An abandoned puppy found floating in a box in a Texas river navigated a dangerous course that led him to a loving forever home.
On Oct. 3, two good Samaritans fished the 2-month-old pup out of the river and took the skinny dog to a nearby animal shelter. Shelter staff determined that the puppy had canine parvovirus, aka parvo — a highly contagious virus that is often a death sentence for shelter dogs. It can also be fatal if left untreated.
When the shelter shared that diagnosis and the news that the staff couldn’t treat the puppy, the couple didn’t let him die. Instead, they drove two hours to Austin Pets Alive!, a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter in Austin, Texas, that has a special intensive care unit to treat puppies and dogs with parvo.
The shelter staff took in the puppy, named him Kayak, and immediately began veterinary care to save his life, according to Suzie Chase, community relations officer at Austin Pets Alive!
“When Kayak came in, he weighed 16 pounds. He was in really, really bad shape,” she told TODAY. “Our medical manager said that he was crashing when he arrived and they had to give him fluids. The next day they weighed him, and he was 18.4 pounds.”
Unvaccinated puppies run the highest risk of contracting parvo, which is expensive to treat and requires isolating infected animals during treatment and for two weeks afterward.
The parvo ICU at Austin Pets Alive! has high survival rates of around 90%, Chase said.
“We will try anything that will help the pets in our care,” she said. “We believe all of them deserve a chance at being in a loving home.”
Kayak is making the most of that chance. After his successful treatment for parvo, he joined a wing of the shelter with other puppies available for adoption — where he was calmly resting when Austin resident Ascencia Barajas arrived with her 3-year-old daughter, Ryanne.
While other puppies jumped and barked as they passed by each kennel, Kayak behaved differently.
“Kayak was just calm, cool and collected,” Barajas, 30, told TODAY. “He was sitting there with his big ol' ears that went to the side. They were just adorable. And when my daughter got close, he didn’t bark at her like the other puppies did. None of the other dogs vibed with Ryanne like Kayak did.”
When she told the Austin Pets Alive! staff that she wanted to adopt Kayak, she was horrified to learn about his close call on the river.
“My first reaction was I wanted to cry,” she said. “I could not understand why somebody would do that.”
On the car ride to his forever home, Kayak sat next to Ryanne’s car seat the whole time. When they got to the apartment, he seemed to know he was home.
“He settled in right away,” she said. “It was like, ‘I have a roof over my head. I have people who love me.’ That’s the type of dog that he is.”
Now Kayak loves playing fetch — he instinctively knew to bring the ball back — eating treats and sleeping in a princess loft each night with Ryanne.
He doesn’t like baths, which doesn’t surprise Barajas given his river journey.
“He’s been through a lot,” she said. “It didn’t shock me that he didn’t like water when I gave him a bath.”
While she’s furious that someone dumped Kayak in a box in a river, she’s grateful to the good Samaritans and wishes their identities were known so she could express her appreciation for all they did to save her beloved dog.
“This couple, whoever it was, drove the two hours to take him to Austin Pets Alive! I wish I could thank them,” she said.
Barajas also hopes people will consider adopting pets from animal shelters because there are so many in need. She intended to buy a German shepherd from a breeder before deciding to first see if there were any available puppies at Austin Pets Alive!
She took an online quiz to see potential matches for her family that then shared descriptions of each dog. She’d worried about being able to find a dog that would get along with her young daughter and is now convinced there’s a perfect pet waiting for any type of household.
“There is a dog there for each family — I promise you,” she said.
Some animal shelters waive adoption fees depending on the circumstances. During November’s Adopt a Senior Pet Month, pet food company Stella & Chewy’s is reimbursing up to $200 of adoption fees for dogs and cats aged 5 and up at any U.S. shelter. Additionally, Embrace Pet Insurance is covering adoption fees for dogs and cats at Best Friends Lifesaving Centers across America through the end of the year.
Ultimately, there can be something special about giving a rescue pet like Kayak a loving forever home, Barajas said.
“It seems like Kayak is very grateful to be in a home — not in the water, not in a box, and not in a shelter,” she said. “You can just tell that he is so grateful to be with us.”