They say there’s a first time for everything, and for Stephanie Doris and her dog Nana, February 2013 brought a lot of firsts. That’s when the dog now known across the Internet as Nana the Earless Pibble became both the first Pit Bull Doris had ever interacted with and her first foster dog. For Nana, their meeting marked the first time a human made her feel safe.
“We got into the car, and she just laid her head on my lap for the two-hour drive home, and ever since that moment we have been inseparable.”
This love story began a few months after Doris started volunteering with ROMP Rescue and following rescue pages on Facebook. That’s when a photo of Nana appeared in her feed and changed her life.
“She just looked so sad and — I hate to say this word — really truly pathetic. Her eyes were so hopeless.”
Nana had every reason to feel hopeless. She was around 8 years old when she was surrendered to a Los Angeles city shelter. Thin and dirty with nipples hanging down to her knees, veterinarians who examined Nana estimated that she’d had between 12 and 15 litters before being dropped off. Her ears were terribly infected and disfigured, likely the result of an at-home ear cropping. Her teeth were nothing but nubs, having been filed down either by human hands or her own actions as she chewed a chain or metal crate.
“It’s hard to imagine a dog who someone had for eight years could be in that condition,” says Doris.
As a senior Pit with medical needs, Nana wasn’t exactly the most adoptable dog in the shelter. Being kept in medical isolation made her chances even worse — she wasn’t visible to visitors. Facebook was Nana’s only chance to get noticed and get out.
As a rescue volunteer, Doris was used to having her social media feeds dominated by photos of dogs in need and had learned not to react emotionally to every picture posted.
“You just can’t bring home every single dog,” she explains. At the time, Doris was a graduate student living at home with her parents and her first rescue dog, a young German Shepard mix named Zyra. She says she was in no position to adopt another dog, so she didn’t usually let her heart take over when shelter dogs stared back at her from the screen.
“There was just something about Nana that broke through that wall,” she explains.
Doris immediately offered to foster Nana, knowing her euthanization date had come and gone.
“She was already kind of living on borrowed time,” she says.
Even if the threat of euthanization hadn’t loomed over her, Nana wouldn’t have lasted long without serious medical help.
“Her ears were so cauliflowered, and they were literally covered in brown ooze. It was all infection and bacteria, and they smelled awful,” Nana’s human recalls.
Fostering a sick, sad Pit Bull with a sketchy past didn’t sound like a great idea to Doris’ parents at first, but they soon followed in the daughter’s footsteps and fell in love with Nana.
“For the first two months, we just focused on her health; she wasn’t really adoptable,” says Doris, who had her hands full with Nana’s medical issues.
In addition to the infection in her ears, Nana also has issues with her skin and fungus on her paws. Over time, Nana developed drug-resistant bacterial infections — MRSA and Pseudomonas — in her ears. She was in constant pain, and it was clear the ears were not salvageable. Eventually she had two surgeries, a bilateral total ear canal ablation and a bulla osteotomy, during which two pounds of scar tissue and inflammation were removed from her ears. The surgeries left Nana deaf, but she was happier than Doris had ever seen her.
“When she was no longer in pain, she just totally blossomed,” says Doris, who remembers seeing Nana play with toys and vocalize for the first time after her surgeries. “Even to this day, she continues to blossom.”
No longer in pain, Nana started learning how to be a dog. Taking cues from then-2-year-old Zyra, Nana grew more confident and playful with each passing day. Although she’d initially been fearful of men, she developed a strong bond with Doris’ father.
“My dad just fell absolutely head over heels for Nana. I credit him with pushing me to keep her.”
A few months after springing Nana from the shelter, Doris was regularly taking her foster dog to adoption events, but her dad was starting to think the adorable senior Pit should stay put. According to Doris, Nana had just been diagnosed with dermal hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive skin cancer, and her father didn’t want the dog bouncing around from home to home. Still, Doris and Nana continued to attend adoption events. People frequently asked about Nana’s story and (to Doris’ dismay) if she had puppies available, but no potential adopters came forward. Then, one day, an adopter finally expressed interest in Nana, and Doris realized that her father was right — this dog had already found her forever human.
With Doris by her side, Nana fought her cancer and completed chemotherapy. With Nana by her side, Doris moved to Nevada for medical school. Together, the pair have become well-known advocates for Pit Bulls. In 2014, Doris (who had never heard of breed specific legislation or the staggering Pit Bull euthanization statistics before meeting Nana) spoke in front of a crowd at the One Million Pibble March in Washington.
It’s clear Nana’s story is making an impact on the world. When people tell Doris how they wish they had a dog like Nana, she’s happy to tell them that plenty are available in shelters and rescues.
“There are so many other dogs just like Nana, who have just as awful backgrounds, who are just waiting for someone to open up their homes — even if it’s temporary — just to give them love,” says Doris.
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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 Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. 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 +.