Like many rescue dogs, Gus has a mysterious past.
What sets him apart is that his past came with 45 pounds of extra weight. The mixed breed dog arrived at Kanab, Utah’s Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization which runs the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, in July of 2016 from a rescue in Arizona.
The original shelter that took in Gus, who has been described as part beagle, part German shepherd and part “who knows,” found him well-fed but with a host of health problems.
“He had hyperthyroidism. He had arthritis. He had chronic eye disease and periodontal disease. And he had some ‘hot spots’ on his neck that are sores that came due to his drooling from the dental disease,” Mileen Keating, a Dog Team Lead at Best Friends and one of Gus’ primary caregivers, told PEOPLE.
Unable to attend to all of Gus’ issues, the Arizona shelter asked Best Friends, which is equipped “with one of the best medical teams in the state,” for assistance. Keating and her skilled group of dog devotees gladly took him in. Veterinarians helped clear up Gus’ most pressing health issues, and then Keating and co. gradually began slimming Gus down to a healthy weight.
“He was just under 80 pounds when he got here. That wasn’t good for his arthritis. He had a terrible time getting from Point A to Point B,” Keating said. “We made sure he had a good diet with the right kind of food and the right kind of portions.”
To help with mobility, doctors prescribed a regular hydrotherapy routine, which meant Gus was on an underwater treadmill nearly every day, safely regaining his mobility and getting much needed exercise. While the 10-year-old dog’s sea legs were getting stronger, he still needed assistance on land.
But, a total people pooch, Gus wasn’t content sitting around all day separated from his adoring public.
“He couldn’t go on long walks when he first got here and being that it was summer and gets really, really hot here. We had a yellow wagon for him, which we called “Gus’ Bus.” We would put some blankets in there and would pick him up and put him in there and volunteers would walk him on the trail,” Keating said.
From his chariot, Gus was able to meet new friends, who were happy to shower him with his favorite diet-approved snack: green beans.
Over the months, Gus regained his movement, stuck to his properly proportioned diet and dropped the extra weight.
By the time his future forever mom met him, he was 36 pounds, energetic and capable of going on long walks without the help of a wagon.
“He looks like a stuffed animal he is just so damned cute. And all I could think was, ‘I am going to adopt this dog,’ ” Sarah Williams said about one of her first meetings with Gus.
Williams, visiting Best Friends from North Carolina for a conference, fell in love with Gus’ “bizarre blend” of breeds, “amazing spirit” and “sweet, smiley” face.
Positive that Gus belonged with her, Williams, who is a mom to three other dogs, arranged for the now 35-Lb. pup to be transported to North Carolina. After a day of air travel, he arrived at his new home as enthusiastic as ever.
“It was pouring rain. I am coming home and I am thinking ‘I am going to introduce this dog to three other dogs after midnight when it is pouring, pouring rain?’ ” Williams said about Gus’ first night home. “I thought let’s just go walk, and we did. And we came in and he was so chill. Every day since it has been like he has been here forever.”
With Williams, Gus is enjoying the next chapter of his life as a healthy, active and affectionate dog. Each day he goes for serval long walks with his fur siblings — racking up close to 5 miles a day — and goes to bed each night enjoying his healthy midnight snack of peanut butter, carrots and pumpkin blended together and then frozen into a delicious “pup”-sicle.
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“He loves to sit outside on one of the deck chairs and watch the flowers and birds. It’s adorable, wonderful, it’s a happily ever after,” Williams said of Gus’ new life with her.
To read more about Gus and his journey pick up the current issue of PEOPLE Magazine, on newsstands now.