Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington
Woodstock, New York, usa
January 31
Writer, Musician, Dog-Lover
1) Author of critically-acclaimed memoir: REX AND THE CITY: A WOMAN, A MAN, AND A DYSFUNCTIONAL DOG (Random House: 2007) -- which is about a rescuing an abused dog from a shelter in NYC). 2) Author of the forthcoming novel: NOTHING KEEPS A FRENCHMAN FROM HIS LUNCH (2013) - a modern take on the mythical "Feminine Journey" (kind of chick lit Plato); 3) kirtan walli (when I am feeling spiritual, which is daily); 4) lead singer in an all-female Who tribute band (when I am feeling adolescent, which is daily); 5) Editor at "The Bark" magazine (when I feel like musing on the cuteness of dogs, which is daily)

Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 27, 2011 8:19AM

On Being a Slightly Overweight Woman with an Overweight Dog

Rate: 9 Flag

Chunky Canines & Portly Pooches


January is the month, as we know, of New Year’s resolutions.  Take one look at the covers of dozens of womens’ magazines at the local newspaper kiosk and you will see that most resolutions—in fact, 90%--involve Losing Weight. My resolutions, however, have nothing to do with losing my own weight.  It’s my dog who needs to shed some pounds.


My niece likes to tell the story of the time I stayed at their house for Christmas a few years ago, and brought along my dog—a jolly little spaniel mix named Chloe. As we pulled up to my sister’s driveway in suburban Massachusetts (“we” being the dog and I), and stepped out of the car, my niece and brother-in-law were watching from their living room window. It was snowing; I think they wanted to make sure I didn’t slip.


“Wow, she’s put on weight,” my brother-in-law said as they watched us make our way up the walkway.


“Dad!” my niece replied in horror.  “How can you say that about Auntie Lee? She looks great. She always looks great.”


“I mean the dog,” my brother-in-law said.


I get this a lot.  People telling me my dog is fat.  But is this true? I mean really and truly true? Read on...


The words Chloe’s critics (and my friends) use to describe her are myriad: plump, chunky, well-fed, sturdy, a linebacker, no-stranger-to-the-meatloaf.  My favorite description comes from the sweet Austrian librarian at our local library.  “My, my, aren’t you getting portly,” she’ll say to Chloe, when Chloe comes forth for her daily treat. 


On the one hand it’s cute; on the other it’s not. I’ve become The Woman With the Fat Dog.  Perhaps I am even known as the Crazy Dog Lady with the Crazy Fat Dog. 


It seems so unfair, especially given that I take her out on walks at least five times a day. In the country these are full-out romping walks, and Chloe gets to run on miles and miles of wooded trails.  In this city, we walk through Greenwich Village and play in Washington Square Park. She is not a sedentary dog and I am not a sedentary person. So. Mr. Cesar-Macho Male Milan can’t call me on that one.


I also feed my dog the best possible food one can provide. Most of her diet is of the BARF variety—an unfortunate acronym for what is otherwise a superb food system. It means Bones And Raw Food and it follows the theory that dogs, in the wild, would eat bones and raw food. Simple as that.


I personally find this BARF dog diet most convenient for me, the provider, because I don’t have to open any cans or lug around large bags of kibble. And who knows what’s in some of that low-quality kibble anyway? Beyond the preservatives and genetically modified corn meal I mean. Old baseball gloves and work boots, ground to a fine oily powder? Sawdust? Old elephant hide? One study found traces of—get this—euthanized dogs in dog food. Can you imagine? Anyway, let’s get back to BARF, because thinking of dogs eating dog meat, or animal shelters selling this meat to manufacturers, makes me want to barf...


As I was saying, feeding your dog raw meat is very easy. You just have the butcher chop up the chicken or beef or whatnot to designated sizes, and then you just throw the meat on the floor (or outside) for your dog to chow down. “There, go pretend your feral,” I always say to Chloe when I toss her her meat. I don’t think she quite gets the joke, but she eats happily, and that’s all that counts. That girl ain’t got a feral bone in her body. And neither do I.


