I recently said goodbye to my sweet black Lab Abbey. After 12 years of companionship and bonding I’m left with many wonderful memories. The part that strikes me now is how many of these memories relate to food. There is no question that food, in addition to being necessary for survival, is part of the human social experience shared in many celebrations or for comfort. Abbey taught me that domesticated dogs also understand eating goes beyond survival. There is no doubt in my mind that Abbey’s tail wagged as vigorously for a piece of bacon when her belly was full as she did when she was hungry. Food definitely went beyond mere sustenance for Abbey, just as it does for most of us.
I suppose those familiar with Labradors aren’t surprised that food memories are part of our history together, even though Abbey wasn’t a “typical Lab” when it came to food. She would leave food in her bowl once sated, didn’t care much for raw meat bones, and “asked permission” before touching human food – even if it was right next to her nose (like when she rode shotgun in the car and I was snacking on something interesting in the driver’s seat). Don’t get me wrong, Abbey LOVED food she just wasn’t obsessed with it in a stereotypical-Labrador way (unless it was restricted that is). She did eat elk and horse droppings with zeal and when we pulled up to the drive-through window at the bank she would salivate waiting for the little dog treats that magically appeared in the plastic tube.
Since I didn’t really feed Abbey “people food” when she was a puppy she wasn’t much of a beggar at the table, at least until we met Dave. I think it’s safe to say that part of Dave and Abbey’s bond was forged with food. He liked how excited she got when he’d slip something yummy to her from the table and I suspect she welcomed something other than kibble. If Dave was in the kitchen Abbey was very attentive and I recall times Dave ordered meals at a restaurant with Abbey in mind, especially if we were on a road trip or celebrating a special occasion (ribs and lamb chops were among their favorites).
Food became more of a focus for Abbey during the past few years as she aged and her mobility decreased. I guess even dogs eat out of boredom. Last fall after a surgery when I was instructed to cut her usual food portions by 25% so she wouldn’t gain weight, Abbey transformed into the food-crazed dog of Labrador lore for a while. Every crinkle of a package or whiff of food cooking got her full attention (even if it was just me in the kitchen). During that time Dave created a game with Abbey that led her to accept raw carrots as treats – a trick that unfortunately lost its allure once she went back to full portions of food. (Of course I felt awful when her 2-week post surgery check-up revealed she’d lost six pounds!) Once she went back to “normal” unrestricted eating she returned to the atypical Lab who would leave food in her bowl.
I am grateful for so many memories of Abbey – many that don’t include food such as playing outdoors, road trips and camping. But I also appreciate that we (including Dave) shared a love of one of life’s most basic needs – and pleasures, food.