Pets & Animals

Pit bull with a heart 'too big for this earth' needs a home

Nero is a bighearted dog. He's gentle and loving. But he's also bighearted in a way that is likely to mean his life won't be long.

The middle-aged pit bull is a former shelter dog suffering from a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. That means he has an enlarged heart, and it doesn't pump blood very well.

His heart is "too big for this earth," is how the nonprofit Rescue Haven Foundation put it in a Facebook post. "Nero could have a few weeks left with us, a few months, or perhaps even a year. And we are going to ensure that the time he has left on this earth is the best he has ever had."

Courtesy of Marcela Garcia Manga

Up until a few weeks ago, Nero was a resident of a busy New Jersey animal shelter. Folks there put out a plea for someone to get the emaciated, very-friendly boy out.

Veterinarian Anthony Scriffignano, who is on the board of Rescue Haven, came by the shelter to meet the dog. He was immediately taken in by Nero's too-thin frame and soft, gentle eyes.

"I fell in love with him," he told TODAY.

Courtesy of Marcela Garcia Manga

Scriffignano took Nero to his own veterinary clinic in northern New Jersey for an exam. He noticed that Nero's heart had a "very abnormal rhythm."

A cardiologist gave the diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy, and delivered the uncertain prognosis. Nero could live a month, a year, or "he could die in his sleep," said Scriffignano. "It's hard to predict what's going to happen to him."

Courtesy of Marcela Garcia Manga

Now, Rescue Haven Foundation is looking for someone who will give Nero a home for the rest of his life — however long that turns out to be.

They are calling it "compassionate foster," or "hospice foster." That means Rescue Haven Foundation will cover Nero's expenses. His new family will be responsible for looking after him and his big heart.

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"He really is a very special soul with a very sad story that we hope will have as happy of an ending as possible, given the circumstances," AJ Albrecht, a Rescue Haven Foundation volunteer, said in an email.

Until that home comes along, Nero will be staying at Scriffignano's veterinary hospital.

Albrecht said she came by to see Nero there this week. They spent time out on the grass, where "he gave me some kisses, I rubbed his belly."

He doesn't seem like a dog who knows he's dying, Albrecht said.

"He's a stop-and-smell-the-roses type of guy," she said. "It's clear he's living his life in the present."

Courtesy of Marcela Garcia Manga

Nero is on some medications that it's hoped will buy him — and the family who gets him — some extra time.

He can't walk much or play hard, because it would put too much strain on that big heart. So the staff at the vet clinic has been spoiling Nero how they can — treating him to a lot of good food, giving him lots of pets and hugs.

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Scriffignano doesn't think Nero's suffering. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Oh my God, he's happy," said Scriffignano. "If you ever met him, you'd fall in love."

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