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Kosher pet food for a doggie Seder dinner

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 10, 2009 | 5:41 pm

Photo: Chicago Tribune

I’ve heard of raising your dog Jewish, and I’ve scoffed on the occasion of a $10,000 bark mitzvah, but this might take the cake: Kosher pet food.

Yep. And you thought dropping Iams for organic was excessive. Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company has the offerings, which will be on display at a pet Seder at Wigglyville pet store in Chicago.

Frankly, I’m not sure what I find odder: helping your pets keep kosher or subjecting them to the Four Questions. (How is this night different from all other nights? Well, let’s start with the fact that your dog is eating food off the top of the table and chomping on matzo instead of a peanut butter biscuit.) Strange indeed.

Here’s the story from The New York Times:

It might sound odd, but for Jews who consider Rex to be part of the family, Passover presents a quandary. Even though rabbis do not advise restricting dogs to a kosher diet, the Torah is clear about ridding homes of grains, not just avoiding consuming them, during Passover week, and pet food often contains rice, barley and other grains.

Those who keep kosher year round, meanwhile, believe that combining dairy and meat for any reason, even to feed to a pet, violates Jewish law.

Ms. Sher bought the company in 2002, and inquired about kosher certification a year later, after seeing a neighbor feeding her dog in the garage during Passover to keep nonkosher food out of her house. (Some pet owners board their dogs during Passover, or ask non-Jews to take them for the week.)

So Ms. Sher, who is Jewish, submitted an application to the Chicago Rabbinical Council, one of a handful of organizations across the country that certify foods as kosher. The rabbis required her to remove grains as well as meat-dairy combinations, inspected the plant, then gave her permission to say “Kosher for Passover” on labels for most of Evanger’s dog food flavors and about a quarter of its cat food.

A letter of certification spells out that the food is “acceptable for use by those who observe Jewish law (free from any forbidden mixtures)” but “not kosher for human consumption.”

The food is not made with kosher meat, which Ms. Sher said would be prohibitively expensive. Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, a council administrator, explained that the reference to human consumption is not because “we think anyone is going to eat the dog food, but we do worry about them throwing the dog dish in the dishwasher with kosher dishes.”

He said that while the Torah made clear that it was permissible to feed nonkosher meat to livestock or other animals, it prohibited deriving any benefit or pleasure, which one gets from nourishing a pet, from meat-dairy mixtures at any time or grains during Passover.

Before the 2007 pet food recalls, which did not affect Evanger’s, the company started an organic line. It used fresh rather than dehydrated vegetables and food only from United States sources, most within 40 miles of its plant. Evanger’s trumpeted that fact in the wake of the recalls, which stemmed from tainted wheat gluten from China.

While the recalls were a fiasco for many large producers, they had “the effect of driving pet owners into the arms of smaller-batch alternative pet food makers,” said a recent report by Packaged Facts, a market research business.

Ms. Sher said sales increased 300 percent in the wake of the recalls and had remained steady, with annual revenue topping $10 million today.

The kosher designation may have helped drive that growth, since non-Jews may associate it with superior quality, a notion popularized by the slogan for the hot-dog maker Hebrew National: “We answer to a higher authority.”

Not kosher for human consumption ... so that’s why that Snausage I ate as a kid tasted nothing like it looked.

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