Bertha weighed 60 pounds when Meredith Wille, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner and fitness trainer, started fostering the puggle

By Kelli Bender
December 28, 2020 08:00 AM
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Bertha
| Credit: Sunshine Photography by Samantha Schwalb

Meredith Wille knew the minute she saw the adoptable puggle (a pug and beagle mix) named Bertha on Facebook, back in November 2019, that she had to do something.

"It was just this horrifying picture of this ridiculously fat puggle," Wille, 49, a licensed veterinary technician and certified canine fitness trainer and rehabilitation practitioner, told PEOPLE. "I have a lot to offer dogs that are injured and overweight, so I thought 'How can I not help this poor dog?'"

So, even though she "knew it was going to be a long haul," to get Bertha down to a healthy weight, Wille reached out to Stark County Humane Society in Louisville, Ohio, where Bertha was staying, to inquire about fostering the dog.

Along with reaching out about fostering the pet, Wille also offered to cover the dog's rehab cost herself. It didn't take long for the shelter to accept Wille's application, and a week after applying to foster Bertha, the puggle was at home with her in Pittsburgh.

Meredith Wille and Bertha
| Credit: Bertha_gets_bitty/ Instagram

"She was like Jabba the Hutt," Wille said of her first impression of Bertha. "She’d take three steps and have to lay down."

Wille wasted no time launching Bertha’s weight-loss regimen, relying on a healthy diet of high-protein, low-fat food and low-cal treats, and biweekly underwater-treadmill sessions at Steel City Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, where Wille (who has five other dogs) is the clinic director.

Bertha

When Bertha first started her underwater-treadmill sessions, she only lasted about 15 seconds at a time; now she’s up to 20-minute strolls. Once Bertha had built up her strength, Wille also added low-impact exercises — like going up and down steps for weight-shifting and balance — to the dog's routine.

Bertha
| Credit: Bertha_gets_bitty/ Instagram

By summer 2020, Bertha had lost 20 lbs., and surgery in June to repair the collapsed tendons in one of her back ankles (a painful result of her obesity) put a new spring in Bertha’s step.

"That was a game-changer," says Wille. "She became very mobile."

These days Bertha’s down to her goal weight of 29.5 lbs., and Wille has decided to keep her.

"She’s not going anywhere!" Wille said of Bertha's future. "People say, 'You did miracles for her.' All I did was love this sweet, little dog."

Bertha
| Credit: Rolling Thunder Photography

Bertha is obviously easy to love; she has become a beloved employee at Steel City Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine.

"My clients are upset if Bertha’s not at the clinic," says Wille. "Sometimes she’ll come up and sit next to a dog while they’re getting treatment. She’s like, 'I’m just here to hold her hand, it’s all good.'"

Bertha
| Credit: Sunshine Photography by Samantha Schwalb

To learn more about Bertha and several amazing humans who lost half their size, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.