Feeding raw, by the way, is less expensive than purchasing commercial manufactured dog food.  Go look at the per-pound price of the kibble and/or wet food you are buying. And see the light.


When I am traveling, and/or visiting family I do not feed Chloe raw, mostly because it grosses people out.  Once my brother, as a joke, started to spread a rumor among family that I fed Chloe raw meat on his bed. That part was funny. It was not, however, funny when I found out the rest of the family believed it was true!  That’s when I realized I better work hard to change their opinion of me and my ways :)


So, no raw meat at the homes of my hosts. Instead, I cook Chloe’s food. This is a hot new trend, by the way, but I’ve been doing it for years. My previous dog, Wallace, had food allergies, so I prepared his meals as well.  Beef and vegetables mixed with oatmeal, or a bit of yogurt, and funny things like kelp, krill oil, lentils, kale....the kinds of things people who buy kibble like to make fun of. They find us excessive. And who knows?


The funny thing is, I technically don’t cook. Not for myself.  I eat like a bachelor (frozen burritos and Indian entrees) and my only saving grace is that I buy organic bachelor-food. And I don’t microwave it.  I use the stove—less chemical mutation that way. So my “cooking” consists of buying pre-made thing and pushing buttons. But the dog gets the whole shebang:  stews prepared in large soup pots, vegetables pureed in a food processor, grains fluffed up in rice cookers, and then a hundred pots to wash. And I’m the one who has to wash them. This, to me, is a solid reason not to cook.


So sometimes, when I am in a rush, and/or camping, I do buy canned food.  But it’s always no-grain organic food. PetGuard or Wellness. Nothing but the best for my dog.


And, despite giving her the best with my best, she’s still fat.


Would you like to hear my excuses?



For the record, Chloe has thyroid issues, and that’s why we have trouble keeping her weight down. It’s true—you can call my vet and ask her. And I have a thyroid problem too (hypo, just like Chloe). So cut us some slack.


In fact, one might say that my dog has thyroid problems because I do. You’ve all heard how some animals “take on” our physical ailments, i.e.: the heroic cat who developed throat cancer just after her human went into remission for the same thing. But is another topic for another day....in the meantime we have heroic Chloe taking on my propensity to gain weight.


Not a day goes by in which people do not tell me she is fat. I mean, I find it cute when Pia the librarian calls Chloe portly. Or when Clayton, my ten-year old nephew, calls Chloe “Miss Chubs” or “Chunky Monkey” or “Honker-Wonker.”


But when other unnamed people offer their habitual “your dog is overweight” comment, I get pissed. I get offended.  I take it personally. I hear in their benign, offhand observations decades of latent criticism: you’re a failure; you don’t have a real job; you don’t know how to take care of yourself, let alone your dog; you’re a f—ck up—look! Your dog is going to die of heart failure, or suffer through a lifetime of hip problems and arthritic needs, all because YOU ARE A FAILURE!!


Do they actually say these things?



Do they actually think these things about me?

Probably not.

Okay, definitely not.


Then why do I react so negatively to being told my dog is overweight? Why do I take it so personally?


For one thing, it’s rather bad manners, don’t you think?  Children are taught that it is rude to shout “Mommy, look at that fat man!” in the supermarket aisles. Aren’t they? Or is this permissible now?

But then again, some people these days spend most of their days flaming other people anonymously on the internet....perhaps children are more apt to flame to peoples’ faces now.


Anyway, I guess people think it’s okay to insult a dog’s weight because some people think dogs don’t have feelings. Or that they don’t hold grudges. The latter is true. And Chloe, she’s just as friendly and loving and goofy with the strangers who call her a Fatty-Fat as she is with the people who call her a Cutie-Cute. She, likes all dogs, loves the attention.


I suppose I like attention too, as long as it’s positive. Criticism crushes me.

In the interest of full disclosure: I used to be very self-conscious about my weight, and about the way I looked.  I cared so much about looking “good” that I starved myself into near-oblivion. They called it anorexia back then and they still do. I remember well the feeling of starvation, of insatiable hunger, coupled with an intense self-loathing that had somehow convinced me I didn’t deserve food.  At that time in my life I guess I thought I didn’t deserve to live. It was a horrible belief, a horrible sensation.


