Miles the dog devotes most of his brainpower to finding food.
Other dogs dream of running; Miles dreams of eating. During his waking hours, Miles is so deeply dedicated to the floors that we no longer need to vacuum; we are convinced half his weight is dust and dog hair. Watching him eat is like watching a python swallow a rat at quadruple-speed (I challenge any dog to put down 1 1/2 cups of food faster). He has figured out how to open multiple types of doors to access his food, and he has twice wolfed down more than 20 pounds of kibble. At mealtimes, he skulks around his adopted brothers like a vulture, waiting for an opportunity to swoop in and inhale their food, which more often than not the huskies are protesting anyway. My partner and I project Miles’ seeming thoughts in a Cartman-esque voice: “Beefcake! BEEEF-CAAAAAKE!”
Miles’ affectionate embrace of gluttony and sloth, however, has progressively become a problem. On a hike last spring, Miles’ gait slowed to a wobble, and he frequently paused to flop down and rest. Our return to the car moved like Denver rush-hour traffic (the rage-inducing nature of which is underrated nationally); with dusk setting in, I decided to fireman’s-carry Miles, a move that lasted about 20 yards and resulted in chronic back pain.
At his regular veterinary visit a couple weeks later, I was shocked to see Miles’ weight had topped 100 pounds. The ideal weight for a Catahoula leopard dog his size is around 70 pounds, although a string of food thefts previously pushed Miles into the 80-pound range.
As with humans, obesity in dogs can contribute to a host of severe health problems. As with Americans, obesity in pets has become an epidemic. Between 52 and 70 percent of dogs in the United States are estimated to be overweight, with the number of obese dogs around 40 percent. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), more than 36.5 million dogs in the United States face an increased risk for weight-related medical conditions including osteoarthritis, hypertension and numerous types of cancers; APOP calls obesity “the leading health threat to our nation’s pets.”
Since our dogs can’t make the conscious decision to stop overeating or get more exercise, we, as humans and responsible pet owners, have to get off our own fat asses and do it for them. I think most people would agree their pets don’t have enough time on this planet as it is, and I have heard more than a couple veterinarians remark that complications stemming from obesity can rob a dog of two to three years of life, never mind the physical burden that being overweight places on your dog while alive.
We lately thought Miles looked slimmer, less watermelon shaped. After his scale-breaking veterinary visit, we cut back his dog food (and, at the vet’s recommendation, added some green beans as filler); we increased walks and shorter, lower-impact hikes; we made a valiant attempt to protect the meals of our food-indifferent dogs.
I am in love with my better half for many reasons, not the least of which is that he is the type of person to suggest spending Valentine’s Day on a hike. Given what has, at least along the Front Range, been a relatively mild winter, we settled on the Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area, beautiful canyon country beset with juniper and cactus, pine and fir, and tucked in the sloping landscape south of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak.
There was more snow along the trail than we expected, and amid the recent wave of 60-degree-plus temperatures, much of that snow sloughed from the interior canyon inclines and melted, forming long stretches of muddy earth that clung to our feet like wet cement. Although the dogs maintained pace, the humans eventually lost the trail and decided to turn around.
On the trudge back to the car, Active Miles metamorphosed back into Fat Tick Miles. We soldiered through the mud and snow in stops and starts; our motto became “No dog left behind” as we watched the sun drop closer to the western rim of the canyon. When we finally reached the car, Miles had to be hoisted in, though there was thankfully no need to attempt a fireman’s carry on this trip.
Since that grueling Valentine’s Day, Miles has staged a few successful food heists and attempted to revert to couch potato mode. He is also due for his regular checkup next month, which includes an encounter with his arch nemesis, The Scale. We clearly still have work to do. Time for a walk….