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Losers are winners in animal weight loss program

By Rachel Edgar

Gillette News Record

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 4:40 p.m. MDT

Gina Tate's Pit Bull-Beagle mix, Arnold, and Jacob Capp's Bassett Hound, Flash, check each other out in the waiting area of the Animal Medical Center in Gillette, Wyo., on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Flash is parictipating in the Animal Medical Center's first-ever pet weight-loss program, The Biggest Loser: Pet Edition, and came in for a weigh-in. Flash began the program weighing 121 pounds and in six weeks Flash has lost 15. 8 pounds.

Gillette News-Record, Steve Remich, Associated Press

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Flash is an 8-year-old basset hound with a notorious reputation for pilfering pizza and other goodies from his owner's refrigerator.

One caper involved breaking into the freezer and dragging out about eight corn dogs. Flash pulled the corn dogs through his extra-wide doggie door to the backyard, where he ate all of them, leaving behind only sticks lying in the grass as proof of the crime.

But for the past six weeks, Flash has been following a special diet and exercise program designed by Tara Lynn, a veterinary technician at Animal Medical Center. The Biggest Loser: Pet Edition includes special weight-loss food, an exercise regimen and bi-weekly weigh-ins.

Unfortunately for Flash, the program doesn't include any corn dogs, but it has helped him lose almost 16 pounds in six weeks.

"I'm so blown away by his progress," said Lynn at Flash's recent mid-program weigh-in.

David Capps, whose son, Jacob, owns Flash, reported that the basset hound has more energy than ever before.

Before starting the program, Flash wouldn't even get up from his spot on the floor when people came to the door. But now, Flash is sometimes the first one out the door to greet visitors, Capps said.

"He never used to be that fast," he said.

The weight loss is good news for Flash and his owner, who had been warned that if Flash didn't lose weight, he might not live to be 9 years old.

The weight-loss program hasn't been easy for either human or dog. Jacob must carefully measure out Flash's food each day, and he has to prevent Flash's clandestine trips to the refrigerator.

At the beginning of the program, Flash would bring his dog dish into Jacob's bedroom, drop it on the carpet and start begging for food.

"It can be really hard on the owners because even though the dog isn't hungry, it's used to things being a certain way," Lynn said.

Owners often have to break their own bad habits, such as feeding their pets table scraps or too many treats.

But the payoff is worth it.

Just like overweight people, overweight pets face health risks that can lower their quality of life — things like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

According to Lynn, animals fed properly will live three years longer on average than an animal that is overfed.

Animals at a proper weight also feel better and are more active than overweight animals, she said.

That's what prompted Traci Burr to bring in her 6-year-old cat Snowflake.

Snowflake started the program at about 16 pounds, which is six pounds overweight for a cat of her size. She wasn't her usual, playful self anymore, and she was so used to getting her frequent treats that she would attack Burr when she didn't get them.

"We had a bad habit that we had to break," Burr said.

Snowflake has already lost one pound since she began. For a cat, losing one pound is like a human losing 21 pounds.

"I didn't realize how overweight she was until we signed her up," Burr said.

Burr replaced the frequent treats Snowflake received with play sessions using a laser light.

"She loves it. Now, instead of begging for treats, she comes looking for me to play with the laser light," she said.

As the owners of the nine dogs and three cats participating in the Biggest Loser: Pet Edition program notice the weight loss, they also notice changes in their pets' behavior.

"He doesn't lay around all day now. He doesn't sit still much at all anymore," said Monica Walker of her 8-year-old Labrador retriever, Tater.

Tater has lost seven pounds since beginning the program, and Walker said he's never felt better.

"We can really notice a difference in their personalities from the start of the program to now," said Amber Kylander, a veterinary technician who is helping Lynn with the program.

Tater is starting to run, jump and play like a Labrador retriever should, Kylander said.

"He's turning into a happy, healthy dog," she said.

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