Category Archives: Background and History

Tennis Balls Aren’t For Chewing!

 Tennis Balls Aren't For Chewing --
A Lesson Learned The Hard Way: The Story of Meridian’s Teeth

April 2008

The above photo is of Meridian’s teeth. Meridian was my first dog, and she is 10 years old now. We’ve been a team since she was just 6 weeks old. As a dog owner I have learned a LOT in the last decade. One of the things I wish had learned earlier is that tennis balls are not actually suitable toys and over time they can cause damage to a dog’s teeth!

Tennis ball fuzz is abrasive. The texture of the fuzz is actually a part of the game of tennis, as the structure of the fuzz affects how the ball comes off the racket and moves through the air. This may be fine and good for tennis players, but it means tooth damage for dogs who chew on tennis balls.

Meridian was one of those dogs who took to the game “fetch” as a natural, and tennis balls have always been her very favorite toy. There were always tennis balls around the house, and I never stopped her when she decided to “de-fuzz” one of her tennis balls. I thought it was cute!

I don’t know exactly when I started to notice that Meridian’s teeth were wearing unnaturally fast, but by the time she was 4 or 5 it was very obvious. It was also about this time that I learned how bad tennis balls are for a dog’s teeth — especially when they chew the fuzz off and destroy the ball.

You may look at the photo and think, “I don’t know, her teeth look pretty good to me – especially for a 10 year old dog”, but I ask you to look closer. Her bottom incisors have been worn down so that the pulp on the inside of the tooth is exposed — that’s the brown spots. That’s tennis ball damage. You’ll also notice that her canines are all flat. There’s less evidence that this is from tennis ball chewing, but it’s almost certainly due to me letting her chew on inappropriate items over the years — items that are generally recognized as safe and are even promoted by veterinarians! Likely it was damage sustained before I learned that bones like beef shank bones — and any bone that isn’t covered in raw meat — are NOT good for dogs, either.

They say “live and learn” and unfortunately that’s they way we’ve learned this lesson. Luckily she is not in pain thus far and since we’ve switched to “dog friendly” tennis ball toys like the ones made by the Kong company and limited exposure to “regular” tennis balls she has not sustained any further damage.*

The switch to a raw diet with LOTS of raw meaty bones has also greatly improved Meridian’s dental outlook. Raw meaty bones (with an emphasis on RAW and MEATY) are a fantastic tool for keeping teeth and gums healthy and plaque-free. Hopefully this combined with the other elements of an all-over approach to health and wellness will mean many many more years of fetch games and fun healthy living!

Epilogue:  Meridian passed away in the fall of 2010 at the age of 12 and a half without prolonged suffering. One might call it “old age”. Though that was a very sad time in general and the loss of her presence is still felt greatly these years later, I am happy to report within the context of this article that she never required veterinary dental work and her teeth and gums remained healthy due to the benefits of a raw diet and plenty of appropriate chewing activities thru to the end.

*Update, May 2012:  I have just been informed by a friend and fellow dog lover, long time owner of several Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and a pit bull, that the Kong tennis balls she believes have contributed to the same type of tooth damage as “regular” tennis balls.


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The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part III

This is the story of how I came to raw feeding and the dogs I went on that journey with. This is the third part of the story. For the rest of the story please see The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part I and The Original Kitchen Wolves Part II.

This is a point where the story of the three original kitchen wolves, Meridian, Storm, and Natty, converges with raw feeding.  It was spring of 2005.  We had been living in Calgary for about six months.  I was in the process of applying for Canadian permanent residency status and couldn’t legally work, which meant lots of time to spend with the dogs. At this point Meridian was 7 years old, Storm was 6, and Natty not even two.

