Our dog used to be such a lean running machine.
When he arrived with us from the local rescue, he was a lithe bundle of well toned one-year old muscle. But he was only seven years old in dog years. Now, at the seasoned age of seven, he is technically a little older than us: he has nearly reached his fiftieth year.
He has all the jaunty swagger of a man in his forties. His socalising is prolific, his acquaintances many. His demeanour may appear shaggy, like some latter day Robert Plant, but he has the unmistakable aroma of a deeply successful dog. The lady dogs swoon and sniff in all the wrong places, the men dogs curry favour with the smallest alpha male they are likely to meet.
But it is impossible to ignore the extra pounds around his middle.
There is a Fat Dog Test. I learned about it from some keep-your-dog-thin reality show, watching portly pooches waddle on for timely slimming advice. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, there are three vital litmus-test criteria to fulfil.
The first requires you to get down on the floor and view your pet from the side. Is its belly tucked up, the RSPCA asks?
I don’t even know what they mean. I tried scoping Caulay for a tidy belly, desperately trying to dispel images of vain older men tucking in paunches when the Girl from Ipanema walks by. He and I professed ourselves puzzled.
So we moved swiftly on. Can you clearly see your pet’s waist when viewed from above? asked the experts brightly.
I tried an arial view and heaved a sigh of relief. there it was: Macaulay’s waist. As plain as the nose on his engaging but bacteria laden face.
The third test got me, though. “You should be able to see and feel the outline of your pet’s ribs without excess fat covering,” reads the RSPCA advice. I flexed my fingertips. The dog mimed ‘unimpressed’. I gently massaged my fingers into his midriff, waiting for fingertip to hit rib.
The dog stood with the air of a Tolpuddle Martyr at the docks waiting for the ship to Australia.
The response was sluggish. Sure, the ribs were there, but they were languid and lazy, under their deluxe gello protective padding, custom fitted by Macaulay and his incorrigible habit of thieving.
This evening I got in from a day at a new chalkface. I sat in the best armchair and the dog arrived directly, to work my synapses over.
His relentless telepathy had but one aim: to fill his bowl with doggie chow.
“I know what you’re telling me,” I told him. He turned up the telepathic volume, his quarry in sight.His eyes boggled. His moustache quivered in anticipation.
My husband intervened. “He is not to have any tea,” he declared, definitely.
But my synapses were shouting now. The dog had done that mind-melding thing he does, and I couldn’t turn back. He was still staring fixedly.
“Oh, go on, Phil. What has he done?”
It transpires my husband had left a tub of Ardennes pate on a plate on the sofa. The dog waited attentively until Phil’s attention was elsewhere; and then downed the rest of the pate and licked the carton clean.
God help us tonight, when his digestion gets hold of it.
Phil and I negotiated hard: I do not forget the many furtive plateside snacks Macaulay has received from his Best Friend Phil over the years.
But we arrived at a compromise: half a bowl of doggie chow rather than a whole one.
The diet starts tomorrow.