Now, thankfully, I don’t really care how I look. I could stand to lose five pound, but I don’t care enough to spend the time or effort accomplishing this. I just don’t eat crap, or high fructose corn syrup, or anything with exclamation points or cartoons on the packaging. I don’t eat anything genetically modified, artificially colored, or brewed in a test tube. Simply put: When I am hungry I eat and I eat when I am hungry. In behavioral therapist terms, this is called a “healthy relationship to food.”


So does my dog.  She has an extremely healthy, well-functioning, vigorous relationship to food.



Chloe is part Lab, however, and it is said that Labs will eat and eat and eat until they explode. I cannot prove this, having never seen a dog explode.


But once, when I was staying at a friend and fellow band-member’s house (a friend who serves her dog kibble), we came home late from a music gig and found Chloe lying sideways on the floor.  She seemed stiff and uncomfortable, and didn’t get up to greet us when we walked in the door.  This is unusual for Chloe, who always regards the occasion of a human entering a room as a cause to celebrate.  Plus, her posture was that of a dog with a twisted intestine--a life-threatening medical condition.


I rushed over and knelt before her, to check her breathing and feel her heart. I even checked for blood and felt for broken bones. Chloe barely moved. “What’s wrong?” I said to the dog. 


“I think I found the answer,” my friend called from the kitchen.  She led me into the pantry, where we beheld a tipped-over bag of kibble, more than half of it gone. And we’re talking one of those thirty-pound bags.


“Chloe, how could you?” I said to her, back in the living room.  But she didn’t acknowledge me. She was practically passed out on the braided rug, sleeping off her kibble-induced stupor like a drunk. 


She farted all night, by the way. Which is why I personally never give my dog kibble.


So. Here was proof that any animal with a drop of Labrador Retriever in her portly body will at least try to eat until she explodes. But she will not actually explode.


Chloe remained comically bloated for the next day or two, and even seemed somewhat chagrined...the way a college freshman might be after one of those nights of too-much-to-drink, and “Oh, God, I don’t remember what I said.”


During those two days I was a bit more lax in my reaction to those people who happened to call her fat.  I had a perfect excuse.


And why are the called Chocolate labs, by the way? Isn’t chocolate often associated with food addiction? I’m just saying...



I like to joke that Chloe is part Wooly Mammoth. She has very long, very course, very thick white fur on certain parts of her body—mostly her back. I don’t know where this fur comes from—I mean, what part of her DNA would produce such thick, abundant fuzz, that is wiry in some areas of her body, long and smooth in others, and short and coarse underneath? 


But this fur honestly does make her look bigger than she is. Go ahead and call my groomer if you don’t believe me—he’ll vouch for us. 


In the summer time I get the dog groomed—a “spaniel cut,” they call it—shaved down to a buzz cut on the top half of her body, and fringed on the lower half. Thus, in the summer time, everyone says: “Wow, Chloe has lost a lot of weight.”


People say that to me too, in the summer time, by the way: that whole  “Wow, you’ve lost weight! You look great!” thing.


“It’s because I’m no longer wearing seven layers of sweaters, four layers of woolen leggings, and a North Face full-body ski suit on top of it all,” I tell them. Rather irritably. Because inside I’m thinking: so this whole time you’ve been thinking I’m a fat cow?


It’s true that in the winter I look like the Michelin man. In the winter I do not get asked on dates. But who cares? Looking bloated is better than being cold, I always say.


But when people start to exclaim in the summer how great I look, it makes me suspect that I must look absolutely wretched and bloated in the winter.

How shallow people are, to judge a book by her covers like that. Her many, many covers. I’ll see you next June.



Yes, yes, I know it is unhealthy for a dog—or anyone—to remain overweight. It’s not like I’m trying to have an unhealthy dog.

Let’s recap my excuses thus far:

1) She has low thyroid function.

2) She is a part Lab. Chocoholic Lab.

3) She is part Wooly Mammoth.


Plus, I want her to be happy and comfortable.  Starving is not at all comfortable. I know this first-hand. I starved myself for about four years when I was a teenager. It was horrible.


