Animal Makeover Show Puts Pets' Self-Esteem To The Test

As several of my Facebook friends insisted on reminding me this past weekend, Saturday was National Dog Day. 

Why we needed a designated national day to honor dogs is beyond me. Dogs are already the most revered animals on the planet -- more than humans in the eyes of many a zealous dog owner.

With some people loving their dogs like they are their own children, and others not loving dogs nearly as much (if at all), a new show is set to premiere next month that takes the care of dogs to a whole new, human level.

It’s “My Big Fat Pet Makeover,” coming to Animal Planet on September 30. The show features a man named Travis Brorsen, described as a “pet expert and trainer” who will take overweight household pets on “a four-month long weight-loss and behavior modification journey … with the aim of helping each pet live a healthier and happier life,” according to a press release.



The release also notes that more than 50% of household pets -- both dogs and cats (tropical fish are not mentioned) -- are obese. The culprits -- such as extra-large sugary soft drinks, for example -- are not cited.

If I may take a stab at an educated guess here: It seems to me that too many owners are sharing their human junk food with their pets. The result is a pet obesity epidemic.

And while a TV show aimed at reversing this scourge sounds well-meaning on the surface, “My Big Fat Pet Makeover” also raises troubling questions about pet self-esteem and pet body-image issues.

Let's start with the show's title and its wording, particularly the use of the phrase “Big Fat.” The two words are also part of a human-based reality series on co-owned TLC -- “My Big Fat Fabulous Life,” about a plucky, plus-sized gal who is not letting a few extra pounds stop her from living her life to the fullest.

In the context of the human reality show, the “Big Fat” phrase is applied as a way of signaling that “Whitney,” the show's real-life central character, is “owning” her body type and saying it's OK.

But are pets smart enough to “own” the same phrase when it is applied to them? I don't think so. I'm no expert, but I doubt pets are intelligent enough to understand the nuance inherent in the two-word phrase “Big Fat” when it is used here in a TV show about them and their struggles with domesticated animal obesity (DAO).

Pets that are put into this position, particularly in the glare of a national TV show, might think there is something terribly wrong with them -- that their minds and bodies are not good enough, resulting in a pet self-esteem crisis (PSEC).

Animal Planet is positioning the show and the transformations it promises as providing long-range benefits for pets and their owners.

“My goal for this series is to raise awareness of the pet obesity problem while educating and empowering pet owners to make big changes for their furry family members,” says Brorsen in a prepared statement. “I'm thrilled to be sharing health, wellness and training tips to the Animal Planet audiences that will help owners find new ways to love their pets and add years to their [lives],” he said.

That's all fine and good. And if our experience with uplifting reality shows in the human realm are any guide, the stories that will be told in “My Big Fat Pet Makeover” will likely be tailored toward happy endings, in which newly slim dogs and cats are seen romping playfully with their owners, even if the animals are secretly wondering whatever happened to all the food handouts they used to enjoy.

But where does it all end? Before you know it, TV's pet-makeover mavens won't be content with mere weight loss.

Soon they will be making over pets’ clothes, hair and makeup. In the world of TV reality-show development, it's a very short step from those enhancements to pet plastic surgery.

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