• Ken Caputo

Do not feed the animals

Grapes are bad for dogs. They can cause kidney failure along with other nasty problems. To my knowledge, no one is exactly sure why this is, and some dogs can tolerate more grapes than others. Some wolves are even known to eat grapes in the wild without issues.

Personally, I like grapes. They’re good for humans. Now go ahead and try telling a dog that they can’t eat them. They will be quite skeptical.

If fact, this became such a source of contention in my life, that it later became known as the Great Grape Debate.

You see, back before Gracie passed on (my golden retriever), she took serious issue with my position on grapes. She did not agree with my assessment that it would be potentially harmful for her to eat them.

Here was her reasoning:

I’d make a smoothie to break my fast, and would add a few blueberries to the mix of greens and whatever else I felt like blending in that day. Blueberries are safe for dogs, so Gracie would patiently wait for me to sprinkle a few on the floor. She would then vacuum them up enthusiastically while I blended my smoothie. It was one of our many rituals, and we both enjoyed our routine of my sprinkling and her eating.

Back to the grapes. The problem we ran into was that Gracie was convinced that grapes were actually just fat blueberries, and therefore were perfectly acceptable for her to eat.

If you’ve ever shared your life with a dog, you know how guilty they can make you feel. Gracie would lay there with her chin on her paws, eyebrows taking turns lifting and dropping, letting me know what a terrible human I was for not sharing my grapes with her.

I tried to explain to her that they could make her really sick. She wasn’t buying it. Just because they were bad for other dogs didn’t mean that they would necessarily be bad for her. I even read her a couple articles about foods that are dangerous for dogs, but she questioned both the source and the motives of the authors. Obviously these studies were done by cat lovers. It was the only rational explanation.

I even tried keeping a few blueberries on the side to give to her while I ate the grapes. That didn’t work either. She’d just look at the little blueberry, then look at the bowl of fat blueberries, then look at me with a look that said “Really? You think I can’t see what you’re trying to do here?”

She would even stage protests. When she would get her blueberries, sometimes she would leave one sitting there on the floor like a silent objection against the unjust withholding of the delicious-looking fat blueberries I mistakenly referred to as “grapes”.

I started to think of that lone blueberry as the Zen Blueberry.

Sitting on the floor

In solitude

Tiny shadow cast from afternoon sun

What is the true relationship

Between humans and dogs?

This went on for several years.

Sadly for Gracie, she never did get to try out one of those fat blueberries. I held firm no matter how many times she tried to convince me otherwise.

Recently, I came across a picture I had taken of a Zen Blueberry, which lead to the inspiration for this post.

It got me thinking about when you should feed the animals, and when you shouldn’t. Only the “animals” I’ve been reflecting on are not actual animals. I’ve been thinking about people, and relationships, and responsibilities.

As I looked at that picture of that lone blueberry, smiling as I added it to the Gracie room in my heart, it revealed something to me.

If I had given Gracie a grape, she would have happily eaten it. In fact, she would have kept eating those grapes as long as I was willing to feed them to her. She would have enthusiastically chowed down on Fat Blueberries right up until the point where her kidneys failed.

And that would have been on me.

I had a responsibility to take care of her, and protect her as best I could from the things that could potentially harm her. It was hard. I felt bad that I was disappointing her by holding back something she really wanted.

Does’t it seem like we find ourselves in that position an awful lot in our relationships?

If you are a parent, you know what I mean. You are constantly having to say “No”. It can be exhausting. You can get to the point where you just want to give them the whole bag of Halloween candy and let them eat until they puke.

Our friends, our family, our partners, and most importantly, ourselves...sometimes we realize that something is moving out of balance. Something has shifted and caught our attention. Warning bells go off. When this happens, we are faced with a decision as to whether or not we’re going to keep feeding whatever it is that is concerning us.

That is hard. Especially if the one who is moving out of balance is enthusiastically eating, and doesn’t see that it’s becoming a problem. It’s a really difficult place to be, isn’t it?

I think there have been too many times in my life where I was feeding someone grapes when I probably shouldn’t have.

I think I’ve inadvertently fed other’s addictions (and my own) because we were all just eating it up and couldn’t see far enough down the road to consider the long term impact.

Think about this for a second.

Have you ever watched someone you care about swing towards addiction, and at some point realized you were actually feeding it?

This can happen with just about anything, and it it can be so insidious. You noticed a friend is starting to drink a little too much, but you kept going out with them for wings and beer. A family member is really angry at someone and you keep allowing yourself to engage in a conversation that keeps them endlessly looping. Your partner is obsessed with work and you go along with their justifications for why it will all be worth it in the long run, even though you can tell its damaging their health and their relationships.

It’s so easy for things to swing out of balance. Eating, exercise, social media, sex, work, hobbies...the list of things we can fail to keep in moderation can feel endless.

The worst part is, it can disguise itself as good thing. A few years back I managed to overdose on personal development. I was consuming so much “Be your best self!”stuff that it got way out of balance and I paid a heavy price. It was supposed to be good for me, and it was. Until I consumed too much of it. Then it wasn’t anymore.

I was getting a lot of positive reinforcement from people I trusted. They were feeding my animal. They were helping me eat up those grapes, and we were all convinced it was good for me, and I ignored the warning signs that things were getting out of hand until it was too late.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had noticed and just told me to stop eating. I wonder if I would have listened. Thinking about it, probably not. Sometimes the only way we learn is by crashing and burning. I’m just grateful that I had good people around me to help me pick up the pieces and not say “I told you so!”. That would not have been helpful.

There are so many influences in our lives. There is so much information, and opportunity to connect, and learn. It’s also easier than ever to accumulate stuff, and opinions, and ideas. We’ve got Amazon, and twenty-four hour news cycles, and TikTok. It’s way too easy to adopt some beast of an animal and then start feeding it.

Sometimes it feels like there are too many animals, and too much access to the grapes.

So my dream for you today is that you have the strength to stop feeding the animal.

That if you recognize a growing imbalance in someone, you’ll find a way to do the difficult thing. May you forgive yourself if this is not well received. May you find peace in knowing that it may not be enough, and you did your best to offer another human an invitation to stop eating the grapes.

Most importantly, if someone you trust stops feeding your animal, may you have the strength to pause and listen. Maybe they are seeing something on the outside that is hard for you to see because you are on the inside.

Even if they are wrong, may you be grateful for the fact that they were brave enough to speak up. They are probably scared of how you will react, and this is your chance to build a deeper level of trust. If you are willing to listen, even if its hard, it will be easier for them to be there for you the next time.

Balance is an illusion. We move in and out of it, and sometimes we swing too far without even noticing until we are teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Let’s look out for each other. Let’s help and support each other as we work to stop feeding our animals things that could hurt us.

Let’s do our best to have each other’s backs.

In the end, each other is all we really have :)

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