08 October 2008

Special Pet Food Helps Canines Keep Kosher

Seven-year-old Porsche keeps kosher. Following the Bible, he does not mix meat and milk products, does not eat grains during Passover and especially does not eat pork. Except that Porsche is a dog. As Jewish families try to respect tradition over the holidays, when rules for eating are especially stringent, they hardly know what to do about their pets.

“My home is kosher. You want to meet those standards,” said Porsche’s owner, Gayle Ostro of Lincolnwood. “A lot of dogs eat dried pig ears and raw hide, but I don’t bring any of that in my house.” A mother of six, Ostro struggled every Passover to meet the holiday’s restrictive rules. As she changed her dog’s diet to approved chicken, he often got sick because of the unaccustomed food.

“We started seeking out what we could do about it,” she said. Then she learned about Holly Cher's company. “Just this year and last year we were able to use food approved for Passover,” Ostro said.

Cher, owner of Evangers Dog and Cat Food Co. based in Wheeling, recently began producing kosher food for pets. She distributes her products to pet stores worldwide.

Cher, also of Lincolnwood, says she got the idea while walking her dog, when she happened to meet a Jewish neighbor. Her neighbor explained she was struggling to follow the Passover rules and was forced to lock her dog in the garage. “I don’t put any milk products or grains in my food,” Cher said, explaining her transition to producing kosher pet food. “This would be very easy for me to do."

She then called the Chicago Rabbinical Council and asked what guidelines she had to follow to be approved. “I can tell you the rabbis are a pleasure to work with,” she said. “They’ve been nothing but helpful.” Cher said she had to spend about $12,000 to change more than 50 of her food labels. “It was worth it,” she said, explaining that there are benefits for the animals as well as the customers. You’ve got to take out the grains, which is healthier,” she said. “And you get another inspection.”

The Rabbinical Council, which is an international organization based in Chicago, is responsible for determining whether pet food companies follow the rules. Rabbis store information on food formulas in a big database and make regular visits to factories.

Though pets are not required to keep kosher, many feel that their four-legged companions should be included in the family’s rites and traditions. “I want [Porsche] to be kosher,” Ostro said. “He’s a Jewish dog. He’s part of the family.”

[Source: Medill Reports Chicago]