When Lillian Cox first met Lara, the dog was fat. In fact, that's what drew Cox to her. Cox was at the San Diego Animal Control shelter, looking to adopt a German shepherd mix to replace her beloved dog that just died, when she heard a dog struggling to breathe in a nearby crate.
"She was nameless - she didn't even have a label on her cage," said Cox, an Encinitas resident. "And she got my attention because of her labored breathing."
The dog weighed 102 pounds. Her fur was bunched up in rolls -- so much so that Cox that it was a Shar-Pei, a dog known for its wrinkled fur. In fact, Lara is a purebred English Lab, and the wrinkled fur was just fat rolls.
Now, six months and one Biggest Loser-esque weight-loss regimen later, the 102-pound dog has slimmed down to a trim 76 pounds. She's just ounces from hitting her target weight.
Shelter officials told Cox the dog had been found as a stray in Valley Center, without any identification. She took her home in June, and immediately knew that the dog had health problems. The first time Cox tried to walk her around the block, she didn't make it.
She "collapsed halfway around the block," Cox said. "She couldn't climb more than one step in my staircase before getting winded and turning around."
She also had calluses on her elbows, which vets believe was from being kept as a "backyard breeder," spending her entire life on a small concrete slab. Vets believe that, at age 2, Lara had already given birth to two litters.
Cox contacted her vet, Dr. Carmine Bausone of Escondido, to create a regimen to get Lara down to a healthy weight. She also decided to start a blog, chronicling the dog's weight-loss efforts.
"Dr. B was all for it," Cox said. "He gave me a recipe for a homecooked diet, performed acupuncture on her and arranged free veterinary orthopedic manipulation -- dog chiropractic -- sessions with his associate, Dr. John Harrison."
Slowly, steadily, the weight came off as Cox and the others cared for the dog. Cox named the dog Lara, after a friend who died at about the same time she took Lara home. Cox expects to make her arrangement with Lara permanent, but there is still one hurdle to overcome.
"I can't adopt her until she's spayed," Cox said. "I got her through this rescue group. The doctor wanted to wait to spay her until she has lost the weight."
Cox said she has an appointment for the surgery on Dec. 21, then it's just a matter of completing a few formalities.
"I will adopt her," Cox said.