Taste Buddies

Taste Buddies

When four local bakers donate nine varieties of dog treats for a taste test by six of man’s best friends at the Robin I. Kroogman New Haven Animal Shelter, who will come out the winner? As it turns out, everybody.

Topped with tomato-pumpkin sauce, low-fat mozzarella and Europa cheeses from Arethusa Farm and uncured turkey pepperoni, a slice of Pup Pizza Dog Bakery’s new-to-market “dog-healthy” pizza—the brainchild of West Havener Zoey Cigar-Hodge, whose usual quality assurance tester is her pit bull, Hazel, an NHAS graduate—was a hit with our own first taster, Speck. A stocky 5-year-old American bulldog mix with dark specks decorating her light body and an inkblot face, Speck is the kind of woman who owns the room even when on a leash. Demonstrating the people-friendliness and love of exploration cited in her shelter bio, she inhaled her pizza as well as one of several Peanut Butter Bones donated by Katalina Riegelmann of Katalina’s Bakery here in New Haven. Slowing down a bit, Speck then savored a Pumpkin Pupcake furnished by Lora Corcoran, owner of Cheshire-based dog bakery The Good Ruff—whose generously donated array of beautiful baked “desserts” included Tennis Ball Cookies frosted in yellow-green yogurt and finished with the word “fetch”—and grain-free Sirloin & Sweet Potato treats from Guilford’s Triple R Pet Shop, owned by Debbie Scillia. The latter goodies are star-shaped and made with “lightly steamed sweet potatoes, crisp apples and fresh parsley” in addition to the beef.

Wanda, a 2-year-old black, brown-eyed Labrador mix who loves affection, long walks and, seemingly, other dogs, was more ladylike, gingerly taking treats from my hand. Offered the same menu as Speck, she too slowed down partway through but left nothing more than crumbs behind.

Taylor, dog #3, proved a pickier eater. A two-year old black-and-white pit bull mix whose ears are as bouncy as her personality, she seemed to like her pizza—but only in a limited dose—and turned her nose up at both her pupcake and her peanut butter bone. She did, however, scarf down Triple R’s petite sirloin treats and, from The Good Ruff, a small Apple Cinnamon Paw Bone (flavored with unsweetened applesauce), suggesting portion size was the determining factor. Speck and Wanda were fans of the paw bone as well.

For our second trio of tasters, we changed things up, giving them a “fetch” cookie and a Peanut Butter Pupcake from The Good Ruff; a gluten-free Cheese Stick from Pup Pizza in addition to a slice; and Triple R’s Peanut Butter & Blueberry cookie variety. Our next dog, Cupid, a 2-year-old suede-and-ivory pit bull terrier with a heart-like spot on her left side, came across as a connoisseur. Rather than rush through each selection, she played with and savored them a bit more, perhaps letting the full panoply of flavors tickle her nose and palate before committing fully. The “fetch” cookie was a hit, even if she wasn’t as crazy about the pupcake, and she would have eaten as many cheese sticks as I offered.

Aurora, a 2-year-old cocoa-and-cream pit bull cuddly enough to try and climb up next to you, is without question a food-motivated pup. She hoovered up every treat as if it was her last meal and drooled in my lap—for me, a tiptoe through the tulips.

It was 18-month-old Pixie, however, who especially won my heart. This sweet and shy Belgian shepherd mix took her treats from my hand gently and politely with a look that bored into my soul, quietly appreciating each special morsel.

It's tempting to think that shelter dogs, experiencing more adversity than our (hopefully) pampered pets, might be more uncritical of any pleasure given them simply because they’ve gotten so few. But, as we’ve seen, a dog without a family is still a dog with distinction, even when they lick up every last crumb.

Written by Patricia Grandjean. Images 1 (of The Good Ruff’s Tennis Ball Cookies) and 6 (of Aurora during the tasting) photographed by Patricia Grandjean. Images 2 (of Speck) and 3 (of Wanda) photographed by Mara Lavitt for the NHAS. Image 4 (of Taylor) screencapped from her shelter video. Images 5 (of Cupid) and 7 (of Pixie) photographed by Zoey Cigar-Hodge.

Special thanks to Friends of the New Haven Animal Shelter board members Deb Wan (president) and Elaine Spinato (treasurer), who handled the pups. Disclosure: Patricia Grandjean (secretary) also serves on the board.

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