Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vegan Shepherd's Pie and Lessons from Shelter Dogs

This vegan shepherd's pie was such a hit at the holiday supper club (including with the non-vegan diners) that I had to make another one. I used this Whole Foods recipe, subbing veggie crumbles for the tempeh and using dried herbs, not fresh. (Go ahead and use the same herb quantities from the recipe, which will lend a deliciously strong sage flavor). For the mashed sweet potato topping, I followed this recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess. This dish is so flavorful and comforting that it will be welcome equally at a festive occasion or for an intimate dinner at home.

Around the time of my veganversary, Kelly of Vegan Thyme gave me an Honest Scrap award! What a nice way to celebrate. Thanks Kelly! She's one of a growing group of Missouri vegan bloggers. Yes, we are taking over the Midwest. I found her blog relatively recently, and enjoy visiting every post. You won't find mundane cooking at Vegan Thyme; prepare yourself for creative and venturesome recipes.

While I am supposed to tell 10 honest things about myself, I'm gonna bend the rules and talk about my favorite topic, shelter dogs! For inquiring minds, you can find random things about me here and here. As you can see from my blogroll, there are so many vegan blogs I admire and could nominate. If you would like to join in the fun, consider yourself nominated for the award and check out Kelly's blog for details.

Ten Lessons I Learned from Shelter Dogs:

1. It's always the bottle. I had the honor and pleasure of socializing pit bull puppies, among other tasks, at the temporary shelter for the large dog fighting rescue that occurred this summer. What was the favorite toy nine times out of ten during supervised play time? Not the braided ropes or balls, but the empty plastic water bottle. Noisy and crunchy, it was always the bottle.

2. Music can be therapeutic for dogs too. Do you turn up your Chillaxin' playlist when things get hectic? Research indicates that classical music can calm anxious and stressed dogs. Put some Bach on your doggie playlist if your dog is having a hard day.

3. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. Dog training and particular types of toys can challenge Fido's mind and keep him relaxed and focused on constructive activities. Stuff Kongs with peanut butter and freeze them and keep a variety of treat dispensing toys on hand to give your dog something to work on.

4. Be quiet and say something. Our nonverbal behavior can say a lot more to dogs than our words, and there are particular "calming signals" we can show to communicate to dogs that we mean no threat to them, such as yawning and turning the head away.

5. Don't blame the dog. One misconception about shelter dogs is "those dogs are there for a reason." Yes they are, but is the reason because they are bad pets? Nope, reasons include the owner lost a job, got divorced, moved, developed an illness, didn't take time to train the dog, was a poor match in terms of energy level, or thought the dog should not fart. (I kid you not.) Shelter dogs vary greatly in temperament and energy level, and some will benefit from training, like any dog. Shelter dogs aren't bad pets. They need another chance to find the right home.

6. Have hope. Sometimes it seems like a particular shelter dog may never find the right home. Maybe she has several strikes against her due to stigma about her breed, shy behavior, and feeling stressed, and adopters pass her by again and again. But that perfectly matched person who can see beyond this and meet her where she is can come in to take her home this afternoon.

7. Don't judge a book by its cover. Some dogs might be rowdy in the shelter kennel, or shut down, but outside on a walk or in a quiet room with a toy, they can really loosen up and show their playful personalities. If you are visiting dogs at a shelter, keep in mind that the shelter environment can contribute to the behavior they might show.

8. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Scout, our stray mixed breed, was around 7-years-old when she graduated from Reactive Dogs class. Thanks to clicker training, she rarely does her Cujo imitation when she sees dogs on walks. Shelter dogs of all ages can benefit from training too, both after being adopted and even while in the shelter. Check out this comprehensive program for shelter dogs called Working Like Dogs.

Here's Scout, cuddling happily with her new buddy Ruby. Much better than Cujo behavior!

9. Obama, it's not too late for you to adopt a shelter dog. Looking for a particular breed, maybe due to allergies or preference? I've seen labradoodles, Old English Sheepdogs, Great Pyrenees, chihuahuas, yorkies, and so many more breeds available through shelters and other rescue organizations. If you desire a particular breed, you will be able to find one to rescue.

10. You never know who will steal your heart. I gravitate toward medium to large sized dogs who are rough and tumble types. So to my surprise, one of my favorite shelter dogs was Blossom, a shy, soulful-eyed, sweet beagle (who has long been adopted). While it's helpful to consider characteristics of the dog you prefer to adopt, you never know who you might make a special connection with.

