Duke came to the Humane Society of Harford County late last year a very sick dog — most of the vets who evaluated him recommended he be euthanized.
But the humane society staff, and one local vet, didn’t give up on him, and last week, after months of procedures and treatments, Duke found his forever home with a family in Dundalk.
“It was instant love when I met him,” Melissa Sasada said.
Her family — husband, Thomas, and daughter, Isabella — lost their beloved Stanley the day before and were eager to have another dog in their home, Melissa said, and Duke is the perfect fit for them.
The humane society staff was thrilled, too, if not a little sad, Marketing Coordinator Erin Long said.
Duke was a special dog and had won over the hearts of everyone at the shelter, she said.
“But this is such a feel-good story,” Long said. “We got this dog who was hacking, coughing and couldn’t breathe to this wonderful story. Nobody here gave up on him.”
Duke was surrendered to animal control on Nov. 18, 2017. He had a horrible cough and his family couldn’t afford to have him treated, Long said.
“It was a cough to the point where you get sick, that’s what he was doing,” she said. “He was coughing so bad, it was heartbreak to all of us. We thought ‘we have to help this guy.’”
Several of the volunteer veterinarians who evaluated Duke recommended he be put to sleep, that it “wasn’t in his best interest to stick around,” Long said.
The shelter operations director, Cat Kelly, felt differently.
“She just felt he wasn’t suffering and we needed to investigate what [was wrong with him],” Long said.
Duke became the mascot of Giving Tuesday, a day just after Thanksgiving that “kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving,” according to the website www.givingtuesday.org.
Using social media, the humane society raised $2,170 through its Phoenix Fund — established to give critically injured or ill animals a second chance — so Duke could have a bronchosopy.
Dr. Keith Gold at Chadwell Animal Hospital, who agreed to take over Duke’s care, did the procedure to see what was wrong with him.
Duke was sedated and a tube was put down his throat so Gold could “look around and see what’s going on,” Long said.
Duke was diagnosed with a very severe case of bronchial asthma, something that was treatable.
Over the winter and spring, Gold and the staff at the humane society tinkered with his medications to find the right mix. Gold made frequent visits.
“Duke stayed here, he was a champ. He showed our staff nothing but love,” Long said. “He’s got this look — his eyes are so soulful, so deep. The staff and volunteers were head over heels for this dog.”
Many of the staff and volunteers probably would have brought Duke home themselves, if they didn’t already have a house full of pets, Long said, and they decided Duke was ready to be adopted.
But it would take a special family to adopt Duke, who will have to be on medicines the rest of his life to control his asthma.
That’s where the Sasadas come in.
Duke is a gift
Last December, they had adopted Stanley from the Harford humane society. Stanley was 10, a hospice dog, who was dying from cancer.
“They knew Stanley didn’t have long,” Long said.
“We knew when we adopted him he might not have long. But even if we had him for a week, at least he would not die in a shelter, but at home with a family that loves him,” Melissa Sadada said. “When he did die, it was with his family petting him and surrounding him. We were there until the very end — that’s what we said we were going to do.”
Stanley died Aug. 9.
Stanley wasn’t the Sasada’s first special needs dog. They had had an English bulldog, Nubs, “who was allergic to everything,” Sasada said.
After Nubs died, it was two years before the Sasadas were ready to get another dog, which was Stanley, whom they got from the Harford humane society.
“Those are the dogs that are overlooked, who don’t find homes,” Sasada said. “We want dogs who would otherwise be forgotten about or euthanized. And we just knew he was perfect.”
The Sasadas kept Duke’s name and know his care won’t be inexpensive.
“It’s worth it to me,” she said. “Everybody budgets for something, for us, that’s what it’s going to be for.”
When Stanley died, Sasada’s husband, Thomas, said he didn’t want another dog right away. That sentiment lasted a matter of hours, Sasada said.
Sasada showed her husband a poem she found on Facebook, written from an adopted dog’s perspective, telling its owners that when he dies, to get another dog and give it the same chance he had. Her husband immediately changed his mind and the Sasadas were off that day in search of a new pet.
The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Center, BARCS, was closed, so the Sasadas went to the Harford humane society, where they had gotten Duke.
“We loved the Harford County Humane Society, how they were with Stanley, that they try to save just about everything,” Sasada said. “And they truly, truly love every dog, the animals.”
They almost didn’t get a dog that day. The ones they liked were either on hold or not available but Melissa saw a sign that said “Ask us about Duke.”
The staff shared his story about his history, how the Phoenix Fund help and his surgeries.
“We just knew that he was perfect for us,” Sasada said.
They brought home Duke the same day Stanley died. And in the last week, he’s begun to settle in, Sasada said.
He was scared at first — he didn’t sleep and walked around with his tail between his legs. But he’s started to loosen up and is wagging his tail and following the family around.
“Now he has taken over — our bed, our couch — he’s taken over completely,” she said. “He’s so gentle. I’ve never seen a dog so gentle in my life.”
Duke and Isabella, who is autistic and doesn’t show emotion, have also bonded, which Sasada said never really happened with Stanley.
“Duke came in and it was instant for her. He laid his head on her lap on the way home, he plays with her on the floor and she wants him to sleep with her,” Sasada said.
As for her husband, who didn’t want a dog right away, “he absolutely adores him.”
“He thinks Stanley sent Duke to us. He believes in signs, he believes in miracles,” Sasada said. “He thinks Duke was sent and was a gift to us to help us get through losing Stanley. In no way, shape or form does he replace Stanley, but he has given his entire heart to helping Duke.”