A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

11 Tear-Jerking Stories of Rescue Dogs That Found the Homes They Deserve

Every adoption story has the potential to make you believe in the good in people right when you're ready to swear off all humanity. These stories will bring hope to your heart and a tear to your eye.

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Courtesy Helaina Hovitz

Love at first picture

Wiley is a special case because after several rounds of rehoming, we are his fourth home. He was found as a stray by Friends with Four Paws Rescue in Oklahoma, was fostered there until he was sent to Brooklyn, where he was fostered again. After I met with one of the rescue’s other adoptable pets and wrote an email about how I didn’t feel the connection but would love to keep trying, the animal rescue’s president, Leah, gave me a call, and we struck up an instant bond. The next day, she texted me and told me they had a rare, emergency situation: They had a “return.” She sent me Wiley’s picture, and I just had that feeling. I took it as a sign. So, we went to pick him up from his old home and bring him to ours without meeting him first. He was nervous in the car and left a little present outside the building after the car ride, but he adjusted phenomenally, like he was still a puppy and we were his first set of parents (If you want this kind of heartwarming story, these 50 dogs need a home in 2020.) It was like he instantly imprinted on me. We signed the adoption papers two days later. I believe Wiley and I understand each other in a special way because we both had it pretty rough during our early, formative years, and we are both very resilient. We came together at a time when we both finally felt safe in the world. He knows we’re a family and that I’m not going anywhere. Writing about him in my memoir, After 9/11, helped me realize just how similar rescue dogs and rescued humans really are…and made me a stronger-than-ever advocate for the rescue community as a whole. Keep reading for a glimpse into more amazing stories of dogs who were rescued from tough lives and brought to a new beginning by humans who cared enough to say, “Your little life matters just as much as mine.” These are the 30 things your dog wishes you knew.

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Courtesy Danielle Maley Caregiver Canines

From unwanted to unbelievable: Terrier visits seniors in need

Bonnie Derhay of Jackson, New Jersey, first encountered Pogo, a nine-year old scrappy terrier mix, at a dog park. His owner at the time was with him, a woman who told Derhay that her husband “did not like him” and she planned on abandoning Pogo at the dog park if no one wanted him. Derhay just couldn’t let that happen. Derhay believes that Pogo was abused by the husband because he was very skittish and frightened when she took him home. Derhay welcomed Pogo to her family, cleaned him up, and showed him a lot of love. Because Pogo was so friendly, she took him to classes to become a certified therapy dog. Pogo is now a wonderful volunteer for Caregiver Canines of New Jersey. As part of the program, he visited with senior citizens Fran and Doug in their homes weekly for one year after Doug suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. They couldn’t own their own dog, but Pogo brought them such joy and brightened up their lives. This spry terrier had a rough start in life, but holds no grudges. He makes people smile wherever he goes. When adopting a shelter dog,  avoid these common mistakes.

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Courtesy Karen Rogers

Three-legged miracle goes from abandoned to lovable philanthropist

T-Rex was born with a heredity condition that caused a deformity, and the man trying to sell him outside of a grocery store simply left him there when nobody wanted him. Luckily, a kind lady brought him to a shelter, and thanks to California Animal Rescue, he was able to find Karen Rogers, who offered to house him temporarily then quickly fell in love with him and adopted him herself. Initially he had some trouble getting around, but three surgeries later, he walks on three legs with ease and lives like a puppy in a five-year-old dog’s body. He lives up to the name T-Rex by tearing into his toys, chasing the other dogs around the house, and playing fetch like his life depends on it. He’s also offered Rogers a ton of support. After all, empathy is one of the superpowers all dogs have. “My mom passed away three years ago from lung cancer; she was diagnosed and died within eight months,” Rogers says. “T would sit on my lap for hours in the evening, as I went through my mourning time. He has so much energy, but if I was sitting at my computer, he would curl up on my lap and just let me be sad.” T-Rex is also philanthropic, taking part in Paws for Love every year, using his tail instead of his paws (like the other dogs) to paint pictures and raise money for their cause. “They support rescues by awarding grants to them to help with vet bills,” Rogers says. “They paid $1,000 towards T’s surgery, so every year, T paints for them and they sell it at the gala. He tries to help them raise money by showing people how donated money is used to help dogs and cats.” Check out all of the other health benefits of owning a dog.