The Original Kitchen Wolves III (Image: Kitchen Wolf Romp)We were a relatively happy bunch, but each of the dogs had her own minor health issues. These health issues vets assured us were “normal”, and just required pharmaceutical maintenance and/or eventual surgery. This assessment just didn’t feel right to me, though. It was really starting to set in and bother me that despite “good” food and “proper” vet care Storm had awful bouts with yeast buildup in her ears and paws, Natty’s anal glands weren’t being expressed naturally and the smelly fluid would build up, and Meridian had developed a mammary tumor. The dogs were different ages and breeds, and all had wildly different lives from each other before they came to be part of our family. That indicated to me that it was something that was part of our lives now that was the problem (or at least an exacerbating influence), and that there had to be things I could do to address the underlying causes of these issues.

I set about starting some research on what might explain our circumstances and how to fix or at least improve the general situation. I soon discovered raw feeding. Remember, it was 2005. If you’re anything like me, that feels like just yesterday. This was really before a lot of info about raw feeding was available online, though. (There was no Facebook!) The site I found which made the proverbial light-bulb blink on was I’m happy to see that he still maintains this site. I don’t agree with everything he says — in fact I quickly learned that a lot of his advice at the time wasn’t really the best — but I will absolutely give credit where credit is due.

We went “cold turkey” and the dogs ate their last bowls of kibble on April 24th, 2005.  April 25th was their first day of raw food, and though I modified and tweaked the diet plenty of times as we learned, the transition went well and the visible improvement in the dog’s health and demeanor within just months was all I needed to know I had stumbled upon the right way to feed dogs. With help and guidance from mostly the folks who were participating in the Yahoo group at the time simply titled “Raw Feeding” created by Jane Anderson, I gained knowledge and refined my diet plan, and, well, the rest is history.


In the fall of 2010 my husband and I finally came to terms with the fact that our relationship just wasn’t working and that it was time to end the marriage. This was tough in many ways. The toughest part was having to decide the future of the dogs. Meridian was my dog when we met, and Storm was his. It was a no-brainer that our girls would stay with us, respectively.  Natty was always a daddy’s girl and it was decided she would stay with Mike and Storm. We were parting ways on fairly good terms, so I moved into an apartment with Meridian. We visited often.  Mike decided that he did not want to keep feeding raw full time. Still to this day I’m not sure exactly why. He started feeding Orijen kibble. Storm didn’t put up a fuss, but Natty wasn’t too keen on the kibble and made him work at getting her to eat it! (Gooood girl.)

In August of 2010 after some interpersonal stresses that were keeping Mike and I from seeing each other too much, I went for a visit. Mike had become worried about Storm’s health — her neck was very swollen. Within days a vet confirmed my suspicion formed that day, which was that Storm had cancer, either a lymphoma or leukemia. Her health declined rapidly and we said the final goodbye to her on August 8th.

Meridian had been outwardly doing great. We had a health scare a year before with her which alerted us to the fact she was dealing with spondylosis — arthritis of the spine. She must have “tweaked” something one day, and experienced mobility issues for about a week before she just bounced back to her old active self. She continued to enjoy walks, running around, and swimming. Though they hadn’t been living together, Storm’s death seemed to almost have triggered something in her. About two weeks after we said goodbye to Storm, Meridian woke up one morning and just wasn’t herself. She had some ups and downs, but within a months time it was obvious she had come to the end of her life as well. Meridian died on September 10th, 2010.

Both dogs were active and seemed happy through to the end.  I am confident — and have my vet’s backing on this — that raw feeding was responsible for maintaining a very high quality of life for them. Some people endow raw feeding with miracle qualities as a cure-all.  Though the benefits of a species appropriate diet can hardly be denied, things like genetics and lifestyle over time also take their toll and even the best diet can not override other factors.

Raw feeding has been a journey for both myself and the dogs. Meridian and Storm have both reached the end of their journeys with raw feeding, but mine continues. Natty Gann has been joined by both a cat and another dog in her life with Mike, and from what I hear at a distance continues to do well. (Addendum: It is early 2017 and Natty has celebrated her 14th birthday. Mike and I don’t speak much anymore, but I inquire after Natty occasionally.) After Meridian’s death I decided for several reasons to hold off on bringing a new dog into my life. I met an incredible guy in September of 2011 and have moved from Saskatoon to Winnipeg. I love it here so far, but our lives have yet to include a canine, which will hopefully be on the horizon sooner than later. I look forward to the future when a dog can join our lives, and have the benefits of being raw fed from the get-go!




