If the package of dog food that you regularly purchase for your dog had a picture of a dead dog on the front accompanied by the words, “Fortified with 100 percent natural dog meat!” would you still buy it? Probably not. And yet this might very well be what you are scanning at the grocery store checkout and scooping into your dog’s bowl.
Dog food is made from many strange things, only a few of which are evident in the list of ingredients. The packaging tends to depict fat, healthy chickens; vegetables that look like they ought to win a ribbon at the county fair; and either thick, juicy steaks or sedate-looking cows. But at around $15 for a 15-pound bag of dry food, nobody is spending enough money to turn a T-bone into dog food. The stuff that ends up in dog food is material that can’t be sold as food for humans. We have different standards for what our animals eat from what we would put in our own mouths, but where should we draw the line?
The idea of pet dogs and cats being used to feed other dogs and cats is disturbing to us. The mangled road kill, diseased cattle and pigs that died before making it to the slaughterhouse all seem like things that we wouldn’t want anywhere near our pets.
Perhaps the real problem is with the other things that hitch a ride with the dead cats, dogs, zoo animals, and some of the livestock that were rejected for human consumption. Many of these animals died after being medicated for health problems that contributed to their deaths, and not all drugs are neutralized during the rendering process. Meat and bone meal can contain antibiotics, steroids, and even the sodium pentobarbital used to kill pets at shelters. By definition, a lot of the animals that ended up in the rendering vat had something wrong with them.
This mass of otherwise unwanted death is a measure of the animal suffering caused by human activity. Fifty percent of all chickens hatched out for the egg business are unneeded roosters that are discarded. Roughly 75 percent of all cats in shelters are euthanized. Because they were unprofitable, because they were inconvenient, because we made too many of them, they were killed.
One million deer are killed by vehicles each year. Even the plastic and Styrofoam from wasted grocery store meat that nobody even bothers to unpack gets rendered for pet food.