On November 12, 2022, an NYPD officer spotted an emaciated two-year-old pit bull-mix through the window of a seemingly abandoned house in the Bronx. After gaining access to the home, the officer brought the dog to the ASPCA’s Manhattan headquarters for treatment.
The officer located the dog’s owner, who voluntarily surrendered custody of the dog to the ASPCA.
The female dog spent a week in the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center before moving to the ASPCA Adoption Center (AC). Dr. Biana Tamimi, who examined the dog, noted her emaciated body condition.
“She had a very dirty haircoat, long claws and worn teeth,” says Dr. Tamimi. “She also had a low blood vitamin B12 level, commonly seen in dogs with underlying gastrointestinal disease or who are severely underweight. And she had a urinary tract infection.”
Veterinary staff gave the dog oral vitamin B12 supplementation and an antibiotic for the urinary tract infection. She was also treated for gastritis and colitis and underwent dental surgery, during which Dr. Maren Krafchik removed eight teeth. The medical team administered anti-anxiety medication to address her stress and make her feel more comfortable. She was also spayed.
Due to her sunny personality, ASPCA staff eventually named the dog Sunshine.
Sunshine was fearful of new situations and environments, but she did well during medical exams and medical handling.
“She was stressed in the shelter but very friendly,” says Dr. Melanie Benetato.
“Sunshine was as socialized toward humans as a dog can be,” says Joshua Abolt, an ASPCA Behavior Specialist. “She met people and celebrities coming in for tours and was never rough taking treats.”
But Sunshine was reactive toward other dogs—including barking and lunging at them—so the Behavior team worked closely with her.
“We conducted counter-conditioning and desensitization exercises to help her focus on people when dogs were in her presence,” says Joshua, who previously served as a canine department supervisor at an animal shelter in upstate New York.
In the ASPCA’s indoor training room, Sunshine was given a treat when she looked at other dogs without barking.
“We didn’t want to reward her for barking,” Joshua says. “We’d have other dogs in the hallway outside of the training room, and then in the room with a barrier between them and Sunshine. We worked up to her walking parallel in the same room with other dogs before we took her outside.”
For Sunshine’s walks outside, she was outfitted with a headcollar and carried a toy designed to diminish her reactivity.
Stacey Rozell, an ASPCA Matchmaker, checked on Sunshine during her lunch breaks and often brought Sunshine to her desk.
“She would wait for me at her kennel door,” Stacey says. “Other Matchmakers gave her breaks from her kennel, too. I saw a transformation, for sure. It helped her overall quality of life.”
Sunshine went into foster care in April and did well. The Behavior team showed the foster caregiver how to walk Sunshine, and Sunshine now had a backyard where she could run off-leash. She also became more comfortable with other dogs.
“The tools we gave the foster caregiver made Sunshine’s reactions to other dogs less severe and more manageable,” says Joshua. “That’s when we knew we could place her, and it was all about finding that right adopter.”
Sunshine Finds Her Family
That adopter was Michelle M. of the Bronx, who came across Sunshine’s photo online.
“My daughter wanted a pit bull, and I was on social media and saw Sunshine,” Michelle says. “Within 20 minutes, we knew we wanted her.”
Stacey made an appointment for Michelle and her teenage daughters, Olivia and Delilah, to meet Sunshine on June 26.
“They’d never had a pit bull but were ready for a big dog,” says Stacey. “We went on a walk outside and the next day, I packed Sunshine up in their car and she jumped right in. She was so happy.”
Before Sunshine left the ASPCA, Ruth Allen, the AC’s Director of Admissions and Placement, purchased and displayed a yellow balloon bouquet, complete with yellow balloons, to mark the occasion.
Michelle says she feels as if Sunshine has lived with her family her whole life.
“She sleeps next to me in her own bed,” says Michelle, who also set up a small swimming pool on her back deck for Sunshine. “She has a bed in every room and more toys than she knows what to do with.”
Sunshine even won over Michelle’s mother—who was previously afraid of large dogs—and is an ambassador for adopting pit bulls.
“She’s amazing,” Michelle says. “After what she’d been through, we expected a hard transition. But it wasn’t. She’s the most phenomenal of all the dogs I’ve ever had.”
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