She’s the first dog in Arizona to take home the American Kennel Club’s Therapy Dog of Distinction Award, but just four years ago, Zoe the mixed breed was on the euthanasia list in a county shelter.
“She was full of fleas and ticks and intestinal parasites,” explains Zoe’s human, Diane Bykowski, who created a Facebook page for the little dog who has overcome so much.
Zoe’s 15,000 followers are used to seeing photos of a pristinely groomed and obviously adored dog, but back when she was picked up by the county, Zoe looked nothing like her picture-perfect future self.
“She was all matted and dirty,” says Bykowski, who was looking to adopt a new dog after the death of her 16-year-old Shih Tzu.
Bykowski was introduced to Zoe by Pam Heine, the founder of Ruby Ranch Rescue, who sprung Zoe from the county shelter. After a week with Ruby Ranch, Zoe was clean, healthy, spayed, and ready to meet Bykowski.
“Unfortunately, little Zoe wanted nothing to do with me. She only wanted to be with her foster mom, Pam.”
Initially, Bykowski didn’t think the adoption would work out, but she was persuaded to take Zoe (who didn’t yet have that name) for a two-week trial adoption.
“So I took her home, and by the time we got to the house, the little dog could have been named Velcro. She was just attached to me like you would not believe.”
Now that she had found her forever person, Zoe left behind her temporary foster identity and received her new forever name.
“I always thought if I had another dog, I’d like to call her Zoe because it means ‘life’ in Greek,” says Bykowski. “In some instances, it means ‘love of life,’ and I thought that would be really fitting for a dog we would adopt.”
She had a new name and a new pet mom, but things didn’t go perfectly in Zoe’s new home during those early days.
“She didn’t want to go to my husband at all, and anytime I would leave she would cry — and she has a horrible cry. It’s this high, piercing whine. It’s awful,” Bykowski says.
On the 10th day of the trial adoption, Bykowski called Zoe’s former foster mom and said she was worried she might have to bring the dog back. On the other end of the phone, the experienced rescuer suggested Bykowski spend the next 24 hours ignoring Zoe and letting her husband, Ken, take care of all dog’s needs. The treatment worked quickly.
“After two days, she would go to him and then come to me, but she would go to him. She whimpered a little bit when I left, but she didn’t cry anymore.”
Once Zoe was feeling comfortable with both her new pet parents, the Bykowskis took notice of their new dog’s amazing personality.
“My husband and I knew there was something special about this little dog. She was just really bright, wanted to please. She loved people.”
Bykowski began looking into how she could help Zoe use her love of people to help them. Having seen her own father go through hospice, Bykowski decided to help Zoe pursue therapy dog certifications so that she could volunteer to help the dying.
Zoe went on to take further training, pursuing her AKC Canine Good Citizen Certificate.
“We also volunteer with Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, where she volunteers at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center and two rehab centers, a sixth grade classroom, a library — she’s a busy girl.”
In 2014, Zoe became the first dog in her state to get the AKC’s Therapy Dog of Distinction Award, which is given to therapy dogs who have done more than 400 volunteer visits.
According to Bykowski, the little dog just has a sixth sense about people who need her.
“An example was today when we were at one of the rehab centers. We were on our way out, and we normally just walk out, but she stopped at one door where there was a man who was kind of agitated, and she stood there with her tail wagging.”
The person Zoe was fixated on was an elderly gentleman, who was in the process of telling his daughter that he didn’t want to be at the facility and that he wasn’t going to cooperate with his therapies.
“He was very loud, and she looked our way and said, ‘Dad, there’s a little dog here to see you,’ and Zoe was just kind of wiggling her tail, and she had her little cute face on. The man said, ‘I don’t want to see any dog’ — and as he turned he saw her, and he said, ‘Except for that one.’ We went in there, and his whole demeanor just changed,” Bykowski recalls.
“When we were done, in about seven or eight minutes, he said, ‘Maybe I should get stronger, because then maybe I can have a dog again.’”
Stories like these prove Zoe has certainly come a long way since her days on the county’s euthanasia list. She’s helped so many people through her volunteer work, and she’s filled an important dog-sized void in the Bykowski home.
“She filled that gap of unconditional love immediately, and she was just warm and loving,” says Zoe’s pet mom.
“She’s taught me to be a more giving and loving person because of her personality and her willingness to share her love with people. To me that’s really important.”
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.