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Pet parents turn pampered Penny into pudgy pooch

We had a scare not too long ago. The kind of scare that starts with a lump on your dog’s body you didn’t notice the day before, leads to the sort of search you know better than to Google — but do anyway — and ends with a visit to the vet that has you holding your furry daughter a little too tightly in the waiting room.

I propped Penny on the tall metal table at Mauer Animal Clinic and showed Dr. Doughty the alarming “growths” on her neck and lower abdomen. Knowing what I know now, the fact this man didn’t burst into laughter still astounds me.

Instead, he started asking about her treats, feeding schedule and eating habits. What a rude bedside manner, I thought. My dog might have cancer, according to all those helpful websites I scoured, and her vet wants to talk Alpo?

Unlike this paranoid pet owner, you probably know where this is going. Penny, thank the dog heavens, didn’t have lymphoma. She had a weight problem. She gained 30 percent of her own body weight in three months. If you’ve ever packed on the pounds, you know how that can happen. You also know all about “growths.” Yes, I continued calling them that even after Dr. Doughty diagnosed them as “fat deposits.”

I couldn’t be bothered with semantics. I was too busy staring our country’s obesity epidemic square in the eye.

According to petMD.com, more than 50 percent of America’s pet population is overweight or obese. In other words, our pets have one more thing in common with our kids.

While our case wasn’t rare, it still wasn’t easy to swallow.

Penny is half Italian greyhound. For those unfamiliar, the breed’s body type looks a lot like an insecure Hollywood starlet’s: super skinny. They also have the kind of elegance, my fiance once observed, that begs for a cocktail dress. Penny would sprint through the dog park and both human and canine heads turned in appreciation.

Now her cocktail dress burst at the seams and her sexy sprint was closer to a tired trot. Our dog went from a graceful athlete to a beefy broad overnight and her parents were to blame.

It all started with a weekend houseguest who used Penny’s mouth as a means of declining my cooking without leaving any food behind. After that visit, our dog took to pulling up a seat and tucking a napkin into her collar every time she saw us at the dinner table. (Don’t worry, we made her wash her paws before every meal.) Between that and our reward system – look cute, earn treat – it was easy to see how we got into this mess.

Talk about guilt. We felt like crappy dog owners, no better than those indulgent parents whose supersized kids know the Happy Meal prize schedule by heart. We couldn’t deny it anymore. Her weight problem was our parenting problem.

This should be the part where you read all about our action plan to save Penny’s waistline and change these bad habits for good. If not for Penny’s physique, then definitely for her health. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s actually the part where you read all about the power of denial.

Several weeks passed and we convinced ourselves we had changed. My fiance convinced himself Penny had dropped every glutenous pound we helped her gain. I convinced myself she could experience malnutrition from a lack of fatty treats. The vet? Well, he convinced us we should never show our faces in that office again.

Our follow-up appointment to the “cancer scare” visit had Penny weighing in at a whopping 30 pounds. One pound MORE than her previous weight.

After running out of there mumbling something about a conspiracy, I called my co-parent. The fiance couldn’t believe his ears. “Try lifting her,” I suggested. “Maybe you’ll believe your arms.”

Once we had time to absorb the self-defeat, we got a double whammy. We remembered our home alarm system had a 30-pound weight tolerance. The installers programmed it to allow an object of 30 pounds, and 30 pounds only, to freely move about our house when we’re away. If this little girl porked up just one more pound, we’d be without an alarm.

As the victims of a burglary, Penny’s extra weight started to look like our own personal terrorist. It now threatened our home security. Time for action.

Imagine introducing the Kardashians to an average American family’s budget. That’s the kind of cutback we enforced with our pampered Penny. She was allowed one treat a day, zero scraps from the table and her stickler parents busted out a measuring cup at feeding time. We stopped making lame excuses for not walking her every weekday morning and encouraged her to run at the dog park.

Several months later, we’ve killed bin Laden. Her weight isn’t quite Italian greyhound standards, but she’s only a half-breed. The beagle in her is feeling like a Jenny Craig “after” photo. And her parents? Well, we’re feeling like decent dog owners again.

Contact columnist Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter at @startswithanx.

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