OAKLAND — A typical 2-year-old boxer pup usually weighs around 65 pounds — so when rescue shelter staffers first saw Kira, weighing just 28 pounds, they knew there was a problem.

The Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge staff took Kira's story to social media in hopes that the public could help with what are expected to be high medical bills during her recovery.

The dog first came to the shelter when her owner brought her in, according to Frannie Laurita, who works for the shelter. Laurita said she asked the owner why Kira looked the way she did, and the owner said it was because "she poops a lot."

The owner had medical records that showed the dog had at one point swallowed a rawhide bone whole, and instructing the owner to feed Kira more, but the records showed she had never been tested for any digestive issues, Laurita said. While Kira is now undergoing testing to see what the problem is, Laurita said it is believed the dog had been starved — so she's being very carefully being fed to help get her weight back up.

"In some ways it's horrible, but in some ways it's good because we can fix it," she said. "If she grabbed another rawhide or something off the counter, that could have been enough to kill her."

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Looking to avoid What Laurita called "re-feeding syndrome," Laurita said Kira is given just one cup of food every 24 hours as she builds up a tolerance to a regular diet.

The refuge's website paints a bleak picture for what Kira's life was like before she was brought to the shelter.

"It seemed like help would never come for Poor Kira, whose stomach ached with hunger, and body burned from urine soaked pressure sores," the refuge said on its website. "Kira's will to live is what got her rescued. Kira barked and barked — calling out for that kind of touch that she had once found."

It was Kira's barking that helped get her to the shelter, according to Laurita. She said the owner's landlord complained that she barked too much and couldn't live there.

"That saved her life as far as I'm concerned," Laurita said. "Maybe the landlord saw her condition and used the barking as an excuse."

Kira has been in the hospital getting treatment, and will probably stay for a few days more as she continues her recovery. Laurita said just the first two days alone in the hospital were expected to cost more than $4,000 if not for the organization receiving a "significant discount."

The refuge has what it calls a "Betty Lou fund," which Laurita said is used to help with treatment costs for the animals it takes care of in emergency situations. She said because Kira has had such extensive care, that fund may not be enough to cover the bills.

Neither Kira's journey to the shelter, nor her time at the hospital has been easy, but Laurita said that has not dimmed the pup's spirit or love of life. She said she has visited Kira almost every day, and every time she is greeted by a wagging tail and a cuddle before the dog falls asleep in her lap.

Laurita called Kira "incredibly sweet," but said with four dogs of her own and three fosters, she will not be able to take her home with her when she's released from the hospital.

"A lot of people have expressed interest in her," she said. "Everyone understands they have to be super careful."

Before she can find her forever home, Kira will need to be fixed and vaccinated, once she's healthy enough for that. he said the ideal home where she will be the only dog, and where the owners will be careful to make sure she doesn't eat too much too quickly.

"We're looking for someone who can really just focus only on Kira," she said.

As the shelter staff looks to find Kira a foster home and a forever home, Laurita said what they need most now is for people to donate money to help with the bills. The refuge has started a fundraising drive on its website for Kira's medical bills, and updates on her condition are regularly posted on the organization's Facebook page.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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