Eileen Cutter started bringing home stray dogs as soon as she could walk.
Over her life she has been a proud mom to dozens of pooches, often caring for several canines at a time.
So when one of her five rescue dogs died in 2016, she was soon looking for another furry face to bring under her wing.
Usually Cutter visits her local Humane Society near her home in Housatonic, Massachusetts, where, she tells PEOPLE, they know her by name, but for this dog she chose to look at North Shore Animal League, a rescue near her hometown in Long Island.
“I can look at a thousand dogs and there is always just one that kind of tugs at my heart,” Cutter says.
This time, that dog was Carmelite, a Chihuahua mix who weighed 47 lbs.
“When I went on the site and saw her picture I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ ” the registered nurse recalls. “It wasn’t her full weight, she had lost some, but she was 25 lbs. when we got her. I said to my husband, ‘We could help her.’ ”
After helping one of her older Chihuahuas drop from 23 lbs. to 9 lbs., Cutter felt confident she could help 8-year-old Carmelite do the same.
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So she and her husband took the dog with the endearing overbite into their home in October 2016, and set to work working out.
“When we first got her and I would take her for walks outside, she would walk about two houses and then she would literally turn around because she didn’t want to walk anymore,” Cutter says.
Having come from a home where she was often fed McDonald’s and made to move very little, Carmelite wasn’t used to routine exercise.
But she caught on to the fitness fad fairly fast. Along with her daily walks, Carmelite also went on a carefully portioned diet of weight-loss maintenance food, and soon the pounds were dropping off.
Without any gimmicks — just through healthy eating and exercise — our 2018 Half Their Size stars shed hundreds of pounds. For more on their stories and weight loss tips, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
One year after her adoption, Carmelite is now 11½ lbs. and has gone from barely moving to energetically playing on the porch with her four fur siblings, plus going on mile-long strolls.
“She paces herself to how she feels,” Cutter says of how much Carmelite exercises. “And now, you can’t stop her. In the morning she is the most active of all the dogs. She loves being out on the deck.”
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Her owner is “grateful” that Carmelite was open and willing to changing herself, since Cutter doesn’t having any “special tricks” to help her dogs lose weight except for providing them with love and support.
Now, Carmelite is a “different dog” in the best way possible. Her dedication to diet and exercise has earned Carmelite the rare treat. On special occasions, she lines up with Cutter’s four other pups and gets a squirt of whipped cream directly into her mouth.