Master chef Micki Voisard teaches healthful cooking--for your pet

Flying aboard a C-130 cargo plane on route to Vietnam in 1969, Micki Voisard had a life-altering experience.

As a 21-year-old stewardess for Flying Tiger Airlines, Voisard was used to accompanying troops in and out of the country. But one day, her cargo was not what she expected. There were no soldiers--no humans, in fact.

Instead, her plane was filled with dogs.

"These were dogs that were going to Vietnam ... to sniff out the Viet Cong. I thought, 'Wow, this is incredible.' I talked to one of the handlers, and we had this long conversation about dogs and what they do in Vietnam. Then I said, 'What do you feed them?' And he said, 'We have canine rations. But once we get away from the base, we pretty much feed them what we eat. We find snakes or chickens in the village.'

"I remember looking at him, and I said, 'Why would you do that?' He said, 'Why wouldn't we do that? We need these guys; they save our lives. It's important they stay alive and alert.' He got anxious about it. He was almost enraged about me asking that. But it hit me. I remember every word he said about that. It was a pretty incredible moment in my life that kind of shook me up."

From there, her purpose became clear.

Voisard later returned to the Napa Valley and began working at dog shelters and fostered many of the canines. Eventually, she started a healthy-animal food program.

"Three times a week, I would go to the restaurants and get raw food and meat and feed them to the dogs. We noticed a big difference in the dogs' behavior and health."

But it was Voisard's health that took a turn for the worse in 1994, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Voisard fought the disease with gusto and natural methods.

"I had surgery and the tumor was removed, but it had metastasized in my system. I was given the choice of doing one year of chemotherapy or, according to my oncologist, dropping dead."

Not satisfied with those choices, Voisard went to the Livingston Medical Center, where she received mega-doses of vaccines, vitamins and supplements. Most importantly, Voisard fought the disease with food, and she says that is how she healed herself.

From there, she lectured at medical schools, wrote a book (Cancer Then Healing: 15 Decisions to Make When You or a Loved One Are Told You Have Cancer or Any Life Threatening Illness, 1998), spoke at fund-raisers and hosted a radio show on health.

Inevitably, as callers phoned in to discuss their health, they often mentioned their dogs.

The lighted dog path beckoned once again.

Voisard started Dog Chefs of America in 2000 as her book, Becoming the Chef Your Dog Thinks You Are: A Nourishing Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Your Soul, was published. The business relocated to Amado (approximately 15 miles south of Green Valley) in 2003.

As a "Master Dog Chef," Voisard teaches people how to cook for their dogs, offers consultations, makes food daily and tapes cooking segments for DVDs with her husband, David. She is also in negotiations with various networks to start a television show.

"It would be a food show but related to sharing meals with your dog," she says.

Those wanting to see Voisard live can attend a cooking class on Saturdays. In a two-hour session, dog owners learn about the importance and misconceptions of food from a woman who grates vegetables but doesn't mince words.

"Food is not the enemy. What is the enemy is our belief system that we don't have time, that we don't have the natural knowledge. We do. We are choosing to listen to other people and big corporations. Food is not the enemy. It's the processing, the packaging, the preservatives. Food works."

As dog owners learn how to prepare such recipes as beef and yellow squash muffins and Yogi casserole with turkey and carrots, Voisard stresses the importance of supplementing commercial dog food with meals of freshly prepared food. And treats are a no-no.

"I don't like treats," Voisard says. "We should not be spending money on treats. Sorry, Petco. Our dogs are getting fat off them. It's like feeding a kid candy bars."

Mixing ingredients and quoting Socrates--"Let your food be your medicine; let your medicine be your food"--Voisard passionately talks about getting past the human/dog transference.

"We have to get past ourselves. We are not our dogs. They are not us. ... I'm not interested in what you like unless you are going to share a meal with your dog. Whether you like it or not doesn't matter. It's about your dog."

And don't think Voisard is in her kitchen making cutsey dog meals shaped into dog bones.

"Muffins aren't in a muffin tin. We are not Betty Crocker. We are not trying to win a contest. Our dogs think, 'Give it to me; I don't care if it looks like a fire hydrant.'"

But looks do affect many dog owners as they peruse the supermarket aisles. Voisard comments that dog food companies cater to people who look at pretty packages instead of labels.

She cooks meals that humans and dogs can eat together, albeit prepared at different temperatures. Her "Scenthound Meatloaf" contains ground beef, chopped spinach, eggs, carrots, garlic, bread crumbs and butter. Class attendees get to take home samples of recipes prepared.

Former class attendees and clients often stop by to tell Voisard how well their dogs are doing after dietary changes. But some just stop in to stare at the walls.

Dog Chefs of America moonlights as an art studio. Colorful, eclectic paintings and sculpture adorn the walls and occupy the entrance to the classroom. As an artist for 22 years, Voisard wanted to combine her two loves.

"I like the combination of the art and the dogs. Why not? They can all be together. It gives people something else to do when they come in here. People like to come in here and hang out. They are surprised it's here."

In the back of the classroom with her recipes, Voisard has achieved her own understanding about teaching others.

"When I first started doing this, I used to tell people you have to do it this way; you have to do it raw. But now, I look at it and think if they just are supplementing the dog food and exchanging foods, at least we've gotten that far. And then hopefully, they will see the benefits and go a little further."

She takes pleasure in this progress and in knowing others comprehend her message.

"You can stand here and see the light bulb go off. They get it."

And as Voisard might say, that can only be good for your dog.

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