Seeing the dog splayed over the laps of owners Alex Darsey and Ro Juska on TODAY Wednesday, contentedly gnawing on a chew toy, it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago he was a severely abused pup dumped off and left to die on a Brooklyn street.
But the appearance of the pit bull named Walter on the show was happy testament to the giving spirit of animal lovers everywhere.
Speaking with Meredith Vieira as 6-month-old Walter chewed away, Juska said she and Darsey tried to save Walter’s life when he was found abandoned as a pup, but discovered the medical bills were too high for them to afford. So they started a blog, “Help Save Walter,” and a Facebook page to rally support and money.
“We were hoping to reach out to close friends and family that lived out of town to just kind of give a little bit of help, let people know his story,” Juska told Vieira. “[But] it was overwhelming overnight.”
From around the worldWithin days Darsey and Juska received notes of encouragement and donations from people all over the U.S. and even from far away Australia, New Zealand and Italy. “People were sending pictures of their dogs and sharing stories of rescues that they had been a part of,” Darsey told TODAY correspondent Jill Rappaport in a report preceding Walter’s national television debut.
Walter’s saga of survival began April 4. Darsey was walking in his Brooklyn neighborhood when he spotted a puppy being abandoned. “A car deposited him on the sidewalk, then sped away,” he told Rappaport.
The puppy’s smell was so bad that Darsey could detect it 50 yards away. A severe case of mange had robbed him of his fur, and his feet were swollen more than twice their normal size. “I didn’t think there was any chance of him making it,” Darsey said.
But Darsey was determined not to let him die on the street. He took the pup to the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. A veterinarian was dubious about the dog’s chances of survival.
Undeterred, Darsey enlisted the help of Juska in starting a cyber campaign to raise money for the pup, who Darsey named Walter because his wrinkled features reminded him of the hangdog look of late actor Walter Matthau.
Road to recoveryJuska said a wonderful thing happened to Walter just about the time the campaign started: “Once we started a Facebook page, once we started his blog, his spirit turned around overnight.”
And money rolled in — more than Darsey and Juska needed. Now, four months after Darsey first found him, he’s close to a picture of health.
“It’s amazing to think that anything bad ever happened to him, that anybody was ever cruel to him,” Juska told Rappaport. “All he gives is love. He’s not afraid of anybody; he doesn’t shy away from anybody.”
Added Darsey: “I think he understands what he went through. I feel like he expresses his gratitude all the time through his lovingness.”
Currently, Walter splits time between the homes of Darsey and his girlfriend, and Juska and her husband. The extra money the pair raised is being donated to the ASPCA as well as the Cobble Hill vet office, where it will be used to help other pups who find themselves abused and abandoned like Walter.
While Walter is just one happy ending among the thousands of cases of animal cruelty each year, Juska told Vieira she hopes her pet’s success story will inspire others.
“There are a lot of people out there that are animal lovers, and there’s a lot of cruelty toward animals, and I think this story has reached so many people hopefully it will help,” she said.
And in Brooklyn, one thankful dog now has two loving homes. “He’s definitely a miracle,” his vet Dr. Brett Levitzke told TODAY. “He was at death’s door and he’s back and wagging his tail.”