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Courtesy Denise and Frank Sebastianelli

The deaf dog that hears with his heart

Denise and Frank Sebastianelli’s deaf therapy dog Bo is proof positive that with the right training and socialization, deaf dogs can do a good job at being there for others. “When we went to pick out a new puppy after losing a very special dog, we could not have imagined the journey we were about to begin,” says Denise, who lives in Mason, Ohio. “We wanted to do therapy dog work and decided to get a Flat Coated Retriever for their fun, silly, sweet personality. We went to look at the last two puppies left in the litter; one was said to be outgoing and confident, a really great pup. The other one, we were told, is quiet and shy and will be the last one to go.” They played with the “best” puppy while the other puppy was left over in a corner, sleeping. The first puppy was adorable, but they asked to see the other one, and the handler said, “You really don’t want this one. The other one has a great personality and you can’t teach that. This one is shy.” The “shy, quiet and not so great pup” crawled into Frank’s arms, put his head on his shoulder, snuggled in and never left. A few weeks later, the couple knew for sure he was deaf. They were worried at first, but quickly realized he was the same puppy as before: happy, confident, outgoing, silly. The couple did their research, found Deaf Dogs Rock, and learned that Bo can “hear with his heart” as well as any other dog can hear with his ears. Bo passed his Canine Good Citizen Test at one year and just became a registered Therapy Dog at the age of two. Bo will soon be visiting local hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes, and working with veterans at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. “It’s not always easy. There are challenges and obstacles, but that’s okay because you just have to keep working and keep loving,” Denise says.

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Courtesy Samantha Parker

The senior dog who would do anything for her furever family

Samantha Parker was at work at a vet clinic in Memphis when MidSouth Animal Rescue League president Linda Money asked if she could help her get a new rescue out of her van. The old yellow lab was in really bad shape, unfortunately in more ways than one. When Parker walked out to get her, she knew that she’d be taking her home. The dog’s owner had passed, and his son took her, but didn’t really want her. She had been chained to a tree with only a small wire kennel as her shelter with no food or water, and she could barely even walk. Parker didn’t know how she would act with her family, but was willing to find out. It was love at first sight: The dog, now named Lady, became fast BFFs with her children. “She acts like she has always been here and feels that way for us too,” says Parker. “Lady has taught me that the love of a senior dog is like no other. She needed me, she needed TLC, she needed a lot of medication, and most of all she needed a family and she has all of that now for however long she has left.” Lady is estimated to be about ten years old and especially loves when Parker’s daughter, Caroline, has her friends over for sleepovers. As for Parker’s son, Jack, he didn’t even like dogs until Lady came around. “She just lays and lets the kids do whatever they want to her,” Parker says. “It stands out to me because everyone hesitates to bring in a senior dog to there family but she has taught me to never hesitate again. She is completely dedicated to us. She would do anything for us.”

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Courtesy Megan Penrose

Once in total despair, he became a therapy dog for his 7-year-old owner

Seven-year-old Ty was struggling before Wiggie came along. School was unbearable, family members lived very far away, and making friends did not come easily to him, according to his mother, Megan Penrose of San Rafael, California. “Within the last year, our three beloved dogs had all come to the end of their very long lives, and his beloved grandma had succumbed to a horrible illness,” Penrose says. “It is an understatement to say that things were grim. Even the new puppy we had adopted was biting his fingers, pulling his hair, and stealing his stuff.” There was but one thing that made Ty smile: volunteering to walk dogs at Family Dog Rescue. One day, while at the shelter, they were asked to help a new dog who had been rescued from the Central Valley. He was in despair. He wouldn’t eat, play, or move. He had suffered from distemper when he was a puppy and as a result, he had a constant facial twitch. The family agreed to foster him. For weeks, Ty tended to his every need. “He fed him, gave him his medicine, slowly walked him, snuggled him, and held him close at night. Slowly but surely our foster dog learned to trust and to listen to the hardships of being a seven-year-old boy,” Penrose says. “It became clear that Wiggie and Ty needed to stay together. No matter how hard we tried, the world was a lonely place for our son until Wiggie came along.

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Courtesy Michelle and Jonathan Lo

After years of waiting, he’s grateful to finally be loved

When Bear was found on the streets of Lodi, California, as a stray, he had several wounds and injuries from being attacked by a larger dog. He spent his days in a shelter, but Bear longed and yearned for a forever home. Wonder Dog Rescue in San Francisco saw his potential and wanted to give him a chance to find a loving home. With their help, Bear was rescued, neutered, and microchipped. Weeks passed, but Bear did not find his forever home until Michelle and Jonathan Lo contacted Wonder Dog Rescue. When they arrived at the adoption event in San Francisco, the couple was both excited and nervous. “After meeting Bear, we decided to give Bear a chance to be a part of our family,” Michelle says. “The first month home, Bear was still fearful of strangers and nervous around the house.” Now, thanks to some TLC and patience, Bear is flourishing almost four months after his adoption. “Since Bear had such a rough first nine years of his life, he is so grateful and happy every single day,” Michelle says. “My husband and I are amazed at how simple acts of love and care can turn a dog’s whole life around.” Here are 4 heroic dogs who saved their owners.

