A Loving Water Dog Owner's Advice for the Obamas


Photo courtesy of www.ErnestKafka.com

As soon as I read about the Obama's wise choice of breed for their fabled new puppy, I thought of one of the great loves of my adult life: Stubbs, my friends Barbara and Ernie Kafka's Portuguese water dog. I was as "besotted," as Barbara says in the wonderful recollection I immediately asked her for, as she--or nearly, because of course she was a parent and I an occasional relative.

Our own Marion Nestle might be the authority to consult on the right thing to feed a dog--she is the author of one book on pet food with another on the way. But, as even she wisely admitted: "Nobody is more passionate about food choice than a dog lover."

But Barbara Kafka, as anyone who has read her books or her blog knows, is original, bold, authoritative, firm, and also flexible--as her loving parentage of Stubbs showed. I asked her to write about the Stubbs diet, for possible White House advice. I hope they take it.

The news about the new White House dog made me think of Franklin Roosevelt and Fala--and my very own Portuguese, Stubbs, named for the great British painter of animals. He was an extraordinary dog. I wasn't alone in thinking that. Almost everyone he met thought so as well. He was friendly, extremely energetic, and handsome. He was a champion in every sense of the word. Portuguese water dogs come in many colors and configurations of colors, from brown to black to dappled; Stubbs was black, with a chest fluffy with white in a way that reminded me of Grover Whelan when he used to go down to the pier to meet visiting dignitaries arriving on ships.

Like the rest of his breed, he was hypoallergenic. His coat was therefore hair, not fur, and like all hair it grew and had to be trimmed.

He hated the cages that were so prevalent in dog training at the time; but he was easy to train. Stubbs had dignity and manners. He loved to play and walk in the woods, jumping logs and racing about. He always turned around to make sure that we were there. He was just as eager to swim, especially when there was another dog to show off for. In the city, he needed a great deal of walking which more or less kept us in shape.

As you can see, I was besotted with him. I loved spoiling him and made the mistake of cooking for him every day. He was not a picky eater; but he was discriminating. If I gave him chicken two days in a row, he scorned it on the third day. It was the same with leftover steak, leg of lamb, turkey, and cooked -for-him chicken livers, as well as whatever else I could come up with. As I do, he preferred rare meat. When I shopped, I had to think about what Stubbs would eat.

Of course, he had regular dry food for dogs, sporadically an egg for his coat, and plenty of water to drink. I now have a wonderful puppy; but she will not be spoiled in the same way. Sadly, I have learned my lesson. Stubbs had a somewhat delicate digestion. The new dog has one of cast iron.

They both get (got) treats from time to time, everything from a boiled marrow bone to commercial chicken nibbles. Stubbs liked the crunchy stems of raw broccoli and an occasional carrot. He never begged; but he certainly stared intently at whatever food was being prepared or eaten. I like to think that he did what he did as a response to words and commands, because he loved us and not for the food. He certainly had a large vocabulary of words he knew and understood.

His only limitation was that as we walked down the street, it seemed impossible that he himself did not speak English. It always seemed that he was about to. He never did. We still miss him.

As you can see from the photograph, he had an inner life.