Christine Filardi is a certified holistic chef for animals and the founder of BowMeowRaw, a company that coaches dog and cat owners on transitioning their pets to a holistic lifestyle. She is the author of “Home Cooking for Your Dog: 75 Holistic Recipes for Your Dog.” She lives in East Atlantic Beach with her five dogs, four cats and two turtles.
How did you find your way to being a holistic chef for animals?
I was walking on the beach back in 1999 with my first dog, and I met a woman who said to me, “What are you feeding your dog?” That question changed the trajectory of my whole life. She said I should be feeding him a raw diet, not the commercial stuff. We’d meet up and she started giving me books, giving me bones. I started rescuing cats and giving them a raw diet. Then in 2005, I took in a foster dog who was extremely sick. The shelter could not help him. He was emaciated, had lost half the fur on his body. He had an infected ear. It took me nine months to rehab him with a ton of good food. People were shocked at the transformation. I decided to look for a course that would certify me in holistic cooking for animals so that people would listen to me. It took about a year, and gave me a great template for working with clients who want to transition to a homemade diet for their pets.
And how did your book come about?
Another chance meeting. I was volunteering for the Freeport Animal Shelter in February 2012, looking after a dog named Chowder during an adoption event. In the afternoon a woman named Jackie came in to take over for me. We chatted. She asked me what I did. I gave her my card. She called me a bunch of times, not leaving a voice mail. When I finally called her back she told me she was an editor at Abrams and had decided that I should write a cookbook. I had never even thought of writing a book. But of course I said I’d do it.
How do you develop your recipes?
Every recipe has to make sense and be practical. There’s a ratio for every one. So 75 percent of a dog’s meal should be animal protein. The remaining 25 percent you can play around with. I’ve found that my pets tolerate grains very well, but you can also prepare grain-free food. Raw recipes are the easiest, but I knew some people would want cooked recipes, so I developed those, too. I buy meat at Armellino’s, a canine butcher in Huntington Station, for $1.50 a pound. Making your own pet food is cheap, compared to what you pay at a pet store, without even factoring in the cost of vet visits and medications for all of the problems that commercial pet food causes.
What kind of impact does homemade food have on pets?
Commercial pet food is heated four times. During the process, so much nutrition is lost. They add synthetic vitamins, but these are not as easy to assimilate. I really believe that a majority of behavior issues are the result of nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. Certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids calm pets. Skin issues and stomach issues are also the result of poor nutrition and will resolve with a healthier diet. My dogs don’t have allergies, joint problems, skin problems. They don’t smell.
I assume you cook holistically for yourself and other humans?
I’ve always believed that you are what you eat. Now my pets and I are in it together. When I steam kale for myself, I steam some for the dogs. It’s easy.
Ground Beef, Couscous and Broccoli for Dogs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup uncooked couscous
1⁄4 cup chopped broccoli florets
1. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the beef and cook until it is browned. Drain any excess fat and set the beef aside.
2. Prepare the couscous as directed on the package and set aside to cool. You should have about 2 cups of cooked couscous.
3. Puree the broccoli in a food processor and set it aside. You should have about 1⁄4 cup of broccoli puree.
4. To make one serving, in your dog’s bowl, combine 1 1⁄3 cups cooked beef, 1⁄2 cup cooked couscous, and 1 tablespoon pureed broccoli and mix well to combine. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Makes 4 servings for a 50-pound dog.