EDMONTON, Canada - In just one year, an 11-year-old golden retriever named Kai has undergone the kind of transformation that seems nearly impossible. When Pam Heggie brought him home, Kai weighed in at a whopping 173 pounds.
He's lost 100 pounds since.
Heggie said that Kai had been taken by his previous owners to a veterinarian to be put down because he was having trouble with his mobility and couldn't get around easily, and it was the veterinarian who intervened and got Misfits of Alberta Animal Rescue to take Kai in and help him.
Misfits helped bring Kai and Heggie together.
"I actually foster with the rescue organization, Misfits," Heggie said. "I had just met with the girls because I had adopted a puppy out."
Heggie had room for a new foster but wasn't planning on taking Kai next. In fact, when she first heard about him, she was a bit confounded about how to help a dog that big. When Kai's intended foster fell through, though, her plans quickly changed.
"Something had fallen apart with the previous foster, and so [Misfits] phoned me the day they were going to get him and asked if I would take him," Heggie explained. "I said, ‘Sure! We'll figure something out."
When Heggie offered to meet the rescue halfway for them to hand off Kai, they told her there was no way due to his size and that they'd have to bring him all the way to her house. This was the first moment when Heggie really began to wrap her head around the ginormous task of helping Kai.
"Honest, the pictures don't do justice to how absolutely huge he was," explained Heggie. "When we got him here, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I've never seen anything like that in my life!'"
In the beginning, Kai had a lot of difficulty moving around, and especially going up stairs or getting into cars. Heggie had to rely heavily on the help of others, both workers from the rescue and kindhearted strangers, to get Kai in and out of her car for transport. She is a nurse by profession, so she went to a physiotherapist and asked for a transfer belt which would help her lift up Kai's backside and hips.
When it came to the stairs around her house, Heggie had to come up with some creative tactics to help support Kai's movements. She used a medical soaker pad — which is essentially a large, firm, square canvas blanket — to get Kai back inside the house after a bathroom break in the yard.
"We would roll him onto that and we would lift him back up. It was hysterical, if someone could have videotaped us they would have thought we were completely crazy," Heggie recalled with a laugh. "I thought for sure I was going to tear my rotator cuff."
With the help of her veterinarian, Heggie immediately put Kai on a workout plan consisting of short walks three times a day. When Heggie initially asked the vet what to do, he told her he wasn't exactly sure because he had never seen a dog as big as Kai before.
"I'm scared to walk him," Heggie confided.
"No matter what you do, you're helping that dog," her veterinarian told her. "Any damage that's there is already there."
Kai was so heavy and out of shape that, at first, he would only be able to take a few lumbering steps before laying down and panting excessively, but Heggie was determined to walk him every single day.
On top of his walks with Heggie, Kai also underwent water therapy with a physiotherapist as part of his rehabilitation. The water was warm during these sessions and Kai would sometimes mutter a grumble and try to give up toward the end, which Heggie and the physiotherapist would convince him not to do with bribes of treats.
Despite the incredibly difficult uphill battle Kai was facing to lose weight, Heggie said he was always in good spirits.
"He literally has always been the happiest, easiest going dog I've ever been around."
Kai's demeanor is part of what made Heggie realize that there was no way she could ever adopt him out to anyone else.
A couple weeks after starting a Facebook page to chronicle Kai's journey, someone reached out to Heggie asking if Kai would be up for adoption.
"My heart just sank," Heggie recalled.
Then, the day after Christmas, the Misfits team sent Heggie a message telling her that there was no way they would ever expect her to give Kai up. They told Heggie that Kai would remain a "Misfit" forever, which meant that the rescue was pledging to cover Kai's medical costs, but he would get to live out his days with Heggie.
"I could not imagine not having him. I just couldn't imagine."
Since losing all the extra weight and becoming healthy and mobile again, Kai has a new lease on life and is experiencing it in all new ways.
Kai can run and loves going to the dog park with Heggie's other dog, who Kai treats like a little sister, coming to her defense whenever other dogs bother her. He loves water as a result of his physiotherapy and will lay his belly down in puddles at the park.
Heggie took Kai on a trip to Seattle and had him ride the ferry with her, and Kai was even featured on Good Morning America on Friday, Aug. 2.
"He's just got this spirit that is indelible that is incredible."
Heggie said that Kai receives messages from people all around the world via his Facebook page, some expressing gratitude for the inspiration his story brought them, others seeking advice for their own weight loss journeys.
"It's crazy the number of messages I've gotten. Everywhere from Japan and Thailand, gyms, weight loss programs where they use him as motivation to keep going," Heggie said. "There are a number of people with overweight pets that sent messages just wondering what we did and how we got going. It's been overwhelmingly amazing."
Heggie said that she's now hoping to take Kai on a new life journey.
"He's hopefully going to be a therapy dog. We're halfway through our process of becoming fully certified. So, that's our goal for him long term to be able to visit hospitals, Ronald McDonald playhouses, and different places like that."
When asked if she has any advice for someone considering adopting a dog with extensive or special needs like Kai, Heggie said, "Just do it. You'll figure it out as you go along. You don't realize the amount of love and appreciation they will give you if you just give them the chance."