The afternoon sun streams into my parents' living room, and two oafish, grey-haired couch potatoes are sprawled in the well-worn recliner. They're sound asleep, bathed in warmth, like hefty peas in a pod of sloth. My retired father occupies most of the chair, and dozing on the footrest is his feline doppelgänger Kyle, the family cat. This is their favourite “activity,” the midday nap, and somewhere in the house my mother is sighing. Loudly.
Can adopting a pet help you get healthy?
A few years ago, it became clear that Dad's retirement had sucked him into a tractor beam of inactivity. Without that morning alarm and the call of the office, his most pressing daily duties became retrieving the mail and, if Mom was lucky, taking out the garbage. His waistline was expanding in direct proportion to his free time. So, to get him out of his chair and (Mom prayed) out of the house for more than five minutes at a stretch, my parents decided to adopt a dog. “He'll have to take it for walks,” Mom reasoned, hoping endless hours might also be spent on pet projects like teaching the furry fella to fetch or roll over. (The dog, I mean, not my father, who never learned how to roll over and probably never will.)
But, as it goes with the best-laid plans, my parents walked into the SPCA to find a canine companion and walked out with papers to make Kyle -- an adorable, plus-size tabby cat -- the newest member of the family. “We have to take him,” my mother said, eyes filled with love, a half-second after Kyle literally leaped into her arms, purring loudly. Using some naive-in-hindsight logic, they figured a cat would probably keep Dad just as busy as a dog would.
Time for action
They were mistaken. Unfortunately for Mom, Kyle's presence didn't exactly drop-kick Dad's inertia. Instead, in Kyle, my father scored a kindred listless spirit. Kyle didn't inspire activity so much as reaffirm to Dad that sleeping and eating are two fantastic life goals. As a result, my father's leisure-filled days continued uninterrupted and, in less than a year, Kyle -- who was already rather plump --actually managed to gain seven pounds.
Fed up, Mom sprang into action. In a bid to stave off morbid obesity, a weight-loss regimen was instituted and a workout program put in place…for Kyle, who tipped the scales at nearly 20 pounds thanks to the illicit snacking and shameless indolence Dad encouraged. Rations were cut, exercise was mandated, and the sound of thundering paws could be heard running drills through the living room.
Dad fights the law
Dad actually rebelled against this plan more than Kyle did, since he feared his lazy sidekick might find a new best friend through fitness. “The poor boy is starving!” Dad would whine…right before dropping illegal bits of food under Kyle's nose to sabotage the process. Undeterred, Mom rolled up her already-swamped sleeves and added “personal trainer” to her household repertoire, while Dad lounged, semiconscious, in front of the TV.
These days, Kyle is much healthier, though he still frequently drifts into comalike siestas. Mom's up to her eyeballs in housework and feline-girth maintenance. And Dad? He's napping. Again. If only we could get him to chase a catnip log or run up and down the stairs after a knotted string.
Vickie Reichardt, a Toronto-based freelance writer and animal lover, routinely visits Kyle at her parents' home for “pet therapy” sessions and profoundly satisfying catnaps.
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