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For the Love of Louie

Her vet was brutally honest. “Your dog is overweight. And so are you.” She was mad, but he was right.

Tricia Montgomery, the founder of K9 Fit Club, with her current dog, Zeus

My business is an unusual one. I founded K9 Fit Club, a gym where people and their dogs can work out together. How did I come up with that concept? That’s quite a story.

I’ve always loved animals. Health and fitness? Not so much. I’d been overweight all my life, and I was resigned to it. It wasn’t until a doctor forced me to face the truth that I discovered nothing is impossible if you have the right motivation. It wasn’t even my doctor, but my dog Louie’s.

Louie was a Basset hound. I’d had my share of struggles, but I knew Louie was one blessing God had given me to get me through the tough times. He was my best friend. I showered him with goodies (we liked the same foods) and made sure he had the best care, with a veterinarian I trusted. Dr. Mayer was kind, gentle and thorough, and he cared about Louie as much as I did.

That day I brought four-year-old Louie in for a checkup. “Hello, Tricia,” Dr. Mayer said. “How’s my big boy?” He knelt to greet my dog and check him over without having to lift 72 pounds of Basset hound onto the metal table.

When he finished he stood up. “Bassets are big dogs, but Louie weighs too much,” he said. “This puts him at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Each extra pound takes almost two years off his life. I know you don’t want that.”

“Of course not!”

“Then you have to help him lose weight.” Dr. Mayer looked me in the eye. “Tricia, this is hard for me to say. Louie isn’t the only one who’s fat. So are you.”

Fat. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that ugly word. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was a baby and put on steroid medication that made me gain weight. A lot of weight. Other kids made fun of me. My mom tried to comfort me with food. My dad tried to motivate me with weekly weigh-ins before church.

Was it any wonder that I grew up to have dysfunctional eating habits and a negative body image? Still, what Dr. Mayer said cut me to the core. I thought he cared about Louie and me! Why was he being so cruel? I was so upset, i stormed out of the office. I took Louie home.

Then I guess you could say I went through almost all the stages of grief. First, denial. I knew I was fat. I was 260 pounds, my heaviest ever. But what could I do about it? This was the way God made me and I was fine with it. If he wanted me to be thin, he would have given me a different body type.

Then, anger. I headed for the kitchen, Louie padding after me. I slathered a slice of bread with butter. “Can you believe Dr. Mayer?” I said, ripping off a corner of the bread and tossing it to Louie. “We’re never going back!”

The bread and butter didn’t soothe me. Neither did the mac and cheese I had next. Fast food, my favorite indulgence, was the only answer. For four days, I went on a binge. I took Louie to the drive-through and got two juicy double cheeseburgers. One for me, one for him. He gobbled his burger and snuggled close to me. “We have each other,” I said, stroking his long, silky ears. “That’s what matters.”

Depression hit on the fifth day. I woke up feeling awful. Staggering out of bed I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror. I usually averted my gaze but something made me stop and stare at my reflection. I wasn’t fine being fat. I was miserable. This couldn’t be what God wanted for me.

I heard a wet, slobbery sound. Louie was splayed on the floor, licking a takeout container I must have dropped. Beside him was a bottle of chocolate syrup, dented from my trying to squeeze every last drop into my mouth. I grabbed the bottle. “Louie, no!”

Thank goodness he hadn’t gotten into the syrup. Chocolate could kill a dog! Only chocolate? an inner voice seemed to ask. How about everything else you’re feeding him? What’s that doing to him? Louie looked up, panting heavily, as if he’d overexerted himself. But he was only lying down.

Tricia (in gray) teaches proper plank form.That was the last stage: acceptance. Dr. Mayer was right. I’d thought I was showing my love by letting Louie eat all he wanted. The truth was, I was slowly killing him. How long would we have each other if I kept doing this?

“Enough,” I said, snatching the takeout container from between his paws. He let out a woof, surprised. “I’m doing this for your health, Louie. And mine.”

I got rid of everything that packed on the pounds. I read about healthy foods for people and dogs, and that’s what I stocked up on. I put both of us on a schedule—three balanced meals a day and two nutritious snacks. No more fast food for either of us.

I rewarded Louie by playing with him. Instead of just opening the door and letting him out, I walked him. Only for 15 minutes a night at first. I was too self-conscious to exercise in broad daylight.

Before long, Louie and I could make it to the park near our house. Soon I didn’t mind daytime walks. I incorporated lunges, leg lifts, stair climbs into our walks. Louie was with me every step of the way, his ears flopping jauntily.

In a year, I was down to 175 pounds. Louie was a svelte 61 pounds. I couldn’t wait to take him to Dr. Mayer for his checkup. “Wow, look at you, fella!” the vet said. “And you too, Tricia. What a transformation!”

“Thanks to you,” I said. “If you hadn’t been so honest with me, Louie and I would never have gotten healthy.”

The biggest transformation was on the inside. My self-consciousness became self-confidence. I was ready to join a gym. But every gym I visited had a sign on the door saying No Pets Allowed. Louie was my best friend and workout partner—the best motivator God could have blessed me with. I couldn’t leave him behind.

I took the money I’d saved for a gym membership and bought a treadmill, weights and exercise balls for us to use at home. Then we outgrew our home gym. Was there some kind of program where dogs and their owners could work out together? I looked all over the Chicago area but couldn’t find one.

I found a business partner and we tested the idea for ourselves. Our first class was at the park near me. We showed up half an hour early and there were already 23 people in line with their dogs, eager to work out.

Louie passed on after a long, healthy life. That first class led to many more, and eventually to my opening K9 Fit Club. We now have certified trainers in every state, and even as far away as Singapore. It’s an unusual business, definitely. And an inspired one—inspired by my love for my dog Louie.

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