“Let’s get you on that scale, Toby!” she ordered.
Suddenly, the room filled with as much drama as could be mustered on a March morning in Rumford. Tom and I held our breath, waiting with hopeful trepidation. Watching the flashing electronic numbers climb, then dip, then soar again was like a moment straight out of my favorite TV show. Except there was no music building to a suspenseful crescendo, no Alison Sweeney in a tight dress and high heels wishing Toby luck (and making Tom wish for things he couldn’t have). And there was definitely no Dolvett the trainer waiting in the wings in Spandex, flexing his biceps and flashing his Hollywood smile.
“Thirty-eight point six,” she announced when the numbers finally stopped. “Toby’s gained over seven pounds!” Tom and I did a classic “agony of defeat” expression just like on the show, jaws dropped, shoulders slumped. But teammate Toby just whined a bit and waddled away. Nope, he was not The Biggest Loser and probably wouldn’t be for a very long time. He was an old, fat beagle, plain and simple. And that verdict was about to be unceremoniously verified by Dr. Kent during the dog’s annual day of reckoning at the Countryside Animal Hospital.
For the first time, Dr. Kent’s assistant had to use caution when hoisting Toby onto the exam table, lifting with her knees not her back so they could proceed to prod the hound’s expanding girth. Toby just tried to maintain his footing and a scrap of his dignity, too complaisant to put up a fuss, and much too simple to remember what happened on that cold, hard table last time he was there. A year ago, after an eye-popping search for his prolapsed prostate, the vet recommended neutering. “Plus, while I got him under I should really yank a bunch of those rotten teeth, too,” he said.
“Guess the poor dog needs help on both ends,” I agreed. “And whatever you do, don’t let us leave without a refill for his phenobarbital. Wouldn’t want to be back up in Rangeley and have him start seizing again!”
Seizures, we’ve discovered, are a beagle thing—almost as common in the breed as their unbridled urge to eat until they pop. Luckily, Toby’s seizures are kept under control with Phenobarbital and, luckily, he is the only family member on meds. Preventing his little brain from misfiring means administering small doses of a controlled substance twice a day, blood tests once a year to check for side effects, and stockpiling a steady stash for him up in the woods an hour away from the nearest pharmacy. I’m pretty sure drug cartels are masterminded with less planning than scoring Toby’s pills!
“We’re hoping the poor guy’s liver isn’t shot from the medication,” I told Dr. Kent as he continued to poke and palpitate. “Seems like it’s distended. And his hind end is starting to give out a little. He can barely hold his tail up anymore. I read that was a side effect, too.”
The vet cast us a knowing smile. He was no stranger to old dog owner denial, and ours was a classic case. “This dog’s just fat,” he chuckled. “He’s getting old and he’s eating way more than he needs.” No liver problems. No masses. Just beagle blubber. Turns out that two cups of Purina is an excessive amount of dog chow, especially if the cup measure is an ancient oversized coffee mug, and the dog who’s chowin’ on it is devoid of metabolism-boosting testosterone. Plus the real Catch 22, according to Dr. Kent, is the poor pooch can’t exercise because he can’t exercise. Increased poundage stresses his joints making him unable to walk much faster than a turtle, which results in—you guessed it—increased poundage.
“It’s official, Toby,” Tom announced as we loaded our lard hound into the Subaru and headed back up Route 17. “You’re on a strict diet.” Toby just wagged his tail as best he could and stared out the window, oblivious. The reality of his new regimen would not start to sink in (if anything ever really sinks in) until later. His ritualistic dinnertime prance around the pantry would be rewarded with one measly scoop out of the food bucket and, a few gulps later, he’d be dumbfounded worse than ever as he stared into his empty bowl.
That was over a month ago. And while Toby isn’t saying much, we think it’s slowly starting to dawn on him like an overcast morning over a very shallow pond: his two-scoop days are over. Getting a peanut butter chaser to make his Phenobarb slide down easier is a thing of the past, too. And, instead of pre-washing every dish before it goes into the dishwasher, he’s now left standing in the kitchen, watching me with sad, gravy-colored eyes as I rinse the dishes myself, and his favorite bad habit trickles down the drain. It’s hard, we imagine, being on a doggie diet. He’s got no Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz, no buddy system or online support. He can’t “go out and do something special for himself” because he’s been good all week. He can only go along with the program, his unconditional love for us—his food dis-ablers—still somehow compensating for the growling in his stomach. In many ways, though, he’s got it easy. He has no dilemmas about working healthier eating habits into his lifestyle, no worries about midnight binges, no choice whatsoever in whether he’s going to slip up and put the food bag back on big time. And, best of all, Toby’s got company. So as to not follow in his fat footsteps, Toby’s brother, Kineo, is cutting back too. (He’s still young and pretty trim but, hey, he’s named after a rugged mountain on Moosehead Lake and can’t just be letting himself cave in.)
Toby Tubbette. Mr. Pin Head. Little Fat Boy. Sausage Pooch. Beagle Bongo Belly. As Toby looks less and less like a circus balloon dog stuck too long atop the air tank, our pet names for him will most likely change. But, for now, we’re just glad he stopped walking like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh while his brother gallops ahead, and that even his “erect tail dysfunction” is going away. Course we won’t get the official weigh-in till next March when we go back down the mountain for blood tests and another drug run. Meanwhile, Tom got an interim progress report the other day when he couldn’t help sneaking a peek on the bathroom scale. “Toby’s lost three pounds already,” he announced after weighing himself, then hopping on while holding onto Toby. Good thing for our beagle loser it wasn’t me getting on the scale with him! Then I’d be dropping pounds, but the numbers wouldn’t even budge for poor starving Toby Tubbette!