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Sunday, November 28, 2021

When Bernice walks around on a game day, fans stop and say, “What a fat beagle!”

Bernice’s owner, Sarah Jones, a third-year law student at UF, said that while her dog is on the heavy side, she’s not too concerned. Jones said she takes Bernie, 3, on her morning runs every day and to local dog parks. But first, Bernice gets a breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese.

“You feel bad and you want to feed them what they want,” she said.

 Veterinarian Ernie Ward wants pet owners to be more concerned about their pets’ weight. 

Today is the fourth annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, created by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded by Ward in 2005.

Ward has been fighting pet obesity for almost 20 years. It began when he started noticing all the “fat cats and hefty dogs” and brought it to the attention of fellow vets.

“I saw my patients become supersized before my eyes,” Ward said. He didn’t want to see the issue ignored.

Thousands of vet offices across the nation will be recording weight data on patients and submitting it to Ward so he and his team can give statistics.

Last year’s statistics estimated that 51.5 percent, or 89 million, of dogs and cats are overweight.

When Ward goes to his two daughters’ soccer games and sees a mom on the opposing team handing the kids Mountain Dew at halftime, he sees a link between the two epidemics.

Ward said he considers childhood obesity and pet obesity as one in the same. He said that parents need to feed their children and pets “real food” and not “high school chemistry experiments.”

“Anything you can think of with a child’s day care, it’s that for dog’s,” said Rachel Thornton, day care manager and owner of Dog Wood Park in Gainesville.

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Rosie, a 12-year-old white basset hound, droops around the day care with a heavy underside and a pink-bowed collar.  Brandy, a 9-year-old golden retriever, tends to rest in the shade but “plays referee” for the younger dogs. She said it’s difficult to help dogs lose weight because they are older, but they participate in exercise during their 12 hours in daycare.

She said that dieting helps in the long term but that the trick behind weight loss is to know the types of treats you’re giving your dog. 

“Peanut butter balls: not a smart choice for a chunky dog,” she said.

Ward doesn’t admonish “people food” or snacks — it’s the kind of snacking and ingredients in foods that can be detrimental to a healthy diet.

Faustino Ribeiro, of Gainesville, said his dog’s weight varies in part on whether he or his wife feeds him.

“I’m weak, and he knows really well how to beg,” Ribeiro said.

Lucky, Ribeiro’s 3-year-old Jack Russell terrier, enjoys meals ranging from vegetables to pizza.

Ward’s awareness day is for all animals, but studies tend to cover common pets: cats and dogs. Ward is researching horses and “pocket pets” like hamsters and rabbits, but it’s difficult to even help cats.

“Cats don’t jog,” he said.

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