It was New Year’s Eve 2014 when officers at the Orange County Animal Services (OCAS) shelter received a call about a dog wandering around in a field. Once he was picked up, however, it immediately became obvious that the dog was a lot more than just a stray. In fact, once the volunteers saw the many wounds on his body, they immediately transferred him to a local emergency vet.
“Champion, like many ‘strays’ in Orange County and nationwide, was under a year old, covered in extensive wounds (likely from bites), starving and had lost a lot of blood,” said Kristen Alwin-Carbone, former Me and My Shadow Dog Rescue (MAMS) operations manager and Champion’s eventual owner. “He was at death’s door when the shelter put out an emergency rescue call.”
Champion was believed to be a bait dog (a dog used to train other dogs to fight), with injuries so serious that the officers at OCAS nicknamed him “swiss cheese” due to the extensive bite wounds all over his body. “You have to keep a sense of humor in situations like this, because seeing such horrific cases day in and day out is heartbreaking,” Alwin-Carbone said. In addition to his wounds, Champion had been a victim of severe neglect and starvation. “He was initially too weak for surgery and underwent treatment for dehydration and a blood transfusion upon walking in the door to the vet’s office,” Alwin-Carbone said.
Getting Champion Help
Bait dogs are often sweet, submissive animals, and Champion was no exception. Because OCAS is not equipped to deal with serious cases, they often issue urgent alerts via email and phone calls to its rescue partners. This is how OCAS got in touch with MAMS, a group known for taking on severe medical cases. “I specialize in mostly heavy medical issues,” MAMS founder and president Julie Galante said. “So when my coordinator called to tell me that there was a dog with holes all over his body, I knew that would be a dog I would want to help.”
Galante’s ultimate goal has been to take the dogs that need medical help, vet them and help them get adopted. “We are a last-resort rescue,” Galante said. “I help dogs facing the risk of euthanasia. If I can save them, I will; if I can’t save them, I will kill myself trying.”
In addition to the initial fluids and blood transfusion, Champion’s recovery was rather extensive and lengthy. Galante told the vet and staff to do whatever they had to to help Champ survive, regardless of cost. That included addressing organ failure and performing five surgeries to clean necrotic infected tissue (creating skin flaps to cover gaping wounds and tissue and inserting drains so those wounds could heal properly).
“I help dogs facing the risk of euthanasia. If I can save them, I will; if I can’t save them, I will kill myself trying.”
Once he was ready to leave the hospital, Champion headed to Kristen’s home. Kristen had been at OCAS picking up another dog when Champion was being brought in by the rescue and she visited him several times when he was at the vet. During that time, they developed a bond, and it seemed the logical choice for her to offer to foster him during his recovery.
Meeting His Forever Family
“I offered to foster [Champion] for what I thought would be a few months,” Alwin-Carbone said. But it turned out that Champion was a perfect fit for Kristen’s family and they all developed a very close attachment to him very quickly. “When I say we, I mean our whole family: myself, Frank (her husband), the kids and even the dogs and cats,” Alwin-Carbone said. “Everyone loves Champion.”
Just a few days after taking him as a foster, Alwin-Carbone knew she couldn’t give Champion up. “I was a wreck when I called Julie asking if we could adopt him once he was officially available,” Alwin-Carbone said. “I knew there were a lot of applications, but how could I give up someone who was so clearly meant to be in our lives?”
Fortunately, Galante had wanted to keep Champion as part of the MAMS family, so the request was perfectly timed. “First and foremost, I personally know both Kristen and Frank and know what outstanding pet owners they both are,” Galante said. “And since Kristen was part of the MAMS family, we knew we wanted to have Champion be an ambassador for the rescue to represent the bully breed in a positive light.”
An Ambassador for Former Bait Dogs Everywhere
Having Champion as an ambassador is particularly important because, according to Galante, dog fighting rings are mobile and move quickly from town to town, so it’s hard for the police to catch the fighting in the act. “As a result, we typically don’t see a ton of true ‘bait’ dogs in rescue because they are mostly disposed of and die quickly,” she said.
Champion does have many visible scars covering his body and Alwin-Carbone says she often gets funny looks when she takes him out in public, but she tries to use those moments as an opportunity to educate people about the importance of rescue and the realities of dog fighting. Luckily, Champion has no real emotional damage. “He loves everyone he meets,” Alwin-Carbone said. “He has a fur dog sister, a fur dog foster brother and four cat friends and he loves them all.”
As for his favorite hobbies? Alwin-Carbone says he loves dog treats and lounging on his bed next to the pool. “It’s like he knows he got a second chance and he thoroughly enjoys every minute of it.”
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer, whose work has been published in DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo!, & Popular Mechanics.