Sunday, November 8, 2015

Including the Time I Ate Purina Cat Chow, My Life Has Always Been #BetterWithPets (2015 Summit)

No one ever told Thomas cats don't like snow.
It would be the beginnings of a years-long mutually beneficial relationship.

It's one of those early childhood recollections that, somehow, instead of getting catalogued for the long-term, is destined for display on an endcap in the library of one's memory.

I was between five and six years old, sitting on the vinyl floor of the modest square kitchen at the front of my family's townhouse, directly left of the front door. Besides my Siamese cat Thomas, who was shamelessly circling my person, purring and plowing every square inch of his slick, chocolate and tan coat into my back and arms, I was alone in the room. I had decided to join Thomas at his food dish for a mid-morning (or -afternoon, that detail is missing. Still, I know it was an off time, since at standard mealtimes, I would've never been in the kitchen unsupervised) snack.

Thomas. Cat, playmate, guardian, Jr. High tear catcher, snack sharer.

I'm not exactly sure how long I was sitting there - most likely remarking to Thomas about the green gingham pattern on my polyester, bell-bottom pants, for example, or how I was gonna go roller skating in the parking lot (outside my front door) later, and would he like to watch me from the patch of grass that was our front yard - before I got the urge. 

The dish was sitting in the same place it always was, pushed up to the baseboard and out of the way of foot traffic. And as always, it had a little bit of kibble in it - Purina® Cat Chow®, to be precise. It was the only food we ever fed our cats. Except back in the day - when I was a kid - the pieces were shaped like little x's, not the mini-hockey pucks they are today+. Thomas didn't seem to be all that hungry, since he was opting to deposit his invisible scent and loose fur all over me, rather than partake of the brownish-red colored bounty before him.

And so I thought (with my innocent, five and a half-year-old mind) this is my chance: if Thomas thinks the stuff is all that - and why wouldn't he? It looks like a bowl of natural-colored Apple Jacks®*, except, unlike Apple Jacks, has a savory, almost snack food-like aroma - then, by golly, why shouldn't I?

Elizabeth. 5.5-year-old Cat Chow connoisseur. 

So, I took a quick look behind me and both ways down the hallway, just to be sure there'd be no human witnesses, and I did it: reached in Thomas' bowl, snatched a Kindergartner-sized fistful of Cat Chow and, without a moment's hesitation, crammed the whole pointy lot into my mouth.

Interestingly, my recollection after this point is less vivid - except for the undeniable memory of unexpected tang (not as bad as a black jellybean surprise, but no where near as good as the bacon bits I thought it was gonna be), as I attempted to chew. I'm not even sure if I actually did chew it up...or swallow it...or run to the trash can and spit it all out. None of that really makes a difference to the story, truthfully.

What does matter to this story, and to every other kid's story - when they have the responsibility of helping to care for a pet - is this:


I never ate cat food (and only once did I try a piece of Jon Farleigh's birthday cake, that I bought at the local doggy treat bakery) again.

Christmas Day 1975. Banana seat, bell bottoms, big plans. 

* It occurs to me now that Apple Jacks are, in fact, shaped like circles, and not jacks at all. Which begs the question, WHY? I mean, who the fritter is Jack, and why is he made of apple? Never mind. ☺

Fast forward 40 years...

program for 2015 Purina Better With Pets next to blue merle corgi looking up
Dewi. #BetterAtHomeWithCorgis ♥

Purina is still impacting my life - and the lives of countless others, people and pets included. And it's not just about food.

Earlier this week I had the honor and privilege (OK, let's get real: the Nestle Purina people awarded me an all-expenses paid trip to NYC to talk cats and dogs, and I ran around the room squealing like an Adam Levine groupie!) of attending their third annual Purina Better With Pets Summit in Brooklyn, NY.

The summit serves to - straight from the inside cover of my program, according to Purina - "...bring together the brightest minds in pet science and culture, to share how big, innovative ideas are improving the emotional wellness of pets and the people who love them."

wide angle of Better With Pets block letter sculptures in front of dog agility ring

And, I was in esteemed company: not only some of the best pet writers and bloggers I know (including some who are role models for me), but journalists, editors, business owners, marketing gurus, columnists, YouTubers, publishers, scientists, engineers, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and shoot, even an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning ABC News documentary producer, who happens to also star in Bravo's Real Housewives of New York!

Carole Radziwill sitting in chair and speaking on Purina Better With Pets stage
Carole Radziwill. Award-winning news documentary producer, lifelong animal lover, Real Housewife of New York.

Y'all, can I have a moment? When I was a girl, I wanted to be flipping ALL of these people when I grew up! (OK, maybe I didn't want to be a reality TV star, but still!)

To be sure, Purina put together a well-versed group of thought leaders, covering a wide-range of emotional wellness topics, from dogs bringing together rural communities on the brink, to cat cafes and their potential impact on millennials, to revolutionary advancements in shelter enclosures, to the specific rewards of dog ownership for children who are autistic or survivors of abuse. 

The main gist?

