As I walked down the stairs and saw Taz at the bottom, my jaw dropped. Standing in front of me was a 165-pound chocolate lab—more than double the weight of an average lab. His head was consumed by an enormous neck and his body resembled four toothpicks holding up a pot-bellied pig. Frankly, I was surprised he was even able to stand. As I settled into a couch in his foster dad’s basement, I learned more about Taz.
His previous owner was a man who would constantly cook for Taz and himself. Taz was accustomed to a diet of pot roast and zero exercise. It was incredibly sad to see him lay on the floor, panting from the slightest exertion. He couldn’t run or climb a flight of stairs. He had never been taught how to fetch. At only seven years of age, he already had gray hairs and the demeanor of a grumpy old man. Needless to say, I couldn’t pass him up. I adopted him the next week.
Lifting the 165 pounds of dog into my car was a challenge. He was able to get his front legs on the car, but couldn’t jump in. To my surprise, I was able to heft him the rest of the way. It was the dead of summer and Taz was constantly panting. I felt obligated to blast the air conditioner anytime he was in the car. It always ended with me shivering and him still panting constantly.
When I drove Taz home, my insecurities about first-time canine ownership began to grow. Was I capable of balancing Taz and my work responsibilities? Were my parents right to have apprehensions about me owning a dog by myself? Not only was Taz my first dog, he was a dog with odd necessities. I couldn’t walk him but half a block the first few weeks. He didn’t do much around the house; much like having a houseguest, I felt obligated to entertain him—this houseguest just happened to be a very fat dog. But behind all that fat and fur, I could tell there was a dog who wanted to run and play. As I got to know his personality traits and quirks, my desire to help him only grew.
His appearance sparked a lot of negative reactions on our short walks. Some people thought he was pregnant while others couldn’t even tell what breed of dog he was. I felt judged at times, assuming others held me responsible for his great size. But thanks to twice-daily walks, half the amount of dog food he was previously eating (no more human food for meals) and a few months of hydrotherapy at the Nebraska Animal Medical Center, he began to shed the weight and reveal his true personality.
From day one, I started tracking his weight loss on a blog. The blog not only served as a convenient way for me to track Taz’s progress, but it also allowed me to involve my family and friends who didn’t see us regularly. I could post photos of Taz’s achievements and share them with my family in California or my friends in New York. The support I received from my extended network was outstanding. Even people we met at the dog park were able to see the blog and follow Taz’s progress.
He lost 20 pounds the first month, and then an average of 10 pounds a month until suddenly, he was down to 100 pounds. 10 months after I adopted Taz, we were hiking and swimming together, and long runs had replaced our short walks. He’s still a big dog, but now he’s a healthy 80 pounds, and we no longer get dirty looks or questions about due dates.
Looking back, I see I was also tracking my own journey of becoming a dog mama. I had no idea how much hard work, responsibility, joy and pure love I would experience owning a dog. There were moments where I questioned having a dog on my own. It was difficult balancing a full-time job, friends and a creature that relied solely on me. And yes, there were moments of frustration while training him, moments of fright when he got in scrapes with other dogs, and even moments of soreness from getting my feet stepped on by an 80 pound dog. But I’ve come to establish a whole new lifestyle with Taz. I’ve become more active and happy. I look forward to nights at home, sitting on my half of the couch as Taz drools over my dinner.
Not only did Taz affect me, but having him in my life helped me understand the extent of the incredible network of support I have in my family and friends. My parents, who I never thought would allow a dog in their house, now take Taz in whenever I come around. They even keep him when I’m out of town, never passing a moment to send me a picture of him laying in the grass. I go on doggie play dates with friends and their dogs, and my boyfriend and Taz are inseparable. Whenever I bring him into my office, the atmosphere lightens. People look up from their work and come say hi. Taz takes naps under my desk and I can’t help but smile when I remember he’s there. When I take him to the vet for a check up, he’s the most popular guy around as they, too, remember when he was 165 pounds.
I want to give Taz the best life he can have and I also want to make up for lost time. Taz sure isn’t what I was looking for when I started searching for a dog, but he turned out to be the perfect 165 (and now 80) pound addition to my life.