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Obie the obese dachshund is at the center of custody battle

Who exactly should be taking care of a morbidly obese dachshund named Obie? A judge in Oregon may make that decision.

Obie is at the center of a doggie custody battle between his foster mom, Nora Vanatta, and the woman who runs the dachshund rescue organization that originally saved him, Jenell Rangan. Vanatta wants to keep Obie, and Rangan wants him back.

Their once-cooperative relationship disintegrated in recent weeks as Obie skyrocketed to fame on television and the Internet. The matter has become so contentious that a hearing about Obie’s fate is set for Monday in Washington County Circuit Court.

Back in August, Obie was so astonishingly overweight that he could barely move. The 5-year-old dog weighed 77 pounds, and the elderly couple who owned him in Puyallup, Wash., relinquished him because they realized they could no longer care for him. Rangan’s organization, Portland-based Oregon Dachshund Rescue, stepped in and offered to care for the rotund pup.

Rangan herself was overwhelmed caring for her elderly father at that time, so she sent out a call for a volunteer who might be able to provide a temporary foster home for a severely overweight dachshund. Vanatta offered to help — and was astounded when she saw Obie in person for the first time.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Vanatta posted on Facebook in late August. “I thought a basset hound would show up. ... Well, he arrived Saturday, Aug. 18 and to my astonishment he IS a dachshund and he actually weighs 77 pounds.

“He is extremely sweet and loving,” Vanatta continued. “He was obviously loved and is a joy to work with.”

Vanatta created a Facebook page for Obie and called it “Biggest Loser, Doxie Edition.” As she posted oodles of irresistible photos of Obie and chronicled his weight-loss regimen, support came pouring in from dachshund lovers in more than 20 countries. Hundreds wrote messages of encouragement, and many made monetary donations toward Obie’s care.

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Before long, Obie became a media darling, and made an in-studio appearance on TODAY in New York on Sept. 12.

During her TODAY appearance with Obie, Vanatta told Al Roker that she expected to spend at least a year helping Obie slim down.

“We are putting him on a high-protein, high-fiber, low-energy diet,” Vanatta told Roker. “Our goal is 1 percent weight loss a week. So far he’s lost about 2 pounds a week, which is perfect.”

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, Rangan was growing increasingly frustrated with Vanatta’s care of Obie. She didn’t think the dog was healthy enough to be traveling across the continent for media appearances.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in Washington County Circuit Court, Oregon Dachshund Rescue alleges that Vanatta, a former veterinary technician, has not been providing Obie with proper veterinary care for his obesity. Instead, the rescue organization says Vanatta has been “exploiting the dog for the sensationalistic promotional value of its unusual obesity” and “earning money off of the dog’s public exhibition.” The complaint seeks the immediate return of Obie to Rangan.

Vanatta has turned to her thousands of supporters online in advance of Monday’s court hearing. As of Friday morning, an online petition asking Rangan “stop fighting to take Obie away from his home” had almost 12,000 supporters.

In a status update on Obie’s Facebook page, Vanatta described the way Obie has bonded with her and her two other dogs, a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever and a 5-year-old dachshund.

“It is very upsetting that Jenell is using doxie-saving money to take him away from me,” Vanatta wrote. “She clearly doesn’t have his best interest in mind and is only interested in him now that he is famous.

“I am going to fight for (Obie) and I need your continued support. I am not in a position to spend money on a lawyer but it is just not right to make Obie adjust to a new home now. I am asking for your continued support to help Obie stay with me.”

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