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Keeping Fido kosher

| Thursday, April 21, 2005

As a child, Ely Rosenfeld remembers having to adjust his goldfish's diet for Passover.

The fish weren't Jewish, but his family was. That meant no leavened, grain-based food for the family -- and nothing grain-based for their fish, either.

"We had this dried worm food that came in little cubes, and they were 100 percent good for Passover," said Rosenfeld, now a rabbi at Chabad Jewish Center of Fox Chapel. "I wouldn't eat it, but for fish, it was good enough."

Fido and Fluffy most likely don't have a clue that Passover begins Saturday at sundown.

For the Jewish humans who care for them, however, making sure their home is kosher and free of any leavened products, called chametz, is an important Passover tradition.

And some companies are more than happy to offer kosher-for-Passover cat and dog food for those pet owners.

Kosher Pets Inc., for instance offers chicken chunk stew and chopped liver dinner for cats and dogs the Chicago Rabbinical Council says is chametz-free and fit for Passover.

Likewise, Evanger's Dog and Cat Food Co. offers a dozen varieties of kosher dog and cat food, including beef and liver, chicken liver and tuna, and lamb and rice that also have been endorsed by the council.

In case those selections have your mouth watering, both companies stress that their foods are not kosher for human consumption.

Kosher Pets owner Martine Lacombe, based in Ft. Lauderdale, said she understands that pets aren't required to keep kosher. The problem for Jewish pet owners is that most pet foods contain chametz, which they're not allowed to eat or keep in their home during Passover.

"For a lot of people it's a big hassle," she said. "They're cooking for their pet, or they just put their pet in the garage for a week or in the basement. Some people would board the animal."

Holly Sher, owner of Evanger's said her Chicago-based business requires two full time secretaries to answer the glut of phone calls they get about their products in the weeks and days leading up to Passover.

"In fact my secretary said, 'I'm becoming more Jewish by the moment,'" Sher said with a laugh. "Every phone call is 'what's kosher, what's not kosher.'"

Neither Evanger's or Kosher Pets offers kosher food for other pets. That's where Alan Cohen of Alan's Pet Shop in Squirrel Hill does much of his business.

Cohen stocks kosher fish and crab food in addition to cat and dog food.

"We order extra this time of year," he said. "Last year we ran out of things."

Rabbi Stephen E. Steindel of Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill, said he considered kosher pet food to be a little "tacky."

Instead, he said some Jewish pet owners actually opt to "sell" their pets as part of the larger tradition of selling chametz in time for Passover.

Steindel said large quantities of chametz a Jew might not want to destroy can be legally sold to a non-Jew through an agreement generally brokered by a rabbi. At the end of Passover, the new owner of the chametz can choose to sell the items back to the original owner.

Pets and their food can be included in this arrangement, he said.

"They can in a legal sense do the caring for it and feeding of it on behalf of that other owner," he said.

Rosenfeld said most Jewish people are accustomed to making the changes to their lifestyle.

"It's like anything in life -- you get used to it," he said.

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