Childhood obesity is a growing (no pun intended) problem in this country.
As it is with human kids, so is it a concern with four-legged furkids. I took a good look at Pyxi today and realized that she’s chubbed out some. She’s a petite English Cocker Spaniel so extra weight shows up, even accounting for the fact that both she and her brother, Nat, are shaggy right now and need their extra fur clipped.
I haven’t changed their portions for breakfast and dinner. I don’t overload them with treats. I’ve even asked the kennel tech where I board them to be mindful of how many treats they get during the day. She’s a wonderful woman who adores all of the dogs in her care and my two love her — but she spoils them rotten. In the last month or so, I’ve noticed that if Nat walks away from his food bowl without finishing, Pyxi sneakily goes over and helps herself, as long as he isn’t in the kitchen. Still, the few times that she got away with it before I discovered her pilfering and took away the bowl weren’t enough to make her chunk up.
So, I took a good hard look at the only other thing in the equation and the reason smacked me upside the head. They aren’t getting enough exercise. That, my friends, is squarely my fault.
When we first became a family back in 2007, I was obese, but hadn’t reached the “ohmyGodI’mtoofattowalk” stage that I hit when I amassed an additional 35-40 pounds on top of my already high weight. Those extra pounds were the final straw when my knee and my breathing said, “No can do” to any form of extended exercise. Prior to that point, I could still manage a mile or two. A couple of evenings a week I would take Nat and Pyxi out when I got home from work and we’d go up to the Seven Mile Bridge for a nice walk. They are always excited to go out and go for a car ride. They were still excited when we got to the bridge. After about half of a mile, however, they’d start to slow a little, turn around and look at me as if to ask, “Are we done?” Bless their lazy little doggy hearts.
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped this routine. It might have been a couple of years ago when we were doing dog classes. It was a time thing. When I got home from work, we trained and practiced, which was still, I guess, enough exercise. I guess it was really about a year and a half ago after classes stopped (the trainer relocated) and we hit summer season when it was honestly freaking hot — too hot for them even in their shorter hair styles, and dangerous hot on their paws. (Rule of thumb, or soles — if pavement is too hot for you to walk on it in bare feet, it is too hot for the pads of your dogs’ paws.) Plus, I had increasingly more difficulty walking even short distances.
So, here we are. I’ve lost weight and am much more fit with more energy than in a number of years. I’ve focused a lot on my exercise routines, getting moving, trying new things and so on. My muscles are more toned and my cardio ability has improved a great deal. Yay for me!
Unfortunately, I’ve been neglecting my dogs’ exercise needs. That’s horrible! I love my dogs and am ashamed that I’ve let their fitness slide. Rather than weep, moan, tear out my hair, and castigate myself, I’m focusing on improving the situation as soon as possible. They’re five years old and prime health and fitness is definitely attainable.
Today I worked most of the day at home on my next paper for class. Around 5 p.m., I finished the first draft and shut down the computer. It’s been overcast most of the day but at the time didn’t appear to be threatening rain anytime soon. I figured that the bridge would not be too hot, so I put on my walking sneakers, grabbed a couple of doggy bags, leashed the pooches and headed out.
Good Lord, but it’s worse than I thought. I have more energy in my stride than I realized. Nat and Pyxi? Not so much. By a quarter mile they’d gotten over their, “Oh, wow! A walk! What’s that smell? Ohh, I wanna go over here. No over there. Wait, what’s that?” excitement and were plodding along. Before we hit the half mile mark, they’d slowed and looked around at me a few times. I was definitely catching up and had to keep urging them along. I knew that it wasn’t hot enough that they were actually suffering, they just weren’t used to a steady walk of any distance. (Mind you, when they’re out in the yard, they rip around, chase each other and come barreling back to the house at full speed when I call.)
I started thinking about it like I would if they were people who were just restarting a regular exercise routine. I decided we’d start with a brisk mile and build our way up. I was definitely the most brisk of the three of us on the last quarter mile, but they made it without flopping on the ground and asking me to carry them. We arrived home, they slowly ate dinner and then enjoyed their evening chew treat. Now they’re sacked out taking naps.
From this point, I need to decide on a strategy and that includes figuring out how to work regular walks into a schedule already crowded with work, school, Zumba, Tai Chi, manicures, and other commitments. Here’s the reality for this week, I am not going to make it back to the bridge with them because of after work commitments and a trip out of town for a few days. However, there is no reason that I cannot at least get them out for walks in the neighborhood. I can get up earlier some mornings and be more efficient. Instead of just letting them out to play in the yard, we can take a walk before I hit the shower and get ready for work. It’s a safe neighborhood, so there’s no reason that I can’t walk them around even if it’s dark when I do so because I have a commitment earlier in the evening.
Trip schedules aside, I usually do not have other things already scheduled on Mondays, alternate Thursdays, and Fridays after work. Those are going to be our regular “bridge walk” evenings. If something comes up on one of those days, or on the weeks where I’m commited on a Thursday, we’ll make it up on the weekend. We’ll start with a strong mile for a couple of weeks and then increase the distance, even if we reduce the pace toward the end. Once we’re able to maintain the brisk pace for the whole distance, we’ll go a little further. And so on, and so on.
As the days get shorter I’ll find a way to go into work earlier so that I can leave earlier and still get in those walks. This will be a good replacement routine for me, too. My pool isn’t heated so there are a few months of the year when the water is simply too cold for me in the late afternoon/early evening.
Nat and Pyxi, trust me. Eventually, you’re going to feel better about this walks. You’ll enjoy more than the car ride on our outings. The Stella Family is going to get fit together.