One of the small intrigues of being a newspaperman is that I never know what’s going to show up in my mailbox. The other day, for example, I slit open an envelope and found three energy bars waiting inside, sent along by a publicist hoping to promote the latest in American nutrition. The snacks, I’m told, were specially made to be shared by dogs and their owners.
YaffBars are the brainchild of a Vermont couple that wanted to create a treat they could eat with their canines. I split the banana peanut butter, blueberry carob and honey almond cranberry bars with my 10-year-old terrier, Foster, who begged for more. The bars are moist, like date bread, and are wheat, dairy and caffeine free. To keep my terrier caffeine free, I didn’t offer him any of the coffee I was drinking to wash down my portion of our man/dog food. Terriers need no extra stimulation.
In the interest of full disclosure, I guess I should point out that Foster’s enthusiasm for the energy bars shouldn’t be taken as the seal of approval from a discriminating palate. Last month, with equal zeal, he ate a lizard. He’s also been known to consume grass, bugs, and one or two other things too icky to mention here.
All of this reminded me of the late E.B. White’s description of the dietary habits of a puppy that was on its way to his farm in coastal Maine. The little dog, White knew, would be perfectly happy with “a flake of well-rotted cow manure from my boot, a dead crocus bulb from the lawn, a shingle from the kindling box, a bloody feather from the execution block behind the barn . . .”
I came across those musings in “E.B. White on Dogs,” a new book that collects White’s best writing about man’s best friend. White is best known for children’s stories such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” and for teaming up with William Strunk Jr. to create a classic guide to writing, “The Elements of Style.” White also excelled at graceful essays about New York and rural New England published in The New Yorker and Harper’s magazine.
But regardless of what White was writing, there was often a dog nearby. Canines were a constant in his life until his death, at age 86, in 1985.
One of the continuing themes in “White on Dogs” is White’s belief that we’re spoiling our dogs rotten.
“The possession of a dog today is a different thing from the possession of a dog at the turn of the century, when one’s dog was fed on mashed potato and brown gravy and lived in a doghouse with an arched portal,” White wrote in 1940. “Today a dog is fed on scraped beef and Vitamin B1 and lives in bed with you.”
Like most people who lament the spoiling of pets, White wasn’t above indulging his own. Among other accommodations to his four-legged friends, White once devised a heating lamp to keep his dachshund from getting the shivers.
What would E.B. White think of energy bars made for pets and humans to share?
He would be amused, one gathers, but not necessarily surprised.