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The Original Kitchen Wolves: part II

If you missed it, read part one here: The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part I (Meridian)

Part II — before raw

When Meridian came into my life I knew NOTHING about dogs. I was 20 years old and had an interest in a natural approach to eating and healthcare for myself, but was like many people in not really understanding the issues when it comes to pet care. (Looking back I realize how much I really didn’t know about any of it, really!) More or less everything I did for Meridian was based on what friends told me was good or bad, or just plain intuition and paying attention to what Meridian was “telling” me.

For the first several months of her life Meridian ate Pedigree dog food. I know, I know, it’s embarrassing to admit, but it was a seemingly good food, and I will actually maintain that in the late 1990’s it was marginally better than it is now. Pedigree was free from the word “by-product”, which was my biggest criteria for defining ‘good’ at the time. Pretty quickly I was enlightened to the existence of an independent pet supply store, and Meridian started eating Nutro and other pretty good kibbles. (Again, keep in mind the time: In the ’90’s Nutro was still to have been bought out by a multinational and was a quality food.) We would continue with the more “high quality” kibbles until the switch to raw food, save one foray into home cooking when Meridian was about a year and a half old. By that point I knew that processed dog food was not ideal, and though I read and researched I just didn’t feel what I was providing was right. It lasted a couple months before I made the decision to go back to commercial food.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part II (Image: Meridian) We lived an active lifestyle and Meridian spent the first 5 or so years of her life living in Philadelphia. She came with me almost everywhere I went except school and work. Our regular turf included Clark Park, an abandoned oil refinery in the southwest of the city, Judy Garland Park and the river between FDR and South Street, the South Street strip, Comet Cafe, friend’s houses, and even punk and metal shows at a variety of venues. She accompanied me on travels outside Philly, which included a trip back to her birthplace of New Orleans at a year old, and other trips to places including  Virginia, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pittsburgh, and many trips to New York City.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part II (image: Meridian and her backpack) Meridian was with me when I met my future husband, Mike, in Milwaukee in 2001. He had a dog named Storm, what one would now call a “bully breed mix”, but at the time we just recognized as “pit bull”, and often claimed as “American Staffordshire Terrier”, as we lived in places and situations where the breed “pit bull” often meant trouble. Meridian and myself and Storm and Mike joined forces, living in Philly for another year.  (Storm has her own story as one of my original “kitchen wolves”.) In March of 2002 we left Philly for good and the four of us headed out on an adventure which would take us south to Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada before coming up to Mike’s homeland of Canada. We settled down for a bit in southern Alberta, where we were married in September of 2002.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part II (Image: Storm)

We then returned to New Orleans to live. New Orleans presented some interesting challenges as pet owners. The climate in the Gulf Coast area is hot and humid almost all year round. The bugs are insane and we battled fleas. At that time I had yet to learn the truths and alternatives concerning chemical heartworm “preventatives”, and also had yet to discover a reliable way to keep fleas at bay, and they got out of control. It was awful. It was also an interesting learning experience, and one of the events that really triggered my questioning the mainstream approach to health and well-being.

Despite the application of products like Frontline and Advantage life was unbearable. I had a sort of epiphany one day and said, “Screw this. These products are poison, and can’t be good. Nevermind that, they’re costly. If they’re not doing anything why use them?”. At the time the dogs were on Heartgard, a monovalent drug for heartworm prevention, so we simply stopped doing the Frontline drops and the population of fleas in our house went down noticeably. That was an eye-opener!