One of my friends once told me that his vet told him that dogs are always supposed to be in a state of hunger. It’s in their nature, this vet says.


Always in a state of hunger.


When I was anorexic I was like a ghost. I used to think of food all day and dream of food all night—I used to consume trays of macaroons and French baguettes and almond croissants in my dreams, and then wake up aghast at the thought that I might have actually truly eaten something.  I rarely ate anything. Food was the enemy. Food equaled fat and fat made me detestable, corrupt, hideous, etc. I don’t think I had a genuinely happy or healthy thought for about ten years. 


In my twenties, when I moved beyond the affliction of eating disorders, I made a vow to myself: I would never go hungry again. So now we must ask: Am I somehow transferring this vow, this fear of starvation, onto my dog?


When she is hungry she lets me know it. She pokes me with her snout and leads me, like a gallant Lassie, into the kitchen, toward the refrigerator, and then goes en pointe, like an elegant, hard-working bird dog.  It’s so cute I just have to feed her.  Even if it’s just a small morsel of something.  But usually she does this only twice a day—at her usual feeding times. She reminds me to feed her, you see. Because she knows that I am a spacey artist who needs to be reminded to tend to practical things.  I forget a lot of things these days. I need a service dog to remind me to feed the dog. 


Years ago, a very famous article appeared in Atlantic Magazine, entitled “Why Your Dog Pretends to Love You.” I can’t remember the author’s name, and I don’t have time to Google it, but the author’s theory was that dogs have learned that acting affectionate and cute and loving will result in the reward of food. But that they don’t actually really love you. Or even like you. They’re just in it for the food.


Hmmm. My ex-husband once accused me of the same thing....


I wouldn’t be surprised to find scientific proof that my dog Chloe is manipulating me, and that she goes en pointe at the refrigerator because she knows it will make me laugh and because she knows she will get a small morsel of hotdog or a larger morsel of sliced turkey breast, or perhaps even a full-fledged dinner, even though it’s technically not dinner time.  We call it the “early bird special”: her 6:00 pm dinner meal, served at 4. All because she is cute. And please note that she always gets her thyroid supplements with her meals.


Okay. So perhaps we could say that it is my dog’s fault that she is so fat. Or portly. Or chunky, chubby. A Mack-truck-in-fur...whatever you want to call her. 


Perhaps we could say I am wimp with former eating disorders and self-worth issues, who is afraid that her dog won’t love her if she doesn’t feed her “enough.”


Or perhaps we could say I’m just a softie, with a kind heart, who wants her sweet middle-aged dog to have a happy, comfortable life. 

I prefer to think of it this way.


Years ago, when I was married, and had another life, and another dog, the dog named Wallace, who had a perfectly functioning thyroid, we used to spend our summers up in Wisconsin.  My former mother-in-law had a place there--an old family compound belonging to her husband and his siblings. My husband, dog and I had the grandmother’s old cabin (Oh, that place was heaven!) and my step-father-in-law’s step-brother F____ had the cabin next door.


F___ and his wife had an old Labrador Retriever.  I forget his name but I remember his girth, and his sweet grey muzzle, and his vaguely clouded eyes.  I also remember that he was—and remains—the fattest dog I have ever seen.


Two images stay in my mind: One is of this old dog lying on the dock, in such a manner that his entire body covered the width of the dock. He was the sort of dog who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, move much, so once he spread himself on the dock he was there for the day. We’d step over him on our way out to the kayaks, and step back over him to retrieve the coolers and the sun block, etc. This was easy and simple enough for us humans. But I remember my dog Wallace did not quite know what to do. He was the younger dog, clearly not the leader of any pack, and also clearly a guest at this compound. Wallace seemed to know that it would not be cool for him, the Gamma, to jump over the Alpha dog. So he used to leap off the dock and swim up to the kayaks, or back to shore.

This was my first experience with fat-dogs-as-roadblocks.


The other thing I remember about that fat old lovely lab is that, at meal times, he would plant himself next to his Mum—a jolly woman named M.—and rest his head on the table, and basically receive treats all night long. Like a slot machine. 


