To prove how powerful a loving forever home can be, we are sharing stories and photos that will melt your heart. Adopting a dog changes two lives forever – the dog and the rescuer. Love has the power to transform lives, as these everyday heroes can attest.
In a perfect world, every dog would have a home, and every home would have a dog. We discovered six dog lovers who take that quote seriously. These people opened their hearts and homes to dogs who were cast aside, neglected, and abused.
The number of homeless dogs in shelters has reached epic proportions. The ASPCA reports over 6.3 million companion animals enter shelters every year. At least half of those animals are dogs.
One of the biggest misconceptions about rescue dogs is that they will be difficult or fearful. Combined with love and patience, here are six people who rescued their furry best friends. Spoiler alert: Grab some tissues because the before and after transformations are epic.
A Tale of Two Tobys
“Truth be told, I hated dogs almost my entire life,” admits David Nijhawan of Kailua, Hawaii. “When I was 5 years old, a dog bit my behind, and the kids at soccer practice made fun of me.”
Nijhawan’s loathing of dogs was born at that moment. For 27 of his 32 years, he stayed away from dogs big and small. As the fates would have it, he fell in love with a woman who loved dogs. His partner found Toby #1, a Yorkie/Dachshund mix, on PetFinder, and the pooch became a permanent member of the family.
“Some people found him in a dumpster in the middle of winter with no food or water,” he explains. “After a few years of having a permanently broken tail, the veterinarian took an X-ray and discovered he had pellet shots in his side.
A human monster shot pellets at the diminutive pooch, which explains his pre-David behavior of being nervous and afraid. Toby #1 knew exactly how to convert his new dad to #TeamDog. He went belly up in the car, thus wrapping his little paws around David’s now dog-loving heart.
Toby has been to 28 states, lived in several, and visited two countries. From dumpster to divo dog, Toby wears a denim jacket that says “Judas Pooch” on it when not sporting any of his other rock star dog apparel.
These days, he’s ball-obsessed, cantankerous, cute, and a “roadie” to his dad’s band, The Tobys. After begging for food, Toby falls asleep next to the drum set at their gigs.
Not wanting Toby#1 to live a solo life, David called the shelter, The Nest, in Indiana, where he first encountered Toby #1. The volunteer advised him to come to the shelter to see which dog was drawn to him most.
“I got there, sat down, and a dog jumped on my lap and licked my face,” he recalls. “I asked his name, and of course, it was Toby!”
At the tender age of nine, his dad says he was the walk on the beach and picking flowers and shells type of dog. Unlike Toby #1, who was more of a ride-a-motorcycle and cuss kind of dog, Toby #2 was relaxed and laid back.
The hands of time passed, as they always do, and Toby #2 passed gently into the night at the ripe age of 19. His dad recalls holding him in the sun, thanking him for everything, and telling him to meet lots of hiking friends in heaven before Toby #2 passed in his arms.
“I truly felt alive in his passing and felt his spirit leave a little for me,” he remembers.
David wants people to give a rescue dog a wonderful life. His mantra is simple – be there for them no matter how hard it hurts.
A Wink from The Rainbow Bridge
Angus is a Cocker Spaniel, but his ‘before’ picture resembles a walking blob of matted hair and dirt to the naked eye. He was found in deplorable condition roaming the streets in southern Indiana. When a county shelter took him in, they shaved seven pounds of fur from his 19-pound body.
When rescue volunteer and dog mom Celia Campbell lost her first dog, Sam, she decided on two things – to love another dog and to make sure that dog was a rescue. Celia took one look at Angus on Petfinder and welcomed him home in October 2016.
“I went to PetSmart, where his rescue group was set up,” Campbell says. “I really was just going to meet him, and I had no intentions of actually adopting him. As soon as I sat down, Angus crawled into my lap and gave me kisses. I melted, and the rest is history.”
She says her broken heart was ready for another dog. She finds it to be destiny that she found Angus’ listing on the 6-month anniversary of Sam’s death. Instantly, joy staked a claim in the Campbell household thanks to Angus.
Assumed to be around 4 years old, the relationship bloomed like flowers peeking from an abandoned field. Angus was not potty trained, chewed items, and ran off with anything and everything, including boxes and mops. His mom worked through it all.
Campbell took him on long several-mile walks each day, and the duo formed a fast bond. Angus’ mom volunteers for dog rescue groups like Rockstar Cocker so she can continue to pay it forward. Angus is thriving and recently moved to Canada with his pack.
He now shares life with a fellow rescue dog, Ralphie, whom Celia adopted a few years later. She says people should never judge a book by its cover. It breaks her heart to think of dogs as “throwaways” because of their age, appearance, or physical issues.
Keeping Dog Rescue In The Family
Campbell likes to keep things in the family. Her parents never shared life with a dog, but that was about to change significantly. While scrolling Facebook one day, Campbell came upon a post of a matted, messy, blind senior Cocker Spaniel named Figaro, aka Fig.
“I checked with the rescue I volunteer with and asked if we could pull the sweet dog from the shelter,” she recalls. “It’s always a bit iffy when you put a shelter dog in the car, but Fig immediately relaxed into my arms.”
Realizing he was special from the start, Campbell fostered the pooch for 6 months during the height of the pandemic. She admits falling head over heels for his sweet demeanor and appetite for love. No one knows how Fig ended up homeless and roaming the streets.
