Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Twice a week I fill a dutch oven pot with brown rice and water and set it to boil on the stove. After that I take two chicken breasts from the freezer and put them into the microwave oven to defrost and cook.

The food is not for any humans in the house. It’s for a dog.

Our dear Smoothie, the middle-aged sheltie, gets a bowl of the rice and chicken every morning and evening, a special diet make necessary when he got very sick and stopped eating several years ago. After two expensive nights in the hospital, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis – for him a chronic condition that will flare up if he eats the wrong things, namely retail dog food and table scraps.

(Add a side of steamed broccoli and that chicken-and-brown-rice meal would pass as healthy in most homes. My son and daughter will roll their eyes as they tell you that’s what I served three nights a week when they were growing up.)

At first, Smoothie’s special needs felt like a burden, not so much an expense as one more thing to do. In fact, $40 a month for bulk chicken breasts and bags of brown rice is a bargain when compared with another night in the veterinary hospital.

Smoot must have felt like a king that first breakfast. While his much younger brother Waylon the collie was crunching through his usual bowl of kibble, Smoothie was perched at a small bowl of whole grain and real meat.

It took Waylon less than a day to recognize the inequities of the menus, and he wasn’t having it.

As Smoothie lapped up the last of the tender chicken, Waylon howled from the corner, earning points for restraining himself from commandeering Smoothie’s food. Believe me, a less well-mannered dog of that size and exuberance could have pirated that loot in 10 seconds flat.

And that demonstration of restraint is how Waylon earned his own bit of gourmet grub. Each breakfast and dinner, as the dogs sit at attention watching me, I place two bowls on the kitchen counter. Smoothie gets a cup of rice and a couple ounces of chicken, sliced into the bowl with kitchen scissors. Waylon’s bowl, already filled with kibble, gets a few cubes of chicken and a smattering of rice.

The pups retreat to their corners and attack their food with noisy enthusiasm. Smoothie cleans his plate first, pushing the bowl around the tile floor with his nose, and then retreats to his rug by the door. Waylon picks the goodies out of his bowl, abandons the kibble and then races to Smoothie’s bowl to scrounge for leftovers.

He never loses hope. Sometimes he finds a rogue grain of rice on the floor and laps it up.

This routine has played out twice a day, every day, for hundreds of days. The dogs have become such creatures of routine that I now can predict, within 10 minutes, when Waylon will visit me in the office to tell me it’s time for dinner. Smoothie, always the cool cat, sits by his bowl and waits.

They’ve made me a creature of habit, too, always aware of the status of the food bowl – how many more days of rice is in there; when it will be time to buy more frozen chicken breasts.

Waylon herds me out of the office and into the kitchen. I pull the heavy pot from the top shelf of the fridge, put two dog bowls on the counter and start scooping and slicing.

A couple of hungry boys are waiting.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.

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