When Hayley Zielinski first set eyes on Pearl the dog, she had never seen anything so cruel. After all, the dog had been fed so much that she was morbidly obese, and experts believed that poor Pearl would die if she couldn’t get help. So Zielinski did the most inspirational thing.
In 2014 Pearl the dog was found abandoned in a parking lot in Augusta, Georgia. It’s safe to say that the dog was a sorry sight. Because not only was she a stray, but she was also clearly dangerously overweight.
After a while, Augusta Richmond County Animal Services picked up Pearl and took her to its shelter. However, the organization soon deemed the dog to be unadoptable. That’s because, at more than 76 pounds, she was three times more than her healthy weight.
In fact, Pearl was so heavy that she couldn’t even move, and those now responsible for the dog were fearful that they would have to euthanize her. Otherwise, there was a real chance that she would soon succumb to her own health problems anyway.
But that’s when Hayley Zielinski stepped in. She is one of the founders of Dog Networking Agents, a non-profit organization that facilitates dog adoptions and fostering. She agreed to help poor Pearl out.
Describing the moment she first met the Jack Russell mix, Zielinski said the pooch had the “saddest eyes I’d ever seen.” As quoted by the Daily Mail in March 2017, she said, “The dog was absolutely morbidly obese. She couldn’t walk or move her head as her neck was enormous. She even had to be wheeled into the vets.”
“No one had seen such a morbidly obese dog that was still alive and vets told us that her heart could stop at any moment,” Zielinski continued. “At times, we didn’t think she was going to make it, we feared she was going to have a heart attack. Dogs like Pearl would normally be euthanized in the shape she was.”
Before the dog could embark on any fitness regime, vets gave Pearl a thorough check-up. Curiously, they found that she had no underlying medical issues that were causing her to be overweight. Instead, it seemed that her previous owners had fed the three-year-old almost to death.
Vets also discovered that Pearl had heartworm. Furthermore, the pressure on her joints and bones had left her in agonizing pain. Getting Pearl to exercise, then, was going to be a real challenge for Zielinski.
At first, Zielinski set about changing Pearl’s routine. She encouraged the dog to do exercise daily and also restricted her food intake. Thanks to these subtle changes, Pearl progressed slowly but surely and began losing weight at the rate of around one pound each month.
However, Pearl’s immune system was still particularly weak. Not long into her new lifestyle, for example, the dog contracted pneumonia. And as a result, she was unable to leave her kennel for three long months.
Undeterred, Zielinski soon managed to re-motivate Pearl. And six months into her regime, the obese puppy had lost more than 15 pounds. This meant that Pearl was now able to wander around her foster home and even roll over.
But although exercising was now easier for Pearl, she was still seemingly unwilling to exert herself. “She’s the laziest thing ever,” Sybil Davis of Aiken Pet Fitness and Rehabilitation told The Augusta Chronicle in 2015. “We thought before that she was lazy because she was so fat. Now we know she’s fat because she’s so lazy.”
However, this didn’t stop Zielinski and Pearl’s trainers from ramping up the exercise regime. Now, whenever they fed Pearl, they would toss away her kibble, forcing her to run for her meal. She also used equipment such as exercise balls, wobble boards and even underwater treadmills to help her achieve her target weight.
And while it may have seemed like Pearl’s carers were pushing her hard, they had good reason to. Because, they figured, the sooner Pearl was fit, the sooner she would be able to find a forever home. So they continued to demand more of the dog.
By March 2017, Pearl had managed to shed half her body weight, and she weighed in at a respectable 40 pounds. Her transformation astounded everyone – not least of all her foster mom, Zielinski, who could not have been prouder.
“She went from being trapped in her own body and scared of the outside world to confident,” the Daily Mail reported her as saying. “Plus she can even [go on] jogs every now and again.”
In the end, Pearl lost so much weight that she had to undergo skin-reduction surgery. And she is now inspiring others in her community to shed the pounds too. According to Zielinski, “People point when they see her and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s Pearl.’ Everybody loves her and she’s inspiring a lot of people to lose weight themselves.”
Zielinski has so far been unable to find Pearl a new family, so the super slimmer still lives with her and her five other dogs. And Pearl now appears to be very much at home.
Plus, with every pound Pearl lost, it seemed a little part of her unique character was revealed. “Everyday we are seeing a new side of Pearl’s personality,” Zielinski wrote on Facebook in 2016. “And she sure has a BIG personality.”