America’s most famous overweight dog is now at the center of a custody battle.
Obie, a 5-year-old dachshund who weighed 77 pounds when his elderly owners gave him up for adoption, made headlines after his foster owner Nora Vanatta put him on a weight-loss plan and publicized his efforts on a Facebook page titled, “Biggest Loser, Doxie Edition.” Vanatta, a certified veterinary technician, told the New York Daily News that she initially agreed to care for the dog — who came to her with the name AJ — for a short time.
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“Initially, I said that I would foster him for a little while because I would not be able to take care of him financially,” Vanatta said. “But I had no idea how obese he was. It’s going to take a year for him to get to a healthy weight, and I’ve committed to his rehabilitation.”
Under Vanatta’s eye, Obie has lost 15 pounds over the last two months and appeared on NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America. She plans on introducing him to treadmill exercises and swim therapy, and acknowledges that he may eventually need surgery to remove excess skin, according to the dog’s Facebook page. Vanatta has even set up a PayPal page for Obie, which she says has received thousands of dollars in donations.
But now Vanatta is facing a challenger. The owner of Oregon Dachshund Rescue, the organization that brought Obie to her door, believes she is caring for the canine improperly and has filed a lawsuit in hopes of getting him back.
“The dog was surrendered to me,” Jenell Rangan told the Daily News. “Nora is just a foster. I trusted her to bring him back.”
Although Rangan believes Obie’s appearances on national media were inappropriate, she told the Daily News she was more upset by the way in which he traveled to his TV spots.
“He’s a dog. He’s not a celebrity,” Rangan said. “I was told that Obie was being flown first class, but then I found out he was on a six-hour flight to New York in cargo.”
Vanatta, however, believes the publicity is nothing but positive. She hopes Obie’s weight-loss journey will inspire others — both people and dogs — to lose weight. “It is so important to introduce pups and kids to a healthy lifestyle and food choices as early as possible,” she wrote on Facebook. “Prevention is the key!” She told KOMO-TV that the dog has already made an impact and that she believed that was why Rangan wanted him back.
“He’s famous and he’s touched so many people and I think they regret not taking him on in the first place,” Vanatta said. Although she acknowledged to the TV station that Obie wasn’t hers, she reportedly doesn’t think the Oregon Dachshund Rescue has rights to custody, either, as no paperwork had been exchanged.
Both Vanatta and Rangan appeared at a Washington County court for a hearing Monday, but the judge unable to determine to whom the dog belongs. For now, Obie will stay with Vanatta, while the two sides prepare for a possible trial, KATU News reported.
“It makes me sick because he was never in her custody,” Vanatta told the Daily News. “I can’t understand why she’s spending money fighting this because he’s so happy.”
Vanatta also said she wants to keep the dog until he reaches a normal dachshund weight, which is between 40 and 50 pounds. She told KOMO-TV that she has Obie’s best interests at heart.
“I just want what’s best for him,” Vanatta said. “And he’s doing well here. It just doesn’t make sense to take him away now.”