With the millions upon millions of pets already in the world, can you imagine the potential positive effects on society? Can you believe we've gone several lifetimes and are just now catching on?

It's hard for me to believe, too, but I'm sure you'll join me in being thankful there are some really smart pet people in the world who are doing something the frick about it!

Poster display of expert Alexandra Johnson and bio at Purina Better With Pets summit
Alexandra Johnson. Really smart person, designer responsible for new and upcoming Purina interactive feeding toys, listened to me go on and on about the Cardigan Welsh Corgi rapper in the Beggin'® Party Poppers™ commercial

So, tell us more about what you learned at that summit, Elizabeth.

There was so much! But OK, how about these highlights**:

Purina employs an Alaska-based, Cornell-educated senior research scientist and veterinarian, Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, who - while also training for prestigious races - evaluates the impacts of nutrition on performance in his 30 working sled dogs.

Additionally - while doing all of these things - he has been instrumental in re-introducing working dogs (which have traditionally been an integral part of small Alaskan community culture and livelihood, but with modern technology, were less and less needed) into communities that were/are in decline. With his leadership and expertise, he has helped spread a movement -
The Frank Alta Youth Program - which uses Alaskan sled dogs to benefit at-risk students all over rural Alaska. 

Dr. Arleigh Reynolds. Veterinarian, Purina Sr. research nutritionist, sled dog raiser, philanthropist, also, GO WATCH THIS! (photo copyright© Purina, used with permission)

Another moment please, y'all. You know that show called Northern Exposure from the 90s? Where the Ivy League doctor had to go to rural AK and practice medicine to pay off his loan? Yeah, well, imagine Dr. Arleigh Reynolds like that. Except in this version of the show, John Corbett is the doctor, but not for people, for animals. Oh, and imagine John Corbett looked a little like Paul Newman, who looks a little more like Dr. Reynolds than John Corbett. {insert intentional pause} Look, someone had to say it, because I KNOW everybody in that summit room was thinking it! And boy, do I hope Dr. (Arleigh, which is like my corgi J. Farleigh without an F, interestingly) Reynolds - and my husband - don't read this!

 Anthrozoology is a relatively new discipline of study that looks at the relationship between humans and other animals, including the positive effects of animals in society.

 1 in 3 people in the U.S. has a pet cat.

 Millenials' relationships with cats tend to be hyper-social, meaning relationship expectations are being formed as a result of seeing cats in social media. This can lead to unrealistic expectations of cats. 

 Studies have shown that people who have cats as pets are becoming less likely to identify as being introverted.

Elizabeth Keene holding young siamese cat in front of her face on sofa in Cat Experience Room of Purina Better With pets Summit 2015
Me. Introvert with extroverted tendencies. 

 When cats are stressed, the chemical imbalance in their brains is directly linked to the disease that causes feline lower urinary tract disease. When the stressor(s) is removed from the cat's environment, the disease will resolve over time. 

 Dogs and cats prefer pastel colors (vs. bold) in their living quarters.

 Dogs and cats benefit from positive stressors, including working for food through interactive puzzles and games. In field trials, dogs have shown preference for a food puzzle over eating a meal that is simply placed before them.

• Music can be calming for shelter pets. 

• Dog companionship is proven to level the playing field and empower children (and adults) who have trouble communicating, and/or are dealing with difficult situations, including in juvenile and domestic justice systems. 

Black lab in service vest lying on mat in front of cot at Purina Better With Pets 2015
Black lab service dog. Rocker of worlds. 

I could go on! What a day!

Stay tuned to the blog, though, because there's Part Two! Except next time, I'll expand a bit on the most intriguing (to me) part of the summit: Cat Cafes!

Wondering (like I was) what the heck a Cat Cafe is? And why the heck they might make my heart beat a little bit faster? You'll see! And, oh yeah, I'm writing it specifically for DOG PEOPLE! (Though, I hope cat people will read  - and maybe chime in - too!)

See you back here soon, pet friends!

group of bloggers, including Elizabeth Keene at Chronicles of Cardigan, on stage at Purina Better With Pets Summit 2015
Me (far right, standing on tip-toes) and a few fellow pet bloggers. Connected online, bonded for life off.
#BetterWithPetsAndFriends ☺

Tip: If you ever want to see a real-life Sesame Street-looking neighborhood, go to the Brooklyn Expo Center. My Oscar the Grouch PJ's and I would totally fit in there!

+ Turns out, Purina Cat Chow kibble is now - as I saw in the grocery store last night - shaped like little crescent moons, Y's and circles.

‡ Better With Pets distinguished panelist and veterinary professor, Dr. Tony Buffington, is the scientist responsible for discovering this link.

** If you'd like a more detailed, journalistic report of the agenda and speakers, I recommend you go here (Conscious Cat) or here (Fido Friendly). Author and pet expert Amy Shojai has a great video play-by-play here. You can learn more about Purina's Better With Pets mission and experts here.

