“A rag, a bone, and a hank of hair” is the best description of the dog Murphy I ever came across, tending more towards the bone side of thing as he began to lose weight this year and for the first time I noticed a change in his dogweight, the feeling peculiar to your particular dog as he settles on your lap. You may not know how much your dog weighs in pounds at any given time, but when he arranges himself against you, the part of your brain that has memorized exactly how much pressure his little body exerts against yours lights up and says Yes, this is correct, this is my dogweight, the precise amount of dog-pressure required for me to relax and feel at home. I say little because I have always had little dogs, so I do not know exactly how this works for dogs bigger than a lap – presumably the mind records the dogweight of the commonest poses – head-and-one-leg-on, or back-half-entire. No two dogs, even if their recorded weight in pounds is identical down to the ounce, have quite the same dogweight, likely due to variations in fat distribution, muscle tone, and height.
But with little dogs, particularly little dogs who came to you already old and grew older still under your stewardship, the dogweight is measured out a dozen times a day. My own relationship to the scale is not an especially evolved one; rarely in my life have I stepped on it and felt like something good or useful had just happened. But my body is a scale that measures dogweight, and every time I’ve ever taken the measure of Murphy’s, I feel good and useful both, and strong too. Better to be a scale than on one, maybe.
His dogweight is less than it was; for months I couldn’t figure out why he seemed to be losing weight despite a still-healthy appetite and tried adding extra meals and peanut butter to his daily routine. He is a coy beast, too, often preferring to sidle up just next to one and then at the last minute sit a few chaste inches away rather than directly whumphing into the lap for focused affection. But at any given moment I can close my eyes and imagine him doing so, and I know exactly how heavy his body would be on my legs. In a few days he will be gone and I will not feel his dogweight again, but it will stay inscribed somewhere in my lap and in my memory. One often clutches a pillow for comfort in one’s arms when one is very sad – I do at least – and I can’t help but think of Indiana Jones trying to replace a jeweled idol with a bag of sand. It didn’t work then, and I can’t imagine it working now.