Update, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m.: Duke has officially been adopted by U.S. Army Officer Wallace White.
Duke was found tied to a tree in a Maryland park on a frigid morning last weekend, along with a heartbreaking note from his former owner explaining that the big white dog needed a new family.
"It essentially said: 'This is Duke; he has his favorite toy, his crate and his food, and he needs a new home and someone to love him,'" Stephanie Dagenhart, who discovered Duke, told TODAY.
Dagenhart was out walking her own two rescue dogs early last Sunday morning. She recalled it being so cold she was barely able to feel her hands and feet.
The 32-year-old public school teacher in Baltimore almost didn't believe her eyes when she saw the dog, shaking from the cold and likely also from fear, tied to a tree at a local park.
"I was stunned. I literally looked left, looked right, looking for someone who might be his owner — like I couldn’t believe what my brain was telling me," Dagenhart told TODAY.
The dog was surrounded by some of his belongings, including a crate, some food and a chew toy. He wore a collar bearing the Natty Boh man, an iconic Baltimore symbol of a one-eyed man with a handlebar mustache for National Bohemian Beer. About 10 feet away on the grass was the note explaining the terrible situation.
Dagenhart dialed 911, and posted about Duke to a neighborhood Facebook group to see if anyone recognized him. She called her fiance, asking him to come and collect her dogs so she could attend to Duke.
Understandably, Duke was wary. He gave a low growl. Once her dogs were on their way home, Dagenhart sat on a nearby bench while saying Duke's name and trying to reassure him.
Other neighbors, who learned of Duke on Facebook or otherwise, came to provide support. They sat with Dagenhart, and brought towels and treats for Duke. No one recognized the dog, which makes Dagenhart believe he probably isn't local.
"This is such a dog-loving neighborhood, I feel like he would have been immediately recognized if he was from around here," she said.
A police officer came about 50 minutes after Dagenhart called 911; it would be another 10 minutes until animal control arrived for Duke. Only after Duke was safe did Dagenhart worry about her own extremities.
She gave the officer the note. Duke hadn't allowed her to get close in all their time together, but she felt confident he'd be in good hands once he got to BARCS, Baltimore's animal shelter.
Duke has been at BARCS since Sunday. While he was initially very cold, Duke seems, overall, like he's in good shape. Spokesperson Bailey Deacon told TODAY he is basking in attention from staff and volunteers.
She describes Duke as a "big mush."
"While I’m sure he’s confused about his situation, he is very trusting and enthusiastic to meet new people," said Deacon. "His smile is infectious and his tail is always wagging. He’s the type of dog that thinks everyone in the room or walking by is there specially there just for him."
Deacon emphasized that even though he's now OK, Duke shouldn't have been abandoned in the park. On top of it being illegal to abandon a dog in this manner, his former owners could have brought their pet to BARCS directly for whatever reason. He'd have gotten the same love and care from the shelter's staff as he's getting now. It's what they're there for.
"We want to remind pet owners that should they ever need to give up their pet, open-admission shelters like BARCS are a community resource. We welcome all animals into our care without judgment," Deacon said.
Duke will go up for adoption at the end of the week. That's when a legally mandated "stray hold" is up. (Dogs given up directly to the shelter by their owners can be adopted right away; those who come in with more uncertain backgrounds, like Duke, have to wait.)
Thanks to a lot of news coverage of Duke's story, there's already a line of people clamoring to adopt him.
"People from across the nation are falling in love with Duke and offering to give him a home," Deacon said.
That's just what Dagenhart likes to hear.
"His resiliency is a beautiful thing," she said. "He deserves a red carpet out of that shelter. All of them do."