For the latest updates, follow Purina on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


  1. That sounds like a awesome event and I sure hope I can attend next year. Loved your story of the kitty food. Ma said she used to eat MilkBone dog biscuits when she was around 5 years old. She thought they would make her teeth strong and white. She actually acquired a taste for them and well we won't go on. Just know Purina biscuits made her happy. BOL!

    1. ☺ Now that you mention it, it's possible that I licked a Milkbone at some point, too. We didn't have dogs, most of my childhood, but SOMEHOW, I remember getting my hands on a box of the colored ones... Darnit! They looked like cookies! (I hope you get to go next time, too!)

  2. Elizabeth you crack me up! This was the best wrap up EVER! It was great seeing you at the event, I was also in awe of those rock stars of the vet world.

    1. I'm SO glad you're in the photo, Rene, and that I got to say "hi" at the very end! Thank you for the kind words. I love seeing all the different ways blogger attendees are interpreting the event in their posts - like what things stood out the most. So interesting!

  3. Bahahahahaha!!!! Yes, I remember when they were shaped like an X. Although I never felt the urge to try them. That being said...I once bought some round Cheeto-looking dog treats for the family dog, Crickett. I placed them in my night stand so I could bribe her to come into MY room. I had a serious love of Cheetos and well, I'll be darned if those dog treats didn't cry out to me to try them, just once. I truly believe that they were simply stale Cheetos and good gravy they were DELICIOUS. I loved them as much as Crickett did. I would always try to open my night stand drawer so quietly so I could sneak one without Crickett finding out, but that dog had super powers and would come running. I would sneak a dog-Cheeto and look up to find her staring at me. So awkward when the dog busts you for eating their snack.

    1. "I truly believe that they were simply stale Cheetos and good gravy they were DELICIOUS." TOTALLY almost peed my pants at that line! Oh my gosh, you are funny! I can totally picture you sneaking the treats out of the night stand, too. :)

  4. oh this was fabulous and you had me ROLLING with laughter!!! How in the world did I ever miss that photo op under the "Better With Pets" sign?
    I have mine up today too if you care to pop over!

    1. Thank you, Caren! I've been running around with kids and kittens today and I can't wait to go read your post! This has been so much fun (but just between you and me, this post nearly killed me; like DAYS! There was just so much from that day to filter through)! I wish you had been in the photo; maybe you were still in the kitty room? Or getting some air? It was so hot in there; I looked like a wilted weed when I got home.

  5. I've tried some of Mr. N's treats but never his food. Mostly they just taste really bland. I did not know that about pastels. I am not a fan of pastels though. Hmm... Love your recap!

    1. Yeah, the birthday cake I tried was bland, too. ;) They leave out all the GOOD stuff, like sugar, salt and FAT! The local shelter where I volunteer has always had Easter egg-pastel colored walls and I didn't know why until after the summit. My walls aren't pastel at home, but the animals aren't confined to one small place, either. I'm sure it's all good!

  6. Oh, I loved your story! Definitely had me laughing. We always had dogs growing up, not cats, but my friends and I sampled our share of dog food and dog treats...They were never that good.

    Now, for this Halloween, I did bake some pumpkin and peanut butter treats for my training clients. And, I do admit that I was very tempted and tried one! They were actually pretty good. :)


    1. I'd have totally eaten some of the PB and pumpkin treats too! I see all the bloggers posting those yummy looking treat recipes and they make me drool. Even the ones with savory stuff, like bacon. It's a good thing I suck at making homemade snacks! I appreciate your stopping by!

  7. What a pawsome conference! Thanks for sharing your experience there...and as a child eating cat food. :)

    1. Oh, anytime! :) I seriously thought all kids who had pets ate pet food (at least a little bit of it, once). My daughter admitted to tasting some Innova canned dog food once. :) She said it was gross. (Good thing!)

  8. Loving seeing these write-ups! Seems like you guys had a great time :)

    1. Thanks! Yes, it was fun. Wouldn't have been as much fun if all the other bloggers had not been there. That was a bonus!

  9. Thanks for the laugh!!! For about 18 months back in the last century I had to commute past the Purina pet chow factory in Denver on my way to work every day. The smell left me on the verge of vomit for miles. I cannot imagine eating what I was smelling!!! (though I have had cats my entire life). And where I live the owner of a healthy pet food store proved her organic dog and cat foods are human grade by eating nothing but dog and cat food for 30 days. And lived to tell the tail.

  10. It certainly sounds as if the summit was a huge success and everyone enjoyed themselves. I have to admit to eating Milkbones also. They actually aren't THAT bad. Haha!

  11. It was lots of fun connecting with you at the summit. I have a funny pet food story. When my daughter was younger, about the same age you were in your story, she was watching my dog eat her dinner and asked me what dog food tasted like. I told her I didn't know, and she asked me if she could taste it. I said,"Sure, go ahead." It shocked her so much that she had permission to eat dog food that she put a kibble in her mouth and crunched on it thoughtfully. Then she told me it tasted like cardboard. She never ate dog food again after that.
    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  12. This brought back memories of when we were kids and tried our dog's and cat's food. Yuck. Not really that good. Heck, I even tried a dog biscuit. Good thing I stuck with human food!


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