Of course, a medium-sized rough and tumble type stole my heart too. Here's our adopted shelter dog Ruby, with her own plastic bottle.


  1. Lovely post, Lisa! Your pups are adorable gals.

    I was nodding my head at #6 and #7. When we first adopted Dale, I thought I would lose my mind with his behavioral problems. All it took was a few months of intense lovin' and you would not believe the change. Now he has us completely trained to respond to his every command :o

    Oh, and got to make that Shepherd's pie while it is still winter.

  2. AWESOME post! I loves me some Shepherd's Pie. And I do work with shelter pooches, too, and am amazed by their resiliency and ability to love and forgive. So many of them have been through so much.

  3. Love the 10 things, Lisa! Those pups of yours are mega cute. :) And the pie looks great, too. I just had a shepherd's pie w/ yam topping a week ago at a friend's house and thought I must make it--thanks for the recipe.

  4. This is such a wonderful post! We have a shelter kitty, since we don't have time for a dog quite yet, and even though she didn't catch our attention right away- once we got her away from other cats and out of her cage she just opened right up. It really did take her a few months to adjust and feel comfortable with us, but the difference is just amazing. Plus she's totally the rough and tumble type, so it's like she's our little squishy dogcatmonster! Love!

  5. Question for ya! In the Shepherd's Pie recipe it says "yams" but are you using yams or sweet potatoes? (It's orange, so I assume it's sweet potato, but I just want to be sure!)

    Thanks! It looks really good and hearty!

  6. Doody Mac, I think they were sweet potatoes.

  7. Great looking shepherd's pie! I've always wanted to try it with a sweet potato topping but haven't gotten around to it yet. Excellent lessons about shelter dogs, I had no idea on some of those. :-)

  8. i never thought to make a shepherd's pie with smashed sweet potatoes; you are too awesome, Lisa! it sounds so good - i'm gonna give it a whirl and use some local tempeh that we have in the freezer.

    aren't shelter dogs the best?! you're totally right in that you never know who will steal your heart. i always thought i would adopt a long legged lazy hound dog, and it turns out that a short little crazy pit mix got me! yay! i didn't even think about giving julie something mentally challenging - what a great idea. the next time i'm at petsmart i might get one of those balls/cubes that ya put treats into and a kong. thanks!

  9. What a great post! First, the shepherd's pie looks delicious, perfect for this time of year. Your thoughts on shelter dogs are right on. I'd like to forward it to the FM Humane Society here, because all of us volunteers would benefit from it, and definitely find much to relate to. Love the pic of Scout and Rudy - I'm always happy when I find my dogs in the same pose on the couch :)

  10. What a sweet post! Thanks for sharing your tips. I hate knowing that anyone in this day and age takes home dogs from a breeder rather than shelters. Even if there are issues you need to work through with a dog, saving a life is always worth it!

  11. YAY for Missouri vegan bloggers! (and venturesome recipes!)

    I loved your lessons from shelter dogs. I've seen plastic bottle toys at the pet shop, they are wrapped in some sturdy fabric and they are way too expensive for what they are.

    #4 is probably my favorite lesson. Be quiet and say something. So true.

  12. The Shepherd's Pie looks awesome & I really love your 10 things!

  13. Oh I love this so much! I especially like 'don't blame the dog!' That is what I always say about animals, horses, cats, dogs, whatever! They are never in the wrong. EVER. We are the ones who have to change and learn and adapt to them. They are all perfect just the way they are! LOVE THIS! All 4 of my dogs, and both of our 2 cats, are rescues. My horse is too, but I had to pay for him!

  14. I <3 shepard's pie and yours looks amazing! I like your 10 things too, very cute! :)

  15. I love your dog tips. I'll be playing some classical around the house more often so my dog will calm down maybe.

  16. Lisa--I LOVE this post, I've re-read it twice! Thank you so much for the kind words re: VT--that was too sweet. And your honest scrap: I will read it again and again--I may even print it out and frame it! You are so right--and what amazing insight on the shelter dogs! Those kids need special love and special training--and. . . I have to check into that training you mentioned for the "cujo" condition--I think I may need to consult with them for one of my kids--he tends to the cujo when he sees other dogs, but totally fine with his home pack--so strange. Thanks so much!

  17. awesome! i love shepard's pie (and shelter dogs)! :) what a cute idea. and i'm happy to be part of the mo-vegan-bloggers. ;)

  18. Great post!! Our dogs are both rescue dogs, and they are the lights of my life :-)


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