In the spring of 2003 the third original kitchen wolf joined our pack: A 3-month old Chow/Corgi mix who we named Natty Gann. A year after that it was time for yet another major life change when we decided to move to Canada permanently. We packed up a U-Haul, loaded into the Jeep Cherokee and drove up to start our new lives in southern Alberta. A year after that, on April 24th, 2005 all three dogs ate their last piece of kibble and we became a raw fed family. Meridian was 7 years old, Storm about 6, and Natty just a year or so.

Read about the original kitchen wolves starting raw in Part III

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part II (image: Natty)




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The original kitchen wolves: Part I (Meridian)

PART I — The very beginning

Meridian was my first dog.  She was the product of forbidden love between two of my friend’s dogs, each with their own unique history. I have learned a LOT about dogs and life in general in the years since her birth in 1998. There are people who might take issue with Meridian’s start to life and question things like responsibility or the fact that she was bred and born not as a conformation champion or proven in field trials, but as an “oops” between two mutts (and a “May-December romance” at that). I am not ashamed to say my first dog — my ‘heart dog’ — reflected youth and inexperience. I think it illustrates an important part of what I try to do with Pack Lunch: Communicate that there’s always room for improvement, but that you have to start somewhere and there’s no point in dwelling on the past.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part I (Image: Meridian as a pup w/ mom)

Dad, Gobblet, was a ~12 year old husky/shepherd mix who had been owned by one member of a vast circle of friends, and then came to live with a closer friend. He was an incredible dog. Everyone says, “my dog is smart and handsome and has a unique personality”, but we all know that intelligent, good lookin’, and truly special is usually in the eye of the beholder (regardless of species).  Gobblet really was all of those things, though.  Everyone who met him could see it.  He was a dog that really made me long to have my own dog for a companion.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part II (image: Meridian and Gobblet)

Mom, Chewy, came along somewhat suddenly. She was a stray on the streets of West Philadelphia.  A friend of mine saw her on two occasions, and the second time Chewy followed her home. Efforts to find a human family turned up nothing, and Philly animal shelters weren’t so much a place for reunification or to find a new family as much as a good way for a dog to end up in a cage for a few days, then euthanized. My friend took an immediate liking to her (despite challenges from the rest of us!) and took her into her life and her home. She named her Chewbacca, as she resembled the Star Wars character, especially before she went through a proper grooming job .

It’s likely one of the reasons Chewy was on the streets is that she was going through a heat cycle, or was about to. Maybe her first, maybe her second — a vet had assessed her age to be between 1 and 2 years old. Though she wasn’t showing obvious signs of a heat cycle at first, there was no question about it soon after. Thus, two in-tact dogs with scheduled respective spay and neuter appointments, combined with some Christmans-time chaos led to a romantic interlude and, well, the rest is history. An amusing detail is that despite neither parent being my dog, Meridian was conceived in my room in a house I shared with roommates. I had gone to Michigan to spend the holiday with my family, and my empty room apparently was the perfect venue for a lover’s rendezvous.

Cut to two months later.  A car-trip to New Orleans from Philly for the Mardi Gras festivities and to visit a friend who had moved there recently — planned well before the events described above — precipitated myself, Chewy’s human, and Chewy herself with pups in-utero driving the 24-hours to the Big Easy. As people will do, we made plans which didn’t quite work out in the perfect way we had planned. The idea was to be home by the time Chewy had her puppies, but we we stayed longer than originally planned, and Chewy delivered a bit sooner than expected. Likely triggered by Lundi Gras (the Monday before “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras”) fireworks on St. Charles Street, Chewy delivered her puppies at 60 days of gestation on February 23rd, 1998. We travelled back to Philly with mamma and pups about a week later. It only took days to know one of the 4 pups was going to be my new companion. Little did I know at the time that over the next 12 and a half years this little pup would change my life in ways I could never expect.

Read about the addition of the other two original ‘kitchen wolves’ and the next part of the story in part two.

The Original Kitchen Wolves: Part I (image: Meridian's first bath)



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