Doggie Bags

Is your local restaurant handing out meat scraps?
By Lee Harrington, September 2010

One of the many things I love about living in New York City with a dog is that the dog can help you discover new things about your neighborhood. Even if you’ve lived in said neighborhood for several years.

This week I discovered the wonder of all wonders: I found out that our neighborhood steak house, which has been there for at least forty years, gives away free food to dogs!
There I was: Crossing a certain Lower East Side street with my dog Chloe, who trotted at my side on a tight heel, when we came across another woman with a dog. “Do you live around here?” she asked. (People with dogs in the city often get asked this question, for it is assumed we know our neighborhoods inside-out, because of our four walks per day.)
“Yes,” I said. “Can I assist you in some way?”
“Oh no,” she said. “I just wanted to let you know that S_____ (and here she named the famous steak house) is giving out scraps for all the dogs.”
She held up a plastic bag, bulging with what looked like red meat. Both my dog and hers moved toward the bag with interest. “Tonight they have roast chicken, spare ribs, and steak—both cooked and raw.”
“You’re kidding!” I said. I’m always excited at the chance to give my dog a special meal. She’s a real foodie. Most New Yorkers are. “How could I not have known about this? I’ve been walking past this restaurant for years.”
“Well, it’s not exactly advertised,” she said. “Just stand outside the kitchen for a while, and make sure they see the dog. They’ll know what to do.”
I laughed. It was like a drug deal. But I was willing to stand on a dark street corner and look suspicious if it would benefit my dog.
I won’t go into details about the exchange of goods. Suffice to say I stood in the appropriate spot, got the attention of the appropriate person, and soon a wonderfully kind dishwasher brought out a bag of bounty: tender roast chicken, large strips of steak cooked rare, even a marrow bone, dripping with blood. Yuck to the latter. But no one looks twice if you walk down New York City streets dripping blood … all in a day’s work.
My dog pranced joyously at my side all the way home.
I don’t think I should tell you the name of the restaurant because I’m not sure if what they are doing is legal or not. I mean, it should be legal—who would stand in the way of feeding hungry dogs? But New York City is tight with its rules.
I once had the brilliant idea of organizing some sort of food-collection service that would collect all the tons of perfectly good food that gets thrown away on a daily basis in America’s eight-billion restaurants…and bring all this it all to the local animal shelter, to feed all those poor neglected pups. I’m talking mostly about the meat that gets thrown away. But few dogs would say no to some french-fried potatoes or sautéed green beans. 
Brilliant, right? It’s like a grand-scale doggie bag? Well, we all know what happens when we mention our brilliant ideas to crotchety relatives.
 “Why the hell would you want to do that?” my naysayer said. (She had the same response to my Brilliant Idea of creating a nursing home that was also an animal shelter, thereby giving the seniors a chance to care for the four-legged juniors.)
“Who the hell would want to live there?” the crotchety relative said.
Anyway, back to the doggie bags.
I immediately told my dog-loving neighbor about the amazing generosity of our local steak house, and told her how she was supposed to stand near a certain door and wait until the dishwasher appeared. But she said she would feel “weird” taking handouts like that. “It’s not like my dog is starving and needs free food,” she said.
I could see her point, I guess … that weird phobia some people have about appearing even the least bit needy. But my feeling was that anyone who accepted these gifts of doggie bags would actually be helping the planet. I mean, think of all those chickens and cows and pigs who died in order to feed the masses of bankers and supermodels who came to this restaurant in droves, only to leave half their meals untouched?  
Yes, now is the time to admit I am vegetarian, but we are not here to discuss that. Nor are we here to discuss the conundrum of being a vegetarian who feeds raw meat to a carnivorous dog.
I just want to point out that if you bring half a chicken home to your dog after a big night out at your local barbecue joint; well, you’ll be saving half a chicken. Fewer animals will “go to waste.” I reckon that the equivalent of twenty chickens get thrown away per night at this restaurant. And the equivalent of two whole cows.
Enough said.
It would be interesting to know what your local restaurants do with their scrap meats, and if they’d be willing/able to come up with some form of informal surplus doggie-bag policy.
I know it’s more complicated than I could possibly imagine, but I like to think that in every restaurant kitchen there is a kind, conscientious person who is willing/able to take the time to set aside a few tasty morsels for our furry friends?
Every little bit helps. Especially if those little bits are doggie-licious.
And don’t let those dog-food manufacturers tell you that changing a dog’s diet is ill-advised. They just want you to keep buying their brand. Who doesn’t love a little variety in his/her diet? On Chloe’s menu tonight: beef tenderloin with baby new potatoes and a tiny side order of grilled swordfish. And I didn’t even have to cook! 


Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch.