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12 Incredible Rescue Dog Makeovers

Get ready to say, “Awww!” and “Wow!” You won’t believe these before-and-after pictures are even of the same dogs!

arlo before and afterCourtesy Wahl

Every dog has its day

Millions of dogs wind up in shelters each year, many unwanted because of their dirty, matted coats. Pet-industry leaders are stepping up to help. Wahl USA and GreaterGood.org are celebrating rescue dogs and supporting shelters around the country with their Dirty Dogs 2020 calendar, “Bow to Wow: Amazing Shelter Dog Makeovers.” It’s packed with amazing before-and-after photos of pups that have been groomed to help them find forever homes, and with each calendar purchase, GreaterGood.org will receive a $5 donation to keep supporting animal adoptions.

Arlo, the January “calendar boy,” was found beside a rural highway. After rescuers cut away the mats in his fur and bathed and brushed him, his adorable teddy-bear looks came through. Arlo, estimated to be 10 years old, turned out to be a real cuddle bug and soon went home with a foster family, but he’s still looking for a family of his own. Senior pets often languish in shelters because people want puppies, but they deserve forever homes, too. That’s just one of the reasons you should consider adopting an older dog: They’re also often laid-back and already know commands; plus, you will experience the tremendous satisfaction that comes with saving a life.

Read on to see the other dogs’ stunning transformations.

griffin dog before and afterCourtesy Wahl

Don’t judge a dirty dog

Matted coats like Arlo’s often hide a dog’s true beauty, and they can also cause serious harm. Griffin’s tight mats pulled his skin, damaged the nerves in his back legs and even irritated his eyes. The Humane Society of Northwest Georgia saved him from a kill shelter, groomed him, and gave him a makeover. Once he felt better, his perky personality was on full display. Now Griffin, February’s featured dog, is living happily in his forever home, where he sports a neat collar and tie like the little gentleman he is. As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover…and don’t overlook a shelter dog because of his mats. Dapper dogs can hide in plain sight beneath those neglected coats. To keep those coats in tip-top shape, be sure to choose the best dog shampoo and conditioner for your pup’s specific needs.

gallagher befor and afterCourtesy Wahl

Rescue dogs just need a little TLC

Little Gallagher, a stray picked up by animal control in Madison, Georgia, had to have most of his fur removed when he was rescued. Fortunately, groomers were able to save some of the hair on his ears and tail, and his stylish, new look soon caught an adopter’s eye. He’s now in his new home, where he’s being pampered with treats and belly rubs. A furry friend like Gallagher can be just the ticket if you want a pet to share your small home or apartment. Of course, apartment dogs don’t always have to be small breeds (unless your landlord says otherwise). Large dogs with calm, quiet personalities can work, too. A gentle Great Dane, for example, can be a great roommate. Not sure which dog to choose? Browse this list of the 15 best dogs for apartment living.

zorro dog before and afterCourtesy Wahl

From underdog to top dog

Even the best dogs can end up in shelters. Zorro, a German Shepherd, was rescued from a rural field in Newport Beach, California. At just 7 months old, he’d lost most of his fur and was covered in scabs. He needed a series of special baths and medications to recover, and when he did, he ended up looking like the 1950s canine movie star Rin Tin Tin. That’s when a rescue volunteer fell for him and took him home.

Hey, you never know: The underdog you rescue could turn out to be a star one day, too. Over the years, shelter dogs who got famous have appeared in movies, TV shows, and plays. Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a bombed-out kennel near a World War I battlefield, and a terrier mix from a Connecticut shelter went on to play Sandy in the Broadway production of Annie. Of course, rescue pets that don’t make it big can still make a big difference in your life.

gaston rescue dog before and afterCourtesy Wahl

Who’s rescuing who?

Years of neglect left sweet Gaston, a poodle, almost unrecognizable, but lots of shampooing, grooming, and TLC transformed his dirty locks and put hope back in his eyes. Gaston was rescued from a bleak future, but dogs can rescue people, too. Some dogs turn out to be heroes that alert their families to house fires or intruders. Some can sniff out cancers or sense diabetic comas or imminent seizures so their owners can get medical help. Others are simply loving companions that help people who are grieving, depressed, or traumatized and inspire them to take a second chance on life.

ollie before and afterCourtesy Wahl

A little love makes all the difference

After he was picked up by animal control in Philadelphia, dirty, matted Ollie, who could barely see through the hair in his face, was transferred to a rescue shelter. He didn’t come with a pedigree, but after he was clipped, brushed, and bathed, his adorable face and winsome personality emerged and he found his forever home. To ease the transition to his new digs, his pet parents were patient and gave him the confidence to settle in. Shelter dogs sometimes feel anxious about going to a new place, but you can help them relax. A few new toys, a comfortable bed, and a new leash and collar are a few things you need before you bring home a rescue puppy, adult, or senior dog.

