I need another dog like I need a hole in the head. I had 4 in my New York City studio apartment, and it’s a pretty busy place with my three residents and my hospice dog. One very sick and two not house trained makes for a lot of daily cleaning!

And then I met Baron.

I normally don’t interact too much with the “green card” dogs at the shelter I volunteer for, they get a lot of attention and so I focus on the “red cards”, those who only have a small pool of people who can walk them due to their behavioral issues. Super friendly senior Baron is a classic green card, he loves people and has limited mobility – he can barely walk. I was passing by the play pen one day when he was in it and I had Ginger, my spaniel with me. Ginger helps out with tests for dog aggression there and helps me socialize my regulars to other dogs; in many cases she may be the first dog another dog has been allowed to meet in years. And so, passing by the pen, I brought Ginger in. Baron was SO EXCITED to meet another dog, he had been living in isolation for years due to his “extreme dog aggression”, and although he had lousy greeting skills and awkward signalling due to his physical issues he meant her no harm at all and licked and groomed her excitedly.

I was struck as well by the way Baron walked. At 12 years old his mobility is extremely limited by deformities in his joints. I encouraged him to take a few short walks on subsequent visits, following Ginger around. Here’s a video clip of Baron walking when I first met him – he can only go a few steps at a time and when he tires he uses his entire tarsus to support his weight.

I thought Baron had wonderful possibilities for physical improvement and social contact with other dogs, which would improve his quality of life immensely. Now 12 years old, Baron had lived in the shelter since the age of 10 weeks. He’s one of the nicest, sweetest, most people friendly dogs I know. He deserved it.

After ascertaining that the shelter did not intend to further treat his physical issues and most of the staff believed him to be innately dog aggressive, I had a long and sleepless night. I can’t bring home a fifth dog… or can I? He’s easy to take care of. He’s sweet. He doesn’t cause much trouble. And he’s been living in a concrete hole for 12 years.

The next day I took him home.

Far from being dog aggressive, he’s incredibly dog social and loves his time around my other dogs. Here he is playing biteyface with my pit bull, Oliver:

I only crated him when I went to work on the very first day, after that he was out with three of the others while I’m out of the apartment. Never a problem. Loves them, licks them, follows them around, plays with them as best he can.

A few days after he came home we had an appointment with my incredible vet, Dr. Maureen Hurson of City Veterinary Care in Manhattan. Dr. Hurson has been wonderful to Macho, my hospice dog, and has guided me every step of the way for his hospice care. I think she’s getting used to me coming through the door with dogs who are a medical mess.

His physical stuff won’t be easy: his largest problem is extensive malformation of his elbow and knee joints (oddly enough, his hips seem to be fine) accompanied by the typical arthritis in such joints. He has adapted to pain by carrying the bulk of his weight in his front end, his paws splayed out under the strain when he walks. For this he’ll be on an anti-inflammatory and a painkiller – the way he’s learned to walk has shifted the weight off of his back end but it’s also caused muscle wasting, and we need for him to be comfortable to see if we can build that back up a bit. Baron will never walk normally but he may be able