He’s peering through the holes in the fence at the dogs playing across the way, yearning to join them.
I call his name, Theo, and he stares at me, taking me in with those deep brown eyes. And then the pit bull mix with the Oreo face breaks into a run, stops just in front of my feet and leans in for hugs and belly rubs. You’d barely know he has only three legs.
Animal Control found Theo back in September around Swope Park and brought him to Kansas City Pet Project. Abandoned, he could barely walk on his broken leg. X-rays revealed it couldn’t be saved.
Thanks to KC Pet Project, the 2-year-old is running around with energy and charm, just waiting for a family to see his resilience and playful heart. But people pass over fur babies like Theo. Little dogs, puppies and kittens are adopted quickly. Senior dogs and pets with injuries and illnesses have a hard time finding homes and foster care. And pit bulls, because of stereotypes and misguided city and neighborhood breed bans, are filling shelters.
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Last year, The Star spotlighted “The 12 Strays of Christmas,” and almost all were quickly adopted. This year, our “12 strays,” photographed by The Star’s Allison Long, are more of the hard-luck cases, the Charlie Brown animals who linger in shelters or foster care far too long.
Theo has lived at KC Pet Project for three months. He is one of about 34,500 pets taken in to shelters this year. Maybe people pass him up because of his breed. Maybe it’s the three-leg life. Perhaps it’s the fact that he has heartworms — but antibiotics and a couple of injections will fix that. Treatment is included in the adoption fee. KC Pet Project has a 93 percent success rate and is determined to find Theo a home.
“Our biggest priority is saving lives,” Tori Fugate, the shelter’s development manager, tells me. “We are not going to give up on this dog until he finds a home. People see he’s missing a leg, and they think something is wrong. They don’t see he’s a big hunk of love.”
On a sunny afternoon, I’m standing in the fenced play area with Theo. His tail is wagging with excitement. Every time a dog walks by, he lets out friendly woofs and whimpers. He just wants to be seen. If I could translate barks, I imagine he’s saying, “Hey guys. Look at me, I’m whole. This missing leg doesn’t make me less than you.”
If I didn’t have two dogs already, I would welcome him home. He just needs a chance and some patience. It’s going to take a few weeks to treat heartworm. It’s going to take a little longer to figure out playing with other pups. He’s got the hang of walking and running, but he still loses his balance sometimes.
I throw a toy for him to catch. Instead, he crashes into me and gives me a sloppy kiss on the nose. My heart beats for him in that moment. He’s a sweet little guy.
If only people would channel their inner Linus when they look at this Charlie Brown dog.
“I never thought it was such a bad little tree,” Linus says in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
Before you bypass that dog or cat with the gray fur, the pup with parvo, the three-legged pit bull, look again. And this time look with love. It could change both of your lives.
Pets can make fine holiday gifts, and many shelters have December specials. But don’t make this a surprise. Take family members, including a dog you may already own, to meet prospective pets. It’s all about making the right match. If you really want the surprise, consider a stuffed animal or gift certificate as a temporary stand-in. You might consider waiting until after the holidays and let the hoopla die down.
Other ways to help: Shelters always need foster families, people who can take in the strays until forever homes can be found. And donations are always appreciated.
Sharon Hoffmann, firstname.lastname@example.org