Pet weight-loss program saves lives

Pet weight-loss program saves lives

A weight-loss contest sparks unlikely friendships ad gives this veterinary technician a new perspective on life and her job.
Jul 01, 2010

Technician Stacey Sortor (top left) and pet owner Kim (top right) are all smiles with their “biggest loser,” Chevas. Before joining the weight loss program, the Labrador retriever weighed 111 pounds.
Sea lions don't normally board with us, but what I saw in our first kennel run two years ago sure looked like one. Of course, it wasn't really a sea lion, but rather a very portly yellow Labrador retriever with his front legs folded underneath him. His cage card said his name was Chevas. I greeted him with a, "Good morning," and, in return, I got a slightly blank stare from his large brown eyes. I consulted his chart and discovered that he weighed a whopping 111 pounds. But he wasn't visiting us to lose weight. Instead, he was staying with us until his owner, Kim, who had recently adopted him, got her allergies under control.

One thing was clear: Chevas intrigued me. Pet weight loss is one of my passions, and I often see pet owners loving their cats and dogs through food. As for Chevas, I was curious why he was so large. When Kim came to pick him up, she was full of life and joy and just radiated happiness—unlike her pet. After she left, I wondered how she and Chevas had ended up together. I just knew that behind his slow gait and lifeless eyes there was a story to tell. What I didn't realize is that I would embark on a special life journey with both Chevas and Kim.

Shedding pounds, sharing stories

I lost track of the pair until about a year later, after my co-worker and I presented the idea of running a weight-loss contest to the veterinarians in my practice. The show The Biggest Loser had inspired us and we wanted to call our contest "Lookin' Fine In '09." Once our bosses gave use the green light, Kim was the first person I called. She was immediately on board and her enthusiasm was contagious.

The first month Chevas lost 7 pounds, 7 ounces. When he weighed in with these great numbers, I shrieked right there in our reception area, Kim beamed, and Chevas even gave a slight tail wag. As the months went on, Chevas continued to lose weight and was leading the pack. Kim was the driving force behind his success, sticking to his eating and exercising plan and being honest about their successes and hurdles.

Around the fourth month of the six-month contest, Kim opened up and explained how she and Chevas had ended up together. The story goes like this: Kim had lost her first dog—which she had for 13 years—and was overcome with grief. She had also been having some personal and health issues (she's a cancer survivor) and was really depressed. She finally called the adoption program to inquire about getting another dog, but she was told they had only one—a 3 year old who had been in a kennel his entire life and wasn't considered adoptable. He was too jumpy and afraid of noises. But Kim is a woman of faith. She believed he was for her, so she prayed about it and went to see the dog the next day. The people running the program saw Kim's commitment to Chevas so they allowed her to adopt him.

Turns out Kim and Chevas had a lot in common—he was a nervous dog and she was an equally apprehensive owner. They got off to a rocky start. She said it took a long time and much patience to acclimate Chevas to living in a home. The dishwasher scared him, as did the telephone and even raising the blinds. Then Kim developed a mysterious allergy to Chevas. She would break out when she touched his fur. Finally, her doctor pinpointed the allergy to an Evergreen tree in the backyard that Chevas would rub against. The day I first met Chevas, he was boarding with us so Kim could get that tree cut down.