dexter before and after rescue dogCourtesy Wahl

Mutts rock

National Mutt Day falls on July 31st, which makes Dexter, a stray found living on the streets in San Bernardino, California, a perfect mascot for that month. Once covered in unsightly snarls and tangles, he sat, calmly and without complaint, as rescuers and groomers cut and combed burrs and even bits of plastic out of his coat. Once he was cleaned up from head to paws, his chocolate-brown eyes, neatly clipped coat, and fluffy ears captured a family’s heart. Now he’s in his forever home. Purebreds make great rescue pets, but don’t overlook the messy, mixed-breed mutts when you’re ready to adopt. Looking to add a mixed breed to your brood? Check out these beautiful shelter dogs that are available for adoption right now.

jasper before and after dog rescueCourtesy Wahl

Excited to be all yours

Not all dogs that end up in shelters are strays. Two-year-old Jasper was surrendered by a Pennsylvania family who decided he was too boisterous for their home. For most high-energy dogs, the problem isn’t that they’re deliberately misbehaving. It’s that they aren’t getting enough exercise and attention to burn off all that energy. Training your dog—or walking, jogging, or playing fetch—can make a huge difference and help an excitable dog calm down.

And before you bring a rescue home, see if the shelter has a room or outdoor area where you can take him, away from all the noise and activity in the kennels, to interact one-on-one. That will help you decide if the dog’s energy level is a good match for yours. Also, consult this handy guide to find out how much exercise your dog really needs.

berkeley rescue dog before and afterCourtesy Wahl

A new “leash” on life

Berkeley spent his entire life outside. With little care and the loss of his one companion, an older St. Bernard, this lonely pup must have felt like giving up. Thankfully, he ended up in an Iowa rescue and rehab facility, where he was shorn of almost five pounds of matted, muddy fur that even had a fishing lure caught in it. Now he’s looking for a new “leash” on life and a forever home…maybe with you. Did you know that owning a dog has major health benefits? Dogs can make you feel happy and loved, of course, but there’s more to the story. Walking and playing with them can help you lose weight, lower your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and give you a new lease on life.

odie before and afterCourtesy Wahl

Meet your new best friend

Sometimes pet owners lose their homes and, with no place to go, either abandon their animals or surrender them to rescue organizations. That’s what happened to Odie. He was terrified when he arrived at Beagles and Buddies in Apple Valley, California, and with temperatures soaring to almost 100 degrees and thick, snarled fur, his life was in danger. Groomers quickly gave him a haircut and bath to make him more comfortable and ease his stress. His sweet demeanor helped him bond with other dogs at the facility, but he’s still looking for a new home. October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, but any day is a good day to look for a new best friend.

harry pawter dog recusedCourtesy Wahl

Shelter dogs are survivors

Harry Pawter is a survivor. Thrown out of a van and abandoned, he was spotted by Good Samaritans who took him to Ruff Start Rescue in Princeton, Minnesota. A foster family welcomed him into their home and gave him the grooming and attention he needed. Named for the boy wizard in J.K. Rowling’s books, he’s a bit like the fictional Harry Potter, surviving against all odds and wishing for a family of his own.

Remember: Shelter dogs may need time to adjust after you bring them home. A new place, the presence of other animals or kids, a different diet, and other issues can stress an animal that has traveled a long, hard road. This is one of the things shelter dogs wish you knew, along with the fact that with proper love and care, your new fur friend will eventually feel right at home.

shadow before afterCourtesy Wahl

A big dog with a big heart

Shadow’s family was stunned when the cute Shih Tzu puppy they thought they’d brought home turned out to be a big Labradoodle. Unprepared for his size, they banished him to the outdoors, where he lived, year-round, through freezing winters and scorching summers. Shadow eventually ended up in a shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was groomed and given the care and comfortable living conditions he deserved. Now this handsome boy with a big heart is ready for a forever family.

Before you adopt a rescue dog, make sure you understand what he needs, so you can give him regular exercise, plenty of fresh water, a quality diet recommended by vets, and a safe, comfortable place to live. He’ll give you back more than you can imagine.

Lynn Coulter
Lynn Coulter is an Atlanta-based freelance writer specializing in homes and gardens, travel, pets, consumer products and lifestyles. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, the Travel Channel and HGTV. She has also written for Home Depot Garden Club, the Old Farmer's Almanac Garden Guides, Fodor's, TripSavvy, Southbound, Roadtrippers, AAA Living, Georgia Magazine and other print and digital publications. She served as a contributing editor for Delta Air Lines Sky Magazine and U.S. Airways Magazine. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University.