Gag me with a bowl

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My last baby was born more than 17 years ago. I remember because I gagged nearly every day for nine months before she made her entrance into the world.

I gagged when I opened my eyes in the morning. My stomach lurched when I brushed my teeth. I heaved at the smell of food, but I also gagged for no reason at all. A lovely spring breeze, a TV commercial for roofing, and even a simple yawn could double me over. But that was a long time ago, and I thought I was done with that. I was wrong.

But this time, it’s not a human baby and a flood of hormones triggering my gag reflex. This time around, it’s the fur babies. Specifically, it’s their food.

We used to feed our cat and two dogs dry food because it smelled the least offensive. But somewhere along the way — after various tummy troubles — each one went on a hunger strike and rejected the kibble. So, we put wet food underneath the dry food to entice them back to their bowls.

If you’ve never had the distinct displeasure of opening a can of wet pet food, allow me to describe what you’re (not) missing. Everything about the experience assaults the senses, beginning with the sound. After you peel the lid or wrapper off the top of the pet food, you’ve got to give it a forceful downward shake to get it out of the container and into a bowl. The food is vacuum-sealed so well that it often requires two or three determined thwacks to pry it loose. When it finally does come flying out, it lands with a soggy plop.

The wet plop rarely happens without splatter. Invariably, a drop of juice or an unrecognizable meat particle will escape the bowl onto your kitchen counter, hand, or both. My overactive gag reflex recoils at the clammy, gelatinous texture that often comes in its own godforsaken gravy. I rush to the sink to wash it off my hands and the white countertop.

I immediately pour dry kibble over the brown mound of canned food so I won’t have to see it any longer than necessary. Brown food of any kind isn’t pretty (unless it’s banana bread). But shelf-stable, vacuum-sealed, brown, mushy food in mystery juice or gravy is particularly hard on the eyes. The dogs obviously disagree because they watch their breakfast preparation like it’s the chase scene of an action-adventure movie.

The sound, texture, and sight of it might be tolerable if not for the accompanying smell. That’s what usually pushes me over the edge. It never ever smells like the picture on the package. Pot roast with spring vegetables? Turkey, green beans, and potatoes? Nope. It smells like a lumpy loaf of mashed-up animal parts, including poultry necks, spleen segments, kidney giblets, intestines, and other byproducts commonly found in pet food. The cat and dogs think it smells delicious, as evidenced by how they clamor toward the bowls – drooling as they go.

I usually gag at least twice during this morning ritual despite a herculean effort to hold my breath and not look directly at it. But I’d do anything for this four-legged part of our family. I’d fight off a bear. I’d lift a car off their furry tails. And I’ll keep getting up to prep this brackish breakfast while their tails wag in anticipation.

We all do crazy things for love.

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