One day, Rusty’s family decided they no longer wanted him. Instead of finding the puppy a new home, they put him in the backyard and pretended he didn’t exist — for a year. A kind neighbor snuck him food and water once learning of the dog’s situation and eventually called San Antonio Animal Care Services.
When cruelty investigators Manual Flores and Joel Skidmore arrived at the house in March, they found a small mixed-breed dog curled up in a pile of leaves. He appeared near death. The officers took him to the ACS shelter, where veterinary staff began treating his many health issues, including a severe case of demodectic mange.
Shelter employees got to work finding Rusty a temporary home in which to heal, posting his photos and story to Facebook. Kelly Oyler, who had just adopted out her most recent foster dog, immediately volunteered.
“I actually prefer to take the dogs with mange or injuries,” she says, explaining, “They are diamonds in the rough. They have so much to give, and people don’t see that because of how they look.”
Despite her experience, Oyler says even she was shocked upon seeing Rusty in person.
“He had no hair, except for what was attached to the crust of his skin. He couldn’t walk on his back legs, so he was hopping,” she recalls. “He didn’t have much life in his eyes. I had never seen a dog in that much despair.”
Oyler wrapped Rusty in a blanket and carried his frail, 17-pound body to her car. Once home, she settled the dog in and just let him rest.
“All he did for the first three days was sleep. I took him out to go to the bathroom, but it was painful for him to stand or walk. He was so dazed.”
Rusty’s appetite soon increased, and he began to progress quickly, Oyler says.
“Within a week or two, he wagged his tail for the first time, which was huge. A week later, he barked for the first time. A week after that, he smiled for the first time.”
Helping Rusty learn such basic behaviors has been resident dog Sonny, who lost his front right leg to cancer last year and serves as a guide to the animals who come through their home.
“He’s older and well trained and very patient,” Oyler says. “Every foster that I’ve ever had looks to him.”
Sonny even helped Rusty get through his first day at the office. As a claims adjuster at Petco’s corporate offices in San Antonio, Oyler can bring her dogs to work.
“During the car ride there, Rusty sat on Sonny’s butt. He was relying on Sonny to let him know it was OK,” she says.
Rusty also recently attended his first press conference. Held by city councilman Diego Bernal on Sept. 10, it announced a new system that will allow cruelty investigators to request warrants while in the field. Charges are currently pending against his former owners.
The formerly neglected and abused pup will soon celebrate his seventh month of freedom, and Oyler says he has improved significantly. Rusty now weighs 27 pounds, and the mites that caused the mange are gone, allowing much of his hair to regrow. Emotionally, the now two-year-old dog has begun to experience what he could not before because of his situation.
“He’s just starting to play like a puppy. He does zoomies around my apartment,” she says, adding that “Rusty is such a happy boy, and he loves to snuggle.”
Oyler has deemed him ready for a forever family and will soon start introducing Rusty to potential adopters. She stresses the need to find him the right home. He still has the occasional accident inside, a result of living outside for so long, and understandably can be a little guarded around food and when meeting new dogs.
She thinks a family with older kids or none would be best, and Rusty will need to be properly introduced to any other pets in the home. Continued training also will be important.
“He’s been through so much,” Oyler says. “I don’t want him to see him fail at being a good, social dog. I want him to be happy and be able to go to dog parks. Part of that is making sure he has proper training.”
Potential adopters must also understand that Rusty may have medical issues in the future because of his compromised immune system, another result of the neglect.
Rusty has been the longest foster Oyler has ever had, and she expects it will be a difficult goodbye.
“It’s going to be incredibly sad to let him go,” she says, “but I know that I can’t help the next dog if I keep them all.”
Oyler asks that anyone interested in adopting Rusty contact her through his Facebook page for more information and to set up an in-person meeting.
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