M. too was a softie. Older than me. I always saw her as someone I might become.


Ben was the dog’s name—I remember now!  We all used to joke about how, well, obscenely obese Ben was, but we never said that in front of M. Or in front of Ben for that matter.  What we would say—and mean—is that “Ben has a good life, eh?” And he did. He lived eighteen years as a canine slot machine.


So back to Chloe. Chloe of the Big Appetite and the Low Thyroid.  You may call her portly or flabby or Chunky-Monkey.  But you can’t call her unloved.


Perhaps that is why I get so offended when people make those off-hand comments. Perhaps I worry that at some level, another person is challenging my own personal version of love.  But that’s just is—love is so personal. And we I’m just trying to love my dog the way I think she deserves to be loved.


And so, I give her her thyroid medication (when I can afford it, which lately has not been often). I dose her up with homeopathic remedies and herbs. I groom her in the summer and call her a Mammoth in the winter.  I give her plenty of off-leash exercise in the acres of mountain trails behind our house.


And when she eats, I watch her wag and wag and wag her tail and think about an Alice Walker quote I read in Oprah magazine: “You do your best, and when you know better, you do better.” And in the meantime, let us eat and be merry.


If you, dear readers, have any input as to how you handle your portly pooches, we welcome it.  THank you!

PS - That sweet fat dog pictured above is not Chloe. Here she is. Ain't she cute?

chloe money shot from rex page 





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Chloe looks healthy and happy. I laughed in fellowship with you at many points in this piece. Doggie speed bumps especially.
She's not fat. She's not even a little chunky.
or is this a skinny picture? huh huh huh!!???

Anyhow, you know fat dogs end up with serious joint issues when they're old. I had a dog, Petunia who made me crazy she was such a food tripper. you couldn't work in the kitchen without Toonie under your feet like a living rug, hoping for a scrap and crumb or better still, an accidental food drop! holy toledo, she drove me nuts.

it was a chore, a real battle to keep her at fighting weight. she was built strangely, very thin long legs with a massively huge head and strong chest and body. but even at the proper weight she started limping with arthritis. none of the supplements helped. She ended up on derramax I think it's called, which is tough on the liver. but it was that or watch her decline in constant pain.

I did BARF for one of my dogs Oliver, a very young rescue who had mast cell cancer. He smelled so good...like warm toast right up to the end. It's a great diet, but very time consuming. I would spend hours grinding chickens. I didn't have a meat grinder that could tackle beef so his diet was primarily chicken.

I guess I'm rambling. You'll have to deal with her weight issues, assuming she actually has them. What does her vet say? You don't want a dog whose in agony when she's old. They don't diet well when they're old. They REALLY get all miserable and deprived and they'll pine. So old isn't the best time to deal with an overweight dog, even if they're in pain. Just something to think about.

Great post. I read every word. :)

PS. Don't hate me. I tried not to be critical. Critical hurts, yes.
You're absolutely right, Foolish Monkey. Thank you for pointing out the joint pain issue, because I should have mentioned that in my post. Joint strain is a terrible side effect of weight gain--for all of us. I've got Chloe on all sorts of joint-support herbs and supplements while we work on her weight. My main concern is that she always be at ease and at peace and pain-free. No offense taken at your kind words :)
She seems happy with your love. Is that not enough/
Laughs ... your girl does not look fat to me! Kudos for fixing her such good food. I totally agree with your take on nutrition for her. May you both live a long, healthy life.
She's as cute as you are hilarious. Is that an old picture because she looks very thin.

I half had an old lab (black but the chow hound gene isn't related to the color gene, they're all like that) who was thin and badly arthritic. Let me tell you, advanced arthritis sucks way worse than perpetual (perceived) starvation and rimadyl (or deramaxx) is way more expensive and dangerous - including regular liver tests - than thyroid meds I'd bet. Also not available as cheap generic human equivalent, see below.

You don't ever want to be in the position of having to decide whether an otherwise healthy old dog should be put down because arthritis has robbed her of all quality of life. Believe me. You do not.