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Courtesy Lara Corey

The sweet puppy who overcame an injury to inspire his humans

After Vinny, then just a 6-month-old puppy, was hit by a car and had to learn to live with three legs, a volunteer at Family Dog Rescue took him home for some much-needed TLC and strength training. She worked tirelssly trying to convince everyone she knew to adopt him. One family in particular took an interest in Vinny, and on a Saturday afternoon, confirmed that that they would love to meet him. It felt like fate. Vinny now lives in their beautiful house in the suburbs with a giant backyard and a dog sister, cat brother, two human sisters, and an amazing mom and dad. Within weeks, Vinny started connecting with his new family, even claiming his personal spot on the end of his parents’ bed. He waits patiently each morning until Lara beings to move, then squirms his way upward in the bed looking for snuggles. For even more cuteness, here are some dogs with beards that you’ll be sure to fall in love with.

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Courtesy Denise Mann

He traveled cross-country to find his perfect match

Denise Mann, a lifelong miniature schnauzer lover, was getting a pedicure when a close friend (a big “adopt-don’t-shop-er”) told her about Thomas, a terrier mix found in a box in Texas who was about to be put down. “They kill small dogs in many states as they are not seen as desirable pets, so through a group called Waggytail rescue, I arranged to have this dog flown to New York City and delivered by van to my apartment,” Mann says. “He was unchipped, unneutered, and probably slightly drugged from the journey. I sent my husband to the pick-up spot, and he was handed Thomas in a blanket. He came home and quickly said, ‘This is our dog. I won’t abandon him twice.'” Thomas and her other schnauzer Perri are now BFFs. “He looks more like a kangaroo than a dog. We love him,” Mann says. “He completes us and makes everything better. Perri has a playmate. He cuddles with my sons, and Perri loves my children but is ‘my dog’ while Thomas is all of ours. He spreads the love around.” These are the 13 secrets your dog knows about you.

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Courtesy Angela Padilla

A dog who survived trauma brings comfort to owner with PTSD

James was a surprise. A transport arrived from Mexico, and he was the skinniest of them all and was missing an eye. “We didn’t have room for him. But what could we do? We welcomed him into our family with open arms,” says Family Dog Rescue founder Angela Padilla. At the same time, the signs of his past trauma were clear: He could be skittish around other dogs, and as he lost his sight, new things started to scare him. This February, James got his miracle, a wonderful forever home where he will always feel secure. His forever mom, Elizabeth Carden, says she and her husband are madly in love with James. “When I originally started looking into getting a rescue dog, I wanted a dog who could be trained as an emotional support/psychiatric service dog,” Carden says. “I struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I also have a history of depression. That’s a big part of why I was looking for a dog.” When they brought James home, Elizabeth realized he needed an “emotional support human” as much as she needed a therapy dog. “He’s been through a lot in his life, and so many times I have wished he could talk so he could tell us his fears and what triggers his anxiety.” James now spends his days cuddling and sensing when his mom needs some TLC, sticking by her when she feels worried or upset.

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Courtesy Toby Fox

He avoided death at a high kill shelter to find a life of squirrel chasing

In 2012, a two-month-old, 20-pound Basset Hound/Dachshund mix was picked up as a stray in West Virginia and sent to a high kill shelter. Volunteers from the dog rescue organization, See Spot Rescued, removed him and brought him to their location in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he was named George. When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey on October 29, 2012, Toby Fox offered to help See Spot Rescued by fostering their dogs while they recovered from the storm. George’s adopted family had been displaced when their house was destroyed on the Jersey Shore. “We agreed to foster him for as long as they needed and were very happy to help,” Fox says. In the end, George’s family was not able to keep him, so he became part of Fox’s. George’s life in Montclair, New Jersey is any dog’s dream. Lucky, Fox’s first dog—also a rescue—protects George in the dog park despite being half his size.

Helaina Hovitz
Helaina Hovitz is a native New Yorker, editor, journalist, and author of the memoir "After 9/11." Helaina has written for The New York Times, Forbes, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Huffington Post, Women's Health, Bustle, Prevention, Thrillist, VICE, HEALTH, Salon, SELF, the Daily Meal, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @HelainaHovitz and Facebook/HelainaNHovitz.