He was the dog no one wanted.
Covered in mange, emaciated and battling multiple conditions (including heartworm), time was almost up for Ron, a middle-aged Labrador Retriever at San Antonio Pets Alive, a high-intake shelter in Texas.
Shelter volunteers pleaded on social media for someone to adopt or foster him. One Facebook post was shared more than 1,200 times.
“He was a good dog. They knew there was life in him,” says Cori Johnson, the Texas adoptions coordinator for Lucky Lab Rescue and Adoption. “They were begging for someone to take him, and that’s when he caught our eye.”
Founded in 2008, Lucky Lab has rescued and rehomed close to 3,000 dogs in its tenure. The organization doesn’t shy away from medical cases like Ron, says Johnson. They were able to get the dog off the euthanasia list but still needed to find a foster parent willing to help him get the medical care he needed.
Ron had a long road to recovery and the holidays were just around the corner. The dog needed a miracle.
“We had very little time,” says Johnson. “Marie stepped up at the last minute.”
Marie Guadagno, a senior program manager at the University of Texas at Austin, has fostered close to 90 dogs over the past few years. She saw Ron on Facebook and fell in love.
“He was sick and sad and looked so alone,” she says.
She brought him home on Christmas Day, 2016.
Ron’s Troubled Past
Not much is known about how Ron ended up at San Antonio Pets Alive. When he arrived he had broken molars, which sometimes happens when dogs try to gnaw their way out of chains or a crate. Deep wounds along his side, some which went all the way to the bone, could have come from being stuck in one position for too long.
“He looked like he had been out on the streets and fending for himself his whole life,” says Guadagno. “When I think about him out in the heat and trying to find food, it kills me.”
When she brought Ron home, the first thing she did was give the pup a good bath, wipe the goop from his eyes and nose, and try to loosen some of his dead skin. Ron loved the spa treatment.
“After he got out of the bath, he knew he smelled good. He jumped on the bed and started rolling around like a crazy person,” she says. “You could tell he felt so much better.”
But Ron still had a long way to go. Lucky Lab sent Guadagno home with bags of medicines for his health problems. Ron was battling ear, eye and skin infections. He needed medicated baths. On top of the heartworm, his liver and kidneys were not functioning properly. He was only half his desired weight of 60 pounds.
It was touch and go for a while. There were so many complications and compounding issues. It was a constant battle to try and stay a few steps ahead of the unknown, Guadagno says. Several times she feared he might not make it. But together, she and her husband Paul Bireta nursed him back to health.
Eventually, Ron’s fur started to grow in. His infections cleared. By the summer, nearly seven months after he entered foster care, Ron was ready to find a permanent home.
Of course Guadagno and Bireta considered keeping him. But he was such a happy and easygoing dog, they knew he would have no trouble fitting in with a forever family.
“People always ask, ‘how can you give them away? It must be so hard,’” Guadagno says of her foster pets. “But you know they’re going to these awesome homes and will bring so much joy to a family.”
Finding Ron the Perfect Family
Over the past few years, Cindy and Doug Burns have had to say goodbye to three of their four dogs. By summer 2017, only Annie was left. The reddish-colored lab looked awfully lonely on their six-acre lot near Austin.
“One dog just didn’t feel like enough,” says Cindy.
When she first heard about Ron through Lucky Lab, Cindy didn’t know how bad he had had it or how sick he had been, only that he was a loveable dog looking for a forever home.
On their first “date,” the Burns’ dog Annie fell in love with Ron. So did the Burns. Ron had found his forever home.
“After we got him, we found out how bad he had it. The pictures of him from before were shocking,” says Cindy. “It’s just horrible to think someone would do that to him. He’s so sweet.”
The Burns renamed him Apollo. He now has a huge yard to explore with his new best friend Annie. He gets to go camping and boating. Sometimes he breaks into funny dances at dinnertime, rolling on his back and wriggling his feet in the air.
“He’s fully in the present,” says Cindy. “I would think he would be aloof from being mistreated and not being fed, but he’s an extremely loveable cuddler.”
Guadagno stays in touch with the Burns. They send her pictures of Apollo and she recently got to visit him in his new home.
“I was so happy to see him,” she says. “He was so comfortable and playful.”
Seeing dogs like Ron thrive is what makes it all worth it, says Johnson.
“You take a dog that was someone’s throwaway and now he’s someone’s treasured pet,” she says.
She hopes stories like Ron’s get more people excited about fostering and adopting pets, even ones who need special care.
“People should not be so scared about what [a dog looks] like in the shelter. That’s the before,” she says. “There’s always a great story after.”
Images via: Lucky Lab Rescue and Marie Guadagno
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.