Bow-legged, with arthritic hips, a mild case of chronic kidney disease and a date of birth that is anyone’s best guess, Andre smiles as he looks out over the grass on the front lawn of his new home. The tough times behind him, this 8+ year old lab/pit mix is enjoying a new lease on life.
Gone are the years in shelters filled with other dogs competing for attention and awaiting a home. Gone are the days spent in a five-foot wide run and nights locked in a 16-square foot cage for 15 hours at a time. Andre now roams freely in his three-room, air conditioned “apartment,” lounges on a sofa, gnaws on an elk antler when he feels the urge, and sleeps in either of his two dog beds. Breakfast and dinner are served daily and belly rubs are always available.
“There’s nothing he likes more than a belly rub,” says Jim Morganthaler, who along with his wife, Karen, has provided a home for Andre since mid-March.
Andre’s story begins less than a mile from his current home in Harrison, New York, at the former Westchester Humane Society. The circumstances and date of his arrival at the shelter are not known, but it is estimated that he spent six years at WHS before being adopted by a volunteer in May 2013.
An industrial facility in the Bronx became Andre’s new home. There, he was surrounded by dog-friendly employees on a 24/7 basis. But a little over two months ago, he had an “encounter” with a four-legged intruder that led to a deep puncture wound on his lip. This scuffle and the wound that ensued turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Out of town at the time, Andre’s owner put out an emergency request for help. Former WHS volunteer Marisa Inzucchi responded.
“We have a nice community of shelter volunteers who stay in touch daily on Facebook. When I heard Andre needed help, I said I would pick him up on my way home from work in Manhattan, and take him to my dog’s vet in Mamaroneck,” explains Inzucchi.
She was met at the veterinarian’s office by long-time friend Morganthaler, who arrived at her request to pick up Nina, her rescue dog and another WHS “alumnae,” who was there in daycare.
“It was pretty obvious right away that Andre was going to need a place to stay while he recovered,” Jim Morganthaler recalls. “He was stitched up, given a two-week time-released shot of antibiotics, and was going to need pain and anti-inflammatory meds for a few days. Sending him back to a place where no one person had responsibility for him didn’t make sense.”
After discussions with Andre’s owner, it was agreed that Andre would spend the next few days with Jim and Karen. As it became clear that a return to his Bronx home was not in Andre’s best interest and that staying with his owner was not an option, those “few days” turned into an open invitation by the Morganthalers to foster Andre until a suitable new owner could be found.
Finding an owner for an older, large, black-haired dog with existing medical issues is no easy task. With Andre needing to be an only pet – he doesn’t care for other animals – the job became even more difficult. No candidates emerged, so the Morganthalers decided to take ownership of Andre.
“There weren’t many options left. We couldn’t watch him be returned to a shelter or worse,” Karen Morganthaler says. “It was a pretty quick decision and an easy one.”
While the decision may have been easy given the alternatives, the job of caring for Andre is a daunting one. With late night work schedules and long commutes, the Morganthalers needed help to ensure that Andre would get regular afternoon walks and eat dinner at the same time each night. That’s where Inzucchi and other former WHS volunteers have come to the rescue.
“Andre was the first dog I took care of at WHS and he’s had a special place in my heart ever since,” says Inzucchi, who helps out with walks and feedings and whose experience helping Nina adjust from a shelter to home environment has been invaluable in Andre’s transition.
Lisa Russell Walsh, who has volunteered at WHS and various other shelters for three years and now has a dog-walking business, squeezes visits to Andre into her busy schedule and brings her sons, Peter and Danny, along for some play time.
“Andre was my first ‘shelter dog’ love,” Russell Walsh admits. “My sons think he is just the happiest dog around.”
Chris Frigon spent countless hours with Andre at WHS, a relationship that has been renewed over the last few months. Kaila Frigon often accompanies her dad on his visits and she looks forward to her after school “Wednesdays with Andre.”
”Andre is loving and cute and sweet and nice,” Kaila exclaims.
Hilary Giorgi, yet another former WHS volunteer who helps care for Andre, describes a typical greeting.
”You walk in the door and he knows you, his tail starts wagging and he comes right up to you and gives you a love bump. There’s nothing better than seeing him happy, because he really deserves it.”
Andre gets plenty of exercise on his morning and nighttime walks, and thanks to Inzucchi, Walsh, Frigon, Giorgi and others, he enjoys an afternoon stroll or relaxation time on the front lawn or back patio.
”The response and support from friends has been overwhelming,” Jim Morganthaler says. “It really is a testament to both the commitment of these people, and to Andre’s personality and demeanor.”
With Andre’s daily care and social needs under control, the focus now is on his health and behavioral issues – both of which have gone untreated for years. Prescription food is combatting his kidney issues, Omega 3 tablets help with his arthritis, and he recently underwent surgery to remove four broken teeth from his badly neglected mouth and to give him his first ever full dental cleaning. Two benign tumors were also removed from his paw and leg. Plans are also in the works to address his dog reactivity with the help of trainers.
“Bear’s Angels,” a program run by The John and Christine Tortorella Family Foundation, has been instrumental in expediting Andre’s medical treatments and helping improve his quality of life. If ever a dog personified the program’s mission statement – to support those who work together to catch “fallen angels,” animals that are in need of help that fall outside the mainstream rescue services due to age, illness or injury – it’s Andre.
“We are so grateful that Jim and Karen have adopted Andre because we know that Andre will get the necessary medical care and TLC through out his healing process and he will have a wonderful forever family now,” Christine Tortorella says. “John and I became friends with them when we all worked with the ‘falling angels’ at the shelter in NY, where cats and dogs had been seriously neglected and were in need of medical care and love. Andre was one of these. We saw how devoted Jim and Karen were to helping in any way they could. Andre’s story is one of survival actually, and there’s a group of people that worked tirelessly together, at that shelter, that are celebrating Andre’s adoption into the Morganthaler family.
“Whether through fostering, adoption, medical care, training, whatever is needed, there are compassionate people trying to catch the falling ‘angels’,” Tortorella explains. “The mission of our foundation program, Bear’s Angels, is to enable more people to get involved and to help those helping these angels. We will be sharing very real and touching stories about some of these amazing people and organizations and their passion to end the suffering of animals. They are often in desperate need of support, and it can make all the difference to the outcome for these angels. We will work aside others willing to support them.”
Andre is one of the lucky ones. And that gives him plenty of reasons to keep smiling.