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Dog dumped in bag on frigid night learns to trust again: 'You're safe'

This dog was zipped into a duffel bag and abandoned in a New York park, where he would have died had he not been saved by determined animal rescuers.
/ Source: TODAY

The dog was zipped into a duffel bag and abandoned in a park on New York's Staten Island on this frigid New Year's Eve. His bed and a tennis ball were in the bag, too.

He would have certainly died there, like other animals left outside in these unforgiving temperatures, had he not been found and saved by a committed team of animal rescuers. These people were not willing to let the small and vulnerable creature perish in such a horrible way.

It was getting dark by the time rescuers left the woods with Thor.Fur Friends in Need

Now that he's safe, the dog has a big name: Thor. Doreen Murphy, Thor's foster mom — one of those who helped get him to safety — gave him the name because it represents strength.

And also because it's a "pun on thaw," Murphy told TODAY. "Like he was thawing out."

Doreen Murphy with Thor at the vet after the dog's rescueFur Friends in Need

It began at just about 2 p.m. on Sunday. Melissa Chapman was about to drive her kids to a New Year's Eve party when she got a disturbing text: Someone had found a dog zipped inside a duffel bag.

The person heard the dog barking, and unzipped the bag to try to save him. But the dog ran off and the individual couldn't get him back.

Chapman, a fixture in New York City's animal rescue world and editor of the blog The Staten Island Family, reached out for help. A team of rescuers sprang into action, armed just with a crude map drawn by the person who'd discovered the dog, and the commitment to find him.

"All these people were not apathetic at all and were determined to get this poor discarded pup to safety," said Chapman.

Rescuers headed out on a frigid New Year's Eve to look for a dog who'd been left in a bag in the woods.Fur Friends in Need

Millie Acosta, with the group Fur Friends in Need, is one of the five rescuers who set out that afternoon.

It took about an hour to find the dog. He was clearly scared and mistrustful, and snapped at the rescuers. It took another hour and a half or so of coaxing and hamburgers before he'd come near.

"He was at Allison Pond in Staten Island. His duffel bag, ball and bed had been placed by a high brick wall out of the path of people. His chances of being found would have been slim," Acosta told TODAY. "Where he was dumped there were no cameras — houses around but no one saw anything."

Once he was finally willing to come close, Murphy, who also volunteers with Fur Friends in Need, lifted Thor off the ground. She wrapped the dog in several blankets and carried him out of the woods and into her car.

Thor finally relaxed on Doreen Murphy's lap on the way to the vet.Fur Friends in Need

"No sooner than I picked him, he relaxed," she said. "He licked my face."

Thor slept on Murphy's lap the entire way to the veterinarian.

"He felt safe, I guess," she said.

The vet said Thor is probably 6 or 7 years old. His heart and lungs seem good. His eyes and hind legs are not in as good condition, but they may get better with care and time — and if not, then with medical attention.

Thor has been living with Murphy, who turned 45 on New Year's Day and works as a public school principal, ever since his rescue.

He is eating well, and loves being with her other dogs — a mix of senior and special-needs dogs. He seems both traumatized and relieved, according to Murphy.

She expects to keep Thor for at least another month, until he has gotten all the veterinary care he needs, and until he's really come to see that his life is going to be good from now on. Then, the dog will go up for adoption. Murphy is going to be very picky about who is selected.

These days, Thor likes to climb into bed and nuzzle his snout into Murphy's neck. He sometimes chases away the other dogs if they're there, too, as if he's guarding his foster mom. She protected him, and now he's protecting her.

Murphy tells Thor, "You're fine; you're safe."

"He's a really, really good boy," she said. "I'm trying to make up for everything he went through."