During the pandemic, Campbell packed her two dogs, Angus and Ralphie, up and headed north with Fig to visit her parents in Canada. As fate would have it, 6 weeks around Fig is all her parents needed to want a dog.
“I may have pushed the match a bit, but I am overjoyed to have Fig in my life without having to adopt a third dog,” Campbell muses.
These days, Figaro is living his best life. He lives in northern Ontario on a lake where he gets daily walks and goes on adventures in mud puddles. He loves going for car rides and snuggling on the couch. He gets around so well that folks often forget he is blind.
The family admits someone at some point in time loved Fig. He is smart, potty trained, used to be groomed, and well behaved. Celia and her pack hope whoever had Fig once upon a time knows he is loved to infinity.
Left Behind Like Used Trash
Like the Campbell family, Ellen Morrissey of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, never owned a dog. She attributes this to working long hours as a speech therapist and a genuine fear of committing to a dog. I convinced Ellen to attend an in-person Halloween contest for dogs at an area shelter with me. My own Cocker Spaniel, Brandy Noel, was an entrant.
We didn’t win, but Morrissey walked away with her own prize. During the contest, shelter volunteers paraded available dogs wearing “adopt me” vests. She watched as one of the available dogs walked over to a litter of puppies, flipped each one over onto their tummies, and gently licked them clean.
“I fell in love at that moment,” Morrissey shares. “I wanted to give a dog a second chance at life, and this was also a second chance for me.”
She learned the dog was left behind when her owner went to prison. She was confiscated and taken to the shelter. She put an application in and vowed to give Zola her second chance.
At first, Morrissey was exasperated and had no idea what to do. Zola was a barker, chewer, and could not walk nicely on a leash. Rather than panic, she enlisted the help of a dog trainer and took time off work to help Zola adapt.
The journey started as one to give a dog a new outlook on life, but Zola gave her mom the same. Morrissey admits Zola made her accountable and showed her that she could open her heart and home to another being.
Together, they joined canine pack walks, took trips together, and Zola allowed children at Morrissey’s school to read to her. She loved children and other dogs and brought a smile to everyone she encountered.
She adopted Zola at an estimated nine months old, and the dog lived for 15 years. She plans to do it again and admits she will always choose a shelter dog.
An Angel on Earth
Lynn Wobeck has always had a soft spot for dogs in need. The retired California psych nurse has personally fostered over 350 dogs and acts as a hospice for some who would otherwise die alone.
Her recent foster, a small Terrier mix named Mandy, was found roaming an airstrip in northern California. Local staff worried Mandy would get eaten by coyotes, hit by a plane, run over by a car, or some other tragic ending.
After a week, Mandy was securely trapped in a bunker. Whenever volunteers opened the door to feed her, she would bolt out, and the process would start over. A friend of Wobeck’s took Mandy in, but she did not get along with his male dogs. He called Wobeck, who gladly took Mandy in.
“She is about a year old, has no microchip, and no visible spay scar,” she shares. “She has that ‘let me put my teeth in your arm behavior,’ so I know her teeth are white.”
She started Mandy out with piddle pads and then taught her to ‘potty outside,’ be food bowl respectful and have basic house manners. Mandy, like all her fosters, sleeps in bed with Wobeck.
She reminds people to throw expectations out the window when fostering or rescuing a dog. The process should be fun and enjoyable. Mandy will be going to a small dog rescue next. There, she will be vetted and adopted into a loving, forever home.
Good Things Come in Big Packages
San Diego, California, resident Naomi Lukaszewski loves rescue dogs, but she and her husband realize they can’t adopt them all. The couple has fostered over 120 dogs and has no plans of slowing down. She doesn’t view her foster dogs as her own. Instead, she dubs herself a dog sitter for the pup’s future family.
The kindergarten teacher says Cocker Spaniels are really little kids with fur. She and her husband, Dan, learned to groom Cockers to help the group, San Diego Spaniel Rescue (SDSR), cut costs. She’s learned a lot about dogs over the years and intends to continue to make people and dogs happy.
“Dan (my husband) describes the fostering process best,” she admits. “It’s like having a roommate. You don’t necessarily want to marry your roommate. When they move out, you wish them well.”
One of her many memorable fosters is Mylon, a Cocker Spaniel who tipped the scales at 50 pounds, double an average Cocker’s weight. Shelter workers contacted SDSR, and Naomi agreed to foster him.
“He was estimated to be about ten years old when we took him in, and we got right to work, she remembers. “He could barely walk to the end of our driveway and back.”
Mylon began a low-calorie diet with a cooked veggie mix. Within three months, he lost 15 pounds. As he grew lighter, his personality flourished. He was merry, loving, and even enjoyed the blow-dry process after his enzymatic baths.
A lovely couple decided to adopt Mylon and renamed him, Winston. He was able to lose another 10 pounds, and he got down to 25 pounds. The day he was adopted, Naomi cried.
“He was about to be euthanized for being overweight and ‘ugly’, and now he was going to a forever home full of love and happiness.”
The sweet dog lived to be almost 13 years old and succumbed to an immune system disease called IMT, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia. For the last few years of his life, the once neglected and discarded dog got a second chance full of joy.
Lukaszewski recommends fostering with a rescue organization if you are nervous about adopting. She says there is ‘no risk,’ as if it doesn’t work out, the dog is moved to another location. A reputable rescue organization will ensure the foster is a good fit.
Only some dogs require the amount of work Mylon did. Ultimately, they want to be loved in a home with people who genuinely care for them.