When Strangers Comment On A Pet's Appearance To Insult the Owner
It’s no secret that our culture here in the US is obsessed with body image and body weight. Entire magazines, websites, and pharmaceutical drugs are devoted to looking good and being slim. Dare I say it, The Kardashians? [Shudder]. But they are a perfect example of how visual and materialistic we are as a culture.
The equestrians among us know that breeches are perhaps the least forgiving item of clothing out there. As a mother of three, sometimes I dread donning them as much as I’m excited to ride. I will be the first to admit I’ve gained a little weight around my midsection with motherhood, age, and diet. And by diet I mean my propensity to eat like a teenager and drink too much Coca-Cola. As men and women we have ALL felt uncomfortable in our own skin at one time or other. It happens.
Sadly this isn't limited to humans. We project our body image issues onto our animals. At the barn we joke that Chico has reached his winter weight and needs more exercise or that Delight needs to put on a few pounds so that his ribs aren't as noticeable. When it is a matter of health and wellness, yes it is up to us to make sure our animals are at the proper weight and we should be concerned. But when does it become more than that? When does it become fat-shaming?
One of our canine clients is an adorable, senior beagle with arthritis. His family takes dogcations and enjoys hiking, so we wanted to make sure Jaxson was comfortable and could join the fun without causing injury or more inflammation.
Understandably with age (for all of us) comes a slowing of the metabolism. Over the past year, Jaxson has gained weight. When we started working with him our goal was to increase his metabolism, improve mobility, and reduce stiffness caused by his arthritis. We discussed a portioned, quality diet and exercise regime with his owner and started to see improvement pretty quickly. With one exception, his belly remained despite losing weight elsewhere. We all agreed it was best to have him checked again by his veterinarian.*
Despite the highest level of care that Jaxson receives hIs owners are often criticized and Jaxson made fun of because of his weight. His owner, Amy Schwebel, shocked me with a recent situation in front of her own home.
I was shocked! Maybe I'm naive but since when has fat shaming dogs become a thing? Would you walk up to a person on the street and tell them they are fat? Why is it okay for a stranger to say it your animal and sit in judgement of you as the owner. Sadly, this isn't even the only occurrence Amy has experienced. She and her husband have encountered this from strangers and friends alike. Jaxson doesn’t know that people are making fun of him. What it does do instead is insult the owner. His fur parents are doing everything they can to make him healthy and happy.
The sad news is his veterinarian has determined that not only does Jaxson have hypothyroidism but also a mass on his liver. He now has to go through further tests to determine whether it’s malignant or benign. This mass is what is causing his belly to protrude in such a way people mistake for fat.
The criticism from others is that much more irritating- he has a medical issue. Not, in fact, something anyone can fix with a diet or exercise. Regardless what makes it anyone else’s business? When did we start out trying to hurt people by picking on their pets?
Has your dog or horse ever been fat shamed? I'm curious, how did you react?
Heather Wallace is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike. She and her business partner, Danelle Stukas, are the co-owners of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
*Bridle & Bone Wellness strongly believes if you have a question about your animal(s) health, always contact your veterinarian first to rule out a medical problem.