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November 8, 2005

A Slimmer Pushkin?

Roy Meachum

Coming into the house after another First Saturday adventure downtown, we discovered bits of plastic on the floor. Remnants of a bag, which we assumed Pushkin had removed from the basket underneath the desk.

Only the next morning when putting breakfast together did I understand what really happened. The English pointer had once again scrambled up on the counter; this time he had removed a pair of tomatoes. He likes the red, juicy fruit.

That was the second time in a week. The night I went out to grab a movie for my Friday morning chat with WFMD's Bob Miller, boy dog pulled a similar stunt.

My disappointment in the abominable sequel to the Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas' Zorro was matched by the disappearance of two Trick-or-Treat Snickers and a tomato.

That time I understood instantly what had happened.

Veterinarian Jane Saylor has on several occasions commented Pushkin seemed growing heavier; she didn't wave a finger and order him starved into slimness. But I stopped the custom of sharing, which had led to his fondness for tomatoes.

Over the seven years I've been blessed with having this delightful personality around, it has struck me as only fair that he partake of any leavings on my plate. He was always happy to oblige.

The arrangement seemed more equitable: I taught him to like vegetables and he slurped up leavings that would have gone in the garbage or down the disposal.

Meat appeared rarely on Pushkin's supplemental menu, but there were always shards of vegetables and generally gravy. When he finished tonguing clean, I had no more to do than rinse and swipe and stick things in the dishwasher.

The arrangement was not only fair but both labor-saving and nutritious for him, so I figured. And no harm done.

After all, he takes me on grand promenades of his downtown constituency on a daily basis, which frequently involves two turns up and down North Market Street, with sidebar visits along Patrick Street, east and west.

With a regular exercise regimen, I rationalized, the pointer would turn the extra calories into strength. On a least a couple occasions, Dr. Saylor encouraged this view, remarking on how much muscle he carried around on his hunting dog frame.

On no occasion, however, did our family vet really vary from the opinion Pushkin tipped the scales more than maybe he should.

In my mind, I fixed on the muscles, reinforced by his lack of flab, and ignored the growth of girth, particularly on his back side. After all, as I tell me about myself, we are not dealing with spindly youth.

The pointer is, in man-years, smack dab into middle age. With keen memory of his growth from roly-poly, black-and-white butterball puppy into this splendid specimen of male dog, I had no doubt things would sort themselves out.

But to be on the cautious side, I decided fewer leftovers might be in order. Only now and then, as a treat, would I slip him a pinch of this or a taste of that; an occasional saucer should do no harm. Nobody ever claimed he had a "spare tire," certainly nothing to match mine.

A friend, who came to know both Meachum males very well, intervened. She had more than once fixed me with an unwavering brown eye and hurled the accusation Pushkin had become fat. I had hesitantly agreed but there it was.

Two weeks ago, to the day, the phone rang shortly after noon. My brown-eyed friend's familiar voice asked abruptly if I were going to be at home at 12:30. My affirmative response prompted her comment: "I have something for Pushkin."

"Not for me," I joked.

She hesitated. "Well, you can share, if you want," she said.

At the appointed time, my canine companion set off his watch dog alarm: first, a series of short barking meant to alert there were strange sounds around. He then segues into repeated yaps that increase in speed and intensity as the "potential danger" approaches nearer.

And there my friend was.

Having parked next to my old car, she was standing at my sliding back door, lugging a bag of what looked suspiciously like dog food. It was. But neither the sort that I buy from Costco, nor the fancy brand she feeds her Itzhak, a very lovable mutt I first met when he was a 12-week-old give-up she adopted.

By now you must certainly have guessed what was in the bag plopped down on the kitchen table. She had bought and hauled from the store the ultimate declaration of her opinion Pushkin was putting on too much weight.

Then, having delivered the diet dog food, my friend disappeared, like that: She was here one minute and gone the next. But not before delivering an admonishment I was to take better care of the pointer.

After that dramatic incident, it seemed fit and proper that I should alert "Mayor" Pushkin's constituents, the more than several downtown merchants who provide the biscuits that fuel his daily need for a stroll.

No one was asked to totally forego his pleasure, and theirs, by eliminating treats, but I asked, with general success, that less would be better than more. No matter the pointer's histrionics.

In that regard, he did not disappoint.

In Alicia L's he planted himself firmly before the counter, fixing owner Pat with a look best described as beseeching.

Bijou's Carol was forced to endure a paw extended in pleading, with his head tilted to one side.

En Masse's Trish fended off similar supplications while fixing me with as assumed smile and blue orbs flashing doubt under an upraised brow.

How could I be so cruel? That's what I heard, even though the words were never spoken. Each lady said yes-yes, with her voice, while all their eyes protested I was being much too cruel.

Still, I felt I couldn't let down "she who cares enough" to buy and carry diet food into this house.

And that, dear readers, is why tomatoes and other goodies are no longer safe on the Meachum kitchen counters.

After seven years of arduous struggle, seeking and having succeeded at being more human than canine, Pushkin has succumbed to the natural instincts that properly belong to every hungry pooch.

In case anyone wonders what punishment he suffered for violating inviolate counter space? Long-time readers don't have to be told, but for those new to the scene I hastily reassure that our living arrangement does not include anger or revenge, on either part.

The dear pointer always maintains patience with all my foolish mistakes and I reciprocate. The only time either one raises a voice is when he thinks the other guy might be in danger.

Whatever the provocation, Pushki never tries to bite me and I never punch out on him, even with a gently slapping newspaper.

That philosophy applied to the counter raids.

After all, it was my fault entirely that the tomatoes and candy were lying around where they were vulnerable to his hunger pains. I have too much respect for the reality he really is a dog to expect his constantly amazing intelligence to work like a human being's all the time.

Having been on diets, I am well aware there are better times in the life of every critter, no matter the number of legs. We will endure.

In the meantime, the kitchen and all edibles will be placed under strict security measures; that's the best way I know to reach the target of restoring Pushkin's trim lines. We both need all your best thoughts. A prayer might not hurt.

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