Not long after Willow the Neapolitan Mastiff entered the world, she was rejected by the people who brought her into it. The human who had bred Willow’s mother could see that one of the pups was not like her siblings. While the other puppies in the litter were starting to bounce around on little legs, Willow still wasn’t even trying to get up. Her chest was flat to the ground, and her legs were splayed out around her. She was displaying all the characteristics of a dog with Swimmer Puppy Syndrome, but her breeder either didn’t know that or just didn’t care. All they knew was that they wanted to get rid of her — and they said as much on social media.
“It was one of my volunteers that forwarded the information to me,” says Jennifer Williams, president of 2nd Chances Rescue in Norco, California. When the status update broadcasting the breeder’s disdain for the disabled puppy reached Williams, she offered to come take the unwanted pup from the human, who had publicly compared the puppy to a piece of trash. Williams — along with her husband and a 2nd Chances volunteer — got in the car and drove to the breeder’s home. When the rescue party arrived, they spotted Willow in the yard right away, and Williams rushed over to scoop her up.
“The other puppies were running around the yard, and she was just lying there,” says Williams. “Her chest was flat — completely flat across. When I was holding her in the car I was so worried.”
As they drove home, little Willow showered her rescuers with puppy kisses. According to Williams, it was obvious the little pup was very happy to be in safe hands. Willow’s rescuers didn’t yet know what they were going to do with the little swimmer puppy they’d saved, so they were pleased to get a message from Gina Gould — a local animal acuscope therapist who had heard they were rescuing a swimmer pup.
Williams was familiar with the type of therapy Gould specializes in. It involves the use of an electronic therapeutic medical device, which is said to promote healing by stimulating tissue, and Williams had seen it work wonders on other dogs. She was thrilled to hear Gould was offering to take Willow on as a foster and give the dog acuscope therapy.
“I still give myself chills when I think of how perfectly everything lined up that day,” Williams recalls.
The rescue crew rushed to Gould’s home, and after a quick round of introductions, Williams went through the formal home check and took a look at the other dogs in Gould’s care. She remembers being impressed with Gould and getting a feeling that this was the right place for Willow to begin her healing journey.
“Gina just has an energy about her,” Williams says. “She’s very intuitive, she knows what she’s doing, and she just loves the dogs.”
After two weeks of acuscope therapy at Gould’s house, Willow was making great strides and even taking tentative steps on her own. She was doing so well she was able to come back to Williams, who took over the foster duties and started swim therapy and puppy play therapy with the puppy at her home. According to Williams, it was during this time that Willow met and bonded with Rocky, a Boxer–Pug mix and fellow foster dog who was about two months older than Willow.
Witnessing the love between Willow and Rocky, Williams came to the conclusion that she would have to adopt them out as a pair. The two pups just depended on each other too much to be separated. The decision to keep the pups together further complicated an adoption process that was already presenting challenges. Williams had previously listed Willow on Rescue Me! and had received a torrent of adoption requests from people out of state.
“At the time that she was listed, she was the only purebred Neapolitan Mastiff who was listed on Rescue Me!” Williams explains. “I told people I really want someone local or someone who knows someone who does acuscope.”
Williams felt that the ideal home for Willow would be one where she could continue to see Gould for acuscope touch-ups, so she was happy to hear that Gould herself had a possible lead on a home. The animal therapist knew someone who was about to lose their elderly dog and felt that this person could be the perfect adopter for Willow.
“I wasn’t completely committed yet. I wanted to make sure that [the adopter] was in for all the right reasons,” says Williams, who told the adopter she would have to be willing to take Rocky, too.
“When she agreed finally, that’s when I knew she was willing to do anything for this dog.”
Arrangements were made, fences were fixed, and Willow and Rocky moved into their new place. The two pups are happy with their new family — and they’re not quite pups anymore. Willow weighs almost 100 pounds and is still growing. When the big dog had to have shoulder surgery about seven weeks ago, Williams knew she’d picked the right person to adopt this special pup. According to Williams, Willow’s human is in a position to take care of Willow’s ongoing veterinary costs without needing help from the rescue.
Williams hopes those who are touched by Willow’s story will support rescues that will take on so-called hopeless cases like Willow the Mastiff. Thanks to therapy — and a lot of love — the tiny puppy who was so unwanted is now as big as she is adored.