These Teachers Helped a Homeless Pup Find a Forever Home—800 Miles Away

By: Howard HardeeUpdated:

photo collage of dog and man smiling
Photos courtesy Villalobos Rescue Center

These Teachers Helped a Homeless Pup Find a Forever Home—800 Miles Away

Is there anything teachers can’t do? They help young minds to grow, often with few resources—and now they’re saving homeless pets, too! That, at least, is what happened with Scholar, a puppy who went from being abandoned on the streets of New Orleans to finding a cozy home in the Midwest, all thanks to local schoolteachers and the help of Villalobos Rescue Center.

Here’s how it happened: Last August, Cameron Clark, a music teacher at KIPP East Community Primary School in New Orleans, found a rough-looking but extremely friendly mixed-breed puppy wandering outside the school.

“He was the cutest, sweetest little thing, and he was super skinny,” Clark tells BeChewy. “Obviously, he hadn’t been taken care of wherever he came from.”

A self-described dog person, Clark instantly fell in love with this furry friend and started planning to bring him home. But Clark’s landlord had a no-dogs policy, and threatened to evict him if he didn’t comply. So Clark turned to Villalobos Rescue Center, the New Orleans animal rescue organization made famous by the TV show “Pit Bulls and Parolees.” Hoping they could find a loving home for this sweet puppy, Clark brought him there early one morning, waiting outside the building until it opened.

There was just one problem: The rescue shelter was at capacity. That’s not unusual for Villalobos, a well-known animal organization in an area of high need. Staffers are often forced to turn dogs away.

But adoption counselor Lizzy Scollo, who was working the day that Clark came in, just couldn’t say no to this pup: “He was so sweet, friendly and happy,” she recalls. She listened to Clark’s story—how he loved this little dog but just couldn’t give him a home—and decided to make an exception.

“Today, we learned something: Not all heroes wear capes,” Villalobos owner/operator Tia Torres explained in a Facebook post about the experience. “In [Clark’s] honor, we have named this pup Scholar, and together we hope their story will change lives, enrich minds and teach that together, we can make a difference, even if just for a moment.”
It was difficult saying goodbye to the dog he’d saved, Clark says, but he isn’t sorry about the experience: “I can sleep a little better knowing there’s one less stray dog out there that deserves a home.”

Villalobos took Scholar in and began reaching out to shelters and rescues across the country to find an organization with room to care for him until he was adopted. In the meantime, Torres' Facebook post, including photos of Clark waiting with Scholar outside of the shelter, went viral. It caught the attention of a volunteer at Pet Pack Rescue, a foster-based organization in Peoria, Illinois—which just happened to have been founded by a pair of schoolteachers.

When Alyssa Emanuelson and Katie Norbutas, teachers and co-founders of Pet Pack, heard about Scholar, they knew they were meant to help.

“It was this moving story of this little dog,” Norbutas says. “I thought the story of Cameron waiting outside Villalobos—not just dumping the dog there but waiting and having that emotional connection to the dog—and with him being a teacher, it was such a cute connection to us.”

The pair reached out to Villalobos and worked out a plan: They’d take Scholar if Villalobos could get him to Peoria. That meant a 13-hour drive for Scholar, along with Villalobos’ staffer Mariah Thompson-Chock and five other pups who Pet Pack agreed to foster. A drive like that is no easy task for an energy-filled puppy, Scollo says—but Scholar handled it like a champ, waiting excitedly in his crate between naps and pit stops.

When Scholar arrived in Peoria, Emanuelson, the educator who cofounded Pet Pack with Norbutas, took Scholar into her own home as a foster when he arrived.

“He was a good fit for my home,” Emanuelson says, “and the fact that he came from a teacher was another reason I was like, ‘Let’s see how we can make this work.’”

Emanuelson found Scholar to be a playful and precious, if a little nosy, puppy, who she estimated was around 7 months old. “He was a busybody who always needed to know what was going on with my other dogs,” she laughs. “He’d be like, ‘What are you up to, I want to be a part of it, too!’”

Pet Pack staffers weren’t the only ones who noticed Scholar on Facebook. He also caught the eye of Kim Mangia, a resident of Cortland, Illinois, and longtime fan of “Pit Bulls and Parolees.”

The first time she saw Scholar on her timeline, Mangia says, she was smitten with his sweet face. So when she saw Villalobos’ update that he was being transferred to her part of the country, she just knew she had to go meet him. Mangia contacted Pet Pack and made a date to meet Scholar with her husband and daughter, driving two hours to see if they were a match.

“When he ran up to meet us, he went to each of us individually and was licking us and being super sweet to all three of us,” she says. “We looked at each other kind of like, ‘Yeah, this is the guy.’”

The Mangias adopted Scholar that same day.


Now weighing a healthy 25 pounds, Scholar—who the Mangias call Sal—is still a happy, energetic dog who’s taken well to the leash and loves long walks. One of his other favorite pastimes? Watching “Pit Bulls & Parolees” with his mom.

“If I put ‘Pit Bulls & Parolees’ on, he’s instantly at the screen,” she says. “He will also sit and watch Scooby Doo cartoons; he’s just a character.”

Make a Difference for Homeless Pets

Scholar is a one-of-a-kind pup—but his story isn’t unique. He’s one of thousands of dogs across the country who are looking for forever homes. If you’re inspired by his story, consider adopting or fostering a dog in your community. You can search for adoptable dogs at shelters and rescues in your area.

While Mangia thinks it’s a fun coincidence that her dog came from the shelter behind one of her favorite TV shows, she’s more moved by the pet rescue community that came together to save Scholar’s life.

“I think it’s really cool that so many people helped him to come such a long way—all the way from New Orleans to the Midwest,” she says. “We didn’t adopt him because he was high profile, but I think it’s important that Villalobos is raising awareness that these are great dogs—that they can come from anywhere and become part of your family.”

How You Can Help

Shelter and rescue organizations depend on support from pet lovers to intervene when animals like Scholar need their help. But here's the good news: You can support the life-saving work of Villalobos Rescue Shelter and Pet Pack Rescue with just a few clicks.

You’ll find a list of all the supplies they need on their Chewy Wish List. Just add to cart, check out, and we’ll ship everything straight to their doorstep!

Shop Villalobos Rescue Center’s Wish List

Shop Pet Pack Rescue’s Wish List
You can keep up with Villalobos Rescue Center via their new web series, podcast and more at their Patreon.
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By: Howard HardeeUpdated: