Thursday, April 05, 2012

Passover and Pet Food

As a kosher supervisor (mashgiach) and the owner of a kosher certification agency, I am constantly impressed by the level of attention, respect and genuine care that non-Jewish business owners demonstrate for their kosher observant customers. I once again witnessed this first hand when I met the owner of Premier Pet Supply last week.

Mike Palmer, who is half Chaldean and half Italian, owns the pet food and supply store with his uncle, the store's founder. Located in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the store has received a lot of positive attention of late because of Mike's knack for publicity and his people skills (he obviously has great pet skills too!). The store is consistently named best pet supply store in the area and Mike was just named one of the Elite 40 Under 40 for Oakland County, Michigan.

Mike called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would come by his store before Passover to answer some questions about kosher for Passover pet food. Since my family doesn't own any pets and I haven't certified kosher dog food in over a year (the dog treat company Kosher Michigan certified went out of business in 2010), I decided to brush up on the laws concerning pet food on Passover. And it's a good thing I did because when I got to the store I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Mike possessed concerning the kosher laws and Passover. He knew more about the intricacies of the holiday than many Jewish people I know.

As we walked the aisles of his store I checked the pet food that he had labeled as being appropriate for Passover and there were no errors. He explained that he had read an article by the Star-K kosher certification agency and felt he had a good understanding of what makes pet food kosher for Passover, but he wanted to run some questions by me. We had a long conversation about kitniyot (legumes, which most Ashkenazi Jews don't eat on Passover) as well as the custom of feeding the family dog in the garage on Passover, which many families follow. Over and again, I heard Mike express how important he believes it is to provide quality service to his Jewish customers and ensure that they can purchase the best food for their pets on Passover while adhering to the holiday's regulations.

In terms of what Jewish law says about pet food on Passover, the most important thing to remember is that chametz (leavened products) from the five grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from. Feeding chametz to one's pet would be deriving benefit from it. Additionally, a Jewish person is not allowed to even possess any chametz on Passover. 

As I explained to Mike, while kitniyot (legumes) are not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews, they may be fed to pets on Passover. Also, one does not need to change over the dishes for pets, meaning that the usual food bowls for pets can be used on Passover but they should be cleaned out first.

A 2009 article in the NY Times featured a Passover Seder for dogs that took place at a Chicago pet food store to promote Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company which sells Kosher for Passover products. (Joshua Lott/Chicago Tribune)

There is a custom of "selling" one's pet to a non-Jew on Passover. The reason for this has to do with deriving benefit from chametz. Thus, if one leaves a pet with a non-Jew during Passover the pet owner will still derive benefit from chametz when the non-Jewish friend feeds the pet. Therefore, some observant Jews will "sell" the pet to the non-Jewish friend on the condition it is sold back at the conclusion of the holiday in the same fashion as the "legal fiction" sale of chametz.

While many Jews are not familiar with the laws governing pet food on Passover, it is reassuring that there are pet supply store owners like Mike Palmer who are concerned about this. It is admirable that he has taken the time to research this subject and has gone out of his way to help his Jewish customers find the right pet food for Passover.


Anonymous said...

Mike is an amazing entrepreneur. The religious Jewish people wont have to sell there dogs during Passover, thanks to Mikes inquisitive mind. Plus to add he is good looking. I would love to shop at his store.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Arutz 7 News website published an article about kosher for Passover dog food for the dogs of the Israel Defense Forces:

Even the dogs in Israel's army are being fed with “kosher for Passover” food this week.

The Chief Rabbinate of the Israel Defense Forces has supplied special “kosher for Passover” food for the animals in the army of the Jewish State.

The IDF uses dogs in the “Oketz” canine special forces unit. The unit uses other animals in its service as well – included llamas. The food is produced from corn, which under Jewish law is considered to be “kitniyot," a non-wheat item that is permitted during Passover to Sephardic Jews.

The food has also been tested to ensure that it meets the nutritional needs of the animals.

Pet shops throughout the country have extended themselves to obtain supplies of dog and cat food that complies with the Jewish dietary laws of Passover.

In the northern Negev town of Arad, population 27,000, the "Sharon's Jungle" pet shop sold 230,000 kg of kosher-for-passover cat food and a similar quantity of kosher-for-passover dog food in the week prior to the holiday. The proprietor, Sharon Aloush, went to the trouble of obtaining a special certificate of kashrut from a rabbi to document for his customers the product was acceptable to those who are observant of Passover kashrut.

Woodrow/Conservadox said...

If you don't have pets and are thinking about what to get, you might want to think about pets that don't need grain-based food as much, so you don't have to worry about them over Pesach.

For example, guinea pigs will love you if you feed them timothy hay for eight days (typically they eat a mix of the hay and a grain-based food, but they really do like the hay better). And domestic rats would like nothing better than to eat matzo and table scraps for 8 days (actually, they'd probably prefer it for 365 days!)

so77 said...

What about a dog owned by a non Jew in our home for passover - can we feed the dog it's regular dog food in our home?
If it matters we are being paid to watch the dog for the owner. The dog food belongs to the dog owner, any extra will go home with the dog.

Gilvert Allein said...

Thank you for taking some time to write this post. The raw food diet for dogs is becoming quite a controversial issue among pet owners. This article is to shed some light on the pros, cons and key information everyone should know about the raw food diet, in hope it will allow you to make an informed decision on if the raw diet is suitable for your pooch.