Caring sometimes involves telling it like it is, expressing hard truths that those with less emotional attachment might leave unspoken. And so it was that, straight out, I informed young Sam – he’s only seven – that he was fat. I didn’t like doing so, not with the obvious implications for his self-esteem and lifestyle, and I didn’t know how he was going to take it, but it had to be done; no beating about the bush. In the end, his reaction was, on the whole, quite muted. He looked at me, with that enigmatic expression he so often wears, leaned forwards slightly, and licked my nose.
From a cat it was, maybe, hardly revelatory. I mean, I had no reason to expect erudite argument, not even a meow with complex levels of counter-suggestive meaning, and any furrowed brow of disappointment would be well hidden in his furry forehead. In fact, I freely admit, the only reason I told him at all was so that, when he turns and looks up at me from a tongue-cleaned bowl and lets a plaintive whine substitute for the Oliver Twist line which is still beyond his laryngeal capabilities, I will at least be able to turn down the request with the justification that I had warned him what would happen, and that he should have eaten more slowly. Or that if he really was still hungry then a small dessert was available around his chin, nose and cheeks thanks to the gusto with which he had attacked the first course.
It won’t stop me feeling bad, but thanks to recently released figures over here I have no choice, and therefore no hope of avoiding the guilt. The percentage of overweight British pets, with its implications for reduced quality of life and a shortened lifespan, is expanding almost as quickly as the animals, and it is our fault for giving them too much food. When you think about it, who else’s fault could it be? Trying to deflect blame by claiming that you specifically asked the pet-shop owner for a pot-bellied pig or a hippo, and thought that the uncanny resemblance to a dog / cat / goldfish was just one of those things, will not bring exoneration. Your fat pet is accusation and evidence in one, rotund, shape.
Sam, I am ashamed to say, is the perfect prosecution exhibit. My excuse is that I have a soft spot for him on account of him being the only family member who isn’t cleverer than me, but it doesn’t change the facts. When he walks, his tummy slides, and that is wrong. The shape should definitely be more wasp and less cow. And having now accepted the blame for that, I must be made to feel doubly culpable while trying to remedy the situation by cutting down on what he clearly sees as his daily ration.
Explanations don’t help. I’ve tried showing him the newspaper article, but, without a word, he literally tears holes in the argument. I’ve shown him the screen-shots from various websites, adding that since it’s on the internet even he must accept that it has to be true, and he just walks across the keyboard with a mixture of insouciance and disdain; something that’s not easy to pull off while carrying embryonic udders.
The report said that if the trend in burgeoning pets continues, half of the UK’s pets will be obese by 2013, so I extrapolated further and told Sam that by 2047 there won’t be any room for the human population. He didn’t seem to mind this at all until I pointed out that there would be no-one to feed him, and that without opposable thumbs can-openers were no more than quirky ornaments. At this he tipped his head on one side and appeared to be thinking, which was endearing until a scrap of food fell out of his ear.
But anyway, he now knows what to expect. I haven’t, though, told him that overweight pets rarely regain fully the trim shape of their youth, because, although that is definitely a ‘welcome to my world’ comment which would further strengthen the bond between us, some things really are better left unsaid.