Shortly after I was celebrating the success of curing my cat Duke’s IBD in 2002 with a home-prepared raw diet I’d learned about— thanks to a Yahoo e-group, feline nutrition pioneers Natascha Wille and Michelle Bernard, and an amazing Canadian cat mom named Lee Ellis—an unexpected turn of events led to my interview with a veterinary publication for clients about my experience.
I was thrilled at the chance to share my story and spent hours on the phone with an interviewer sharing what I’d learned along the way: the countless false starts I’d had trying several recipes that included grains, attempting a cooked diet, battling doubt about my choice given all the admonitions against raw feeding, and my inability to secure advice from a trusted veterinary source on how best to evaluate the balance and safety of the raw diet recipes online.
When the article was published and arrived in the mail, I saw that all my references to “raw diet” were expunged. Each was replaced (without running the copy by me ahead of time) with “veterinary supervised home prepared diet.”
Veterinary supervised? Not so much.
The point of my story was that I could not—as many others could not—find a veterinarian to help with something so important. It was the gap between vets and clients on such a fundamental aspect of cat health that needed attention. There were sick cats who could be made well again if only we could rely on vets to help us understand what it means to feed well. In my subsequent exchanges with the author, she offered sympathy for my frustration but explained that a veterinary publication could not ‘in good conscience‘ implicitly or explicitly endorse a raw diet. She explained that the editorial board thus determined the safest decision would be to share my story but swap out “home prepared” and “veterinary supervised” for all references to a raw diet.
In commiserating with a colleague and friend — a scholar in another field altogether who, over the course of his very long career, published many important books uncovering injustices and travesties in European century history — I said, “The deck is stacked too high against those of us trying to share this message. There’s no way to make a dent in the dominant paradigm that the pet food industry has the answers to help sick animals.“
His reply: “Don’t go there. Why give up so easily? It may not happen overnight, but don’t underestimate the power over time of sharing a message that needs to be heard. It may be cliche, but one person can make a difference. Two can make an even bigger difference. Add a few more and pretty soon a few folks will take notice.”
Point taken, but what to do? Ooh ooh ooh! I know. Write letters.
With help from my then new friend and ally in the healthy feeding world, Dr. Lisa Pierson, I launched a one-woman letter-writing campaign to all the veterinary universities with nutrition departments in North America. It was quite an undertaking. I put together the original sources I’d assembled on my own, wrote a cover letter to each with an entreaty to please help all of us learn to feed our cats better, and snail-mailed off scores of information packages to each. I recall the day I’d finally gotten all the separate parts of the package edited, printed off, collated, and sitting in neat little piles on the dining room table ready to assemble. I stared at all that paper wondering if I was nuts to even spend postage on all this. But I mailed them off anyway. Maybe in some way I’d spur some veterinary nutrition teacher to start shortening the too-long learning curve on this question.
I waited. And waited. And waited.
For some replies, that is. Days. Weeks.
Deafening silence ensued. The solitary response received came on slick letterhead from a nutrition department professor who politely opined that my cat’s recovery from IBD was almost certainly coincidental, had nothing whatsoever to do with the raw diet, and that my cat most likely would have gotten better on the right commercial diet. He also warned me to about the dangers of handling raw meat for my own health.
It was clear that writing to veterinary schools wasn’t getting me anywhere. Plan B? A website. I questioned the wisdom taking time I didn’t have to spare on a venture that would not only would never make a dime and was unlikely to ever to reach more than a few people. I knew nothing about building a website. But I did it anyway. It was a sorry site, design-wise, but you have to start somewhere, right? Fools rush in, especially with words like “coincidental cure” ringing in the head.
Coincidental my a**.
What if just one sick cat got better? Would that be worth the trouble? I looked at Duke’s amber eyes and thought of the many other sick cats out there suffering needlessly from a malady that could be turned around with the right diet and thought, “Duke, we gotta give this a shot.”
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, penned a marvelous book in 1994 about writing called “Bird by Bird” that I finally had the good sense to read in late 2013. In the author’s own words, the story behind the book’s title goes like this:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’
I wondered then how I would ever be an effective little cog in the then small wheel that made up the chorus of voices sharing the word about truly healthy nutrition for these feline creatures? I see now that my answer was the same.
Cat by cat.
I realize that while there are still moments of exasperation at how much resistance many of us face in questioning the dominant paradigm on healthy feeding for cats. Since I started this site over 20 years ago, the collective of voices, honest companies, and brave vets has made a dent in that paradigm. Exasperation yielded to inspiration.
In truth, I was ready to let the site fall by the wayside a couple of years ago. Like everyone, I have a busy life and plenty of competing claims on my time and energy. And while cat nutrition was a passion, it wasn’t the only one that I wanted to feed. I wasn’t sure that there was any need for it any more since, happily, there are so many great resources available now that weren’t around in the early 2000s. I wasn’t sure I could muster the motivation to keep it going. I figured that anyone who was going to get the message already had and that by now all this was old news.
But you all inspire me. And so do your cats.
I love the proliferation of more and more good sources of information on feeding cats. Is there still far too much misinformation out there? Yes. From vets and lay people alike. But? It’s not nearly as difficult as it was 20 years ago to find a vet that supports raw feeding. It was rare then to find a pet food store selling decent raw food.
Running an Internet search on “raw feeding cats” today doesn’t only bring up a first page of results with dire, fear-mongering, and outright misleading warnings from pet food companies.
Who made that happen? You did. You and your commitment to and compassion for these creatures. So? Thank you for taking the time to look at this website. I know it’s not the only site out there with (hopefully) useful information feeding cats.
I appreciate the many helpful suggestions I get from site visitors. Thank you for sharing your own compelling stories, your victories, and your challenges. Thanks for being part of our virtual Team Feed-Cats-Way-Better club. We should all get snazzy t-shirts and hold a flash mob or something.
I’m honored to be on the team with you. Thank you.