I'm trying to take some weight off a 4 year old American Eskimo Dog, a breed not normally given to the chubs. He has issues. He also has some skeletal deformities so staving off arthritis is a serious concern. I was feeding him slightly less than 1/2 the kibble I feed a 50 lb poodle, aiming for slightly less than 1/2 that weight, and he gave all signs of extreme starvation. All signs, that is, except weight loss. His nose is perpetually pressed to the floor in hopes of finding something abandoned and edible. And everything is edible. No plastic is safe in his reach. Left to his own devices he will produce his own snacks, more by volume, it seems, than he takes in. And no cheap corn-laden-dead-pet-plastic-based kibble for these guys, either. They get the venison/bison/duck/fish/non-industrial food chain, grain free hotsy totsy stuff with blueberries and rosemary and yucca that costs me more to feed one dog than I used to spend on 3 back when I didn't know any better. (The poodle gets a little creeped out by a full barf diet and cooking is yet to come for this crew though I've done that in the past.) So we went on this way for 3-1/2 months and he lost a grand total of about one pound. No signs of thyroid problems but I'm working on funding a complete blood workup. I used to give the poodle 1/2 his kibble in a "treat ball" - he would roll the ball around and the kibble would drop out bit by bit. It averted boredom when he was home alone all day. The Eskie chewed big holes in both balls to get at the food so that's out of the question for now unless they make steel treat balls and they don't. We've gone to a filler filled weight loss kibble for now, served with pumpkin and floating in a bowl of water to increase bulk. We'll see.

That's for credibility. This is advice.

Carrots make reasonable chew treats. Many dogs love the baby kind. (I think that's related to the musty smell they always seem to me to have but, you know, dogs.) Low-cal and in my experience they don't digest fully so double good. As it turns out, mine loves raw, frozen, still on the stalk brussels sprouts but that can be hard to come by on a regular basis so we stick to carrots for the chew value.

Thyroid med$ - are you buying them from the vet? There's likely a human equivalent and I bet you can get them much cheaper in generic form. The vet should be required by law to give you a Rx you can take over to Target or whatever - you can price shop that.

Barf - instead of having the butcher chop it all up for you, feed whole bones, especially chicken backs. They come with organ meat scraps and huge chew value - takes longer to eat, more satisfaction. It works miracles on the teeth, too. As I recall, the meat/bone/organ ratio of chicken backs approximates that of a wild diet. I used to give a mix of veges, dairy, chopped meat in the morning and chicken backs at night. I started with a 14 and a 16 year old dog with nasty teeth which two months later were shiny bright.

And then, as long as you know that food does not equal love (ask any of my mother's children,) go ahead and tell those people to STFU.
Chloe does look healthy and happy.

My wife is one of the top breeders and racers of Whippets in North America. Overweight dogs make her crazy.

YOU control what the dog eats. Period!
Chloe's faaaaaantastic looking! I loved reading this, Lee. (I hope the camera added about 60 lbs. to that poor dog at the top though. Otherwise, that's abuse.)
Thanks for the input everyone.....this is so helpful. Sometimes we (I) need to be told what to do--even the things I technically already know. I appreciate all the kind and honest input.
Dear Nerd Cred:
I loved your comment about fat-prone dogs, and am taking your advice to heart.
I will try the Brussels sprouts - Chloe hates carrots for some reason. Sometimes I can get her to eat broccoli, until she figures out what it is.....then she spits it out.

I do find the thyroid med very expensive--often I have to choose between that and putting gasoline in my car. I will try the human grade version.
I often think of pet insurance too....but again, I have to put gas in the car!

I do feed her whole chunks of raw chicken. She has terrific teeth and healthy gums and decent breath.

What do you recommend for preventative-arthritis supplements? Same as human stuff? (Glucosamine, shark cartilage, krill oil....)


PS - I love that you have a standard named Jovi after Bon Jovi!
Chloe looks perfect in everyway! I have no advice as I'm constantly trying to figure out the same thing for my own animals.
Chloe is very cute (and has an interesting "narrative" on her face). I thought photos (and t.v.) are supposed to put weight on you. I can't discern any weight issues in the photograph.