I don’t know the people who will feed me…Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died,” from Lunch Poems (1964)
Please, sir, I want some more…Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Warning: This post is way less about chukar and more about culture, if you can call it that.
We’d probably prefer to think of the word “hunger” metaphorically rather than literally because it can represent a desire to achieve something great. Of course, as in Captain Ahab’s case, the merit of his quest was debatable, to say nothing of Jeffrey Dahmer’s. Still, absolute hunger is painful and real yet most of us don’t really know it.
But I wonder about my dogs. They might.
Peat, Angus, and before them Glenna, have all acted, all of the time, as though they were hungry. Because they never showed signs of being malnourished, I have always doubted them. Is it possible I’ve been wrong? To a dog, what is hunger? I’ll never really know.
My first dog, Glenna, began life showing no interest in food. It worried me. She was about two when that worry did a 180; a friend came to visit with his two dogs, who were very interested in their food. Glenna caught on and, soon, was food-obsessed. In her twilight years, she would stand in the kitchen, her neck sloping toward the floor, eyes raised and locked on us, and scream at us to feed her, even if she’d recently eaten. I often wondered if the megaesophagus that resulted in her early demise was some sort of cosmic payback. It’s awful to think that, but I did.
Angus, I believe, learned his attitude toward food from Glenna, and then Peat from Angus, although Peat’s really ratcheted it up a few notches. Peat also picked up the coprophagy from Angus, who, maybe relatedly, is still the only dog I’ve had who drinks his urine.
Before you yield to the temptation to offer me advice, I’ve tried for years to “solve” this shit-eating thing. The most comical attempt, looking back on it, was buying some very expensive powder from Drs. Foster and Smith that you sprinkled on the dog’s food to make its poop taste bad. If my reason hadn’t been clouded by my own hunger to stop Angus from this disgusting habit, I would have realized how funny the powder idea was. I mean, it’s shit. How can you make it taste worse than it already does? Needless to say, it didn’t work. Ha ha. Joke’s on me. And I didn’t learn from that, apparently: recently I purchased some (again, very expensive) probiotic powder to put on the dogs’ food, thinking it might help them more completely metabolize their meals and, thus, make the potential residual nutrition in their stools less appetizing. It didn’t work, and Peat might have developed a nasty rash from the stuff. If anybody wants it, the jar’s on top of our garage fridge.
Both dogs seem — except when hunting — glued to the idea that the world has food for them everywhere and their job is to find and eat it. Our walks are dominated by the poising of my thumb on the “tone” button (if it’s Peat I’m concerned about) or “momentary stimulation” button (if it’s totally deaf Angus I’m worried about) of the e-collar transmitter, hoping to distract the dogs from eating something I think they shouldn’t and which they think absolutely they should. It’s a perma-conflict. It makes me think of what someone once called golf: a good walk spoiled. It’s hopeless, too, because I nearly always have the wrong dog selected when one of them verges on an infraction. Peat stands on his back feet and scarfs chokecherries from overhead branches: I shock Angus. Angus stops mid-trail to inhale day-old turkey diarrhea: I buzz Peat.
Sometimes, we forget the collars when we’re home, which we always say we’ll never do again, and then we forget them again. As we did last night during happy hour, when it was 98 degrees outside and we thought we’d enjoy a beer in the shade. The dogs had had a long walk-run in the morning, gone in and out all day long, and seemed generally quite tired, and we had just fed them. Plus, when we sit around the table outside, they like to join us by jumping in the padded chairs and halfsnooze in our presence. But not this time. Clearly, they remembered something from the night before, and it wasn’t until we noticed they weren’t chillin’ with us (a matter of a minute or two) that we realized they’d headed straight for the quail nest they’d pointed 24 hours earlier. Leslie got there in time to watch Peat eat several of the eggs but somehow managed to shoo him and Angus off and recovered and replaced 9 of the eggs (we had counted 16 the day before). Leslie was more upset by this than I was (but then I wasn’t there, having chosen to remain in the shade with my new homebrew); I tried consoling her by reasoning that we can’t pick and choose which version of the dogs’ prey drive we approve of: we love and brag about Peat’s prey drive, which makes him a phenomenal hunter but which also, sadly, means we have to live with it when we’re not hunting. That very morning, Peat began the day with his usual pre-feeding charade of trying to out-cyclone a cyclone, alternating growling and attacking Angus with rapid-fire circle spinning from the bedroom through the dog door, all peppered with deafening coyote-like shrieks, and then gobbling his 1/2 cup of kibble in 4 seconds. Sometime after I’d gone back to bed (about 5:30), he counter-surfed a container of mini-cupcakes, took them outside, and ate all of them and part of the container.
So I guess I’m not sure where hunger ends and prey drive begins. How closely, if at all, are they related? If Angus hadn’t showed Peat his intense and nearly constant desire to eat or get fed, would Peat have limited his expression of hunger to the field? I’m under no illusion that we can change any of this (although I suspect some of you might disagree; as always, I’m open to suggestions). But, outside the annoyance of Peat’s daily insanity around feeding, I realized just the other day that I have spent the last 19 years worrying about whether my dogs are really feeling hunger. Because even just the feeling of hunger (and not actual hunger, where you’re starving literally) is painful, gnawing like heartbreak. I hope that’s not it. I don’t want my dogs to feel that.