thanks very much for that, and I'm sure you'll be getting a few calls in the next couple of hours.

Mr. KLEIN: Well, I certainly hope we can help folks out there. That's what we've been doing, and that's our mission.

CONAN: All right, we'll put those numbers up on our Web site again, on our blog at npr.org./blogofthenation. Phil Klein, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. KLEIN: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Phil Klein is co-owner of Whiskers in New York City, and he joined us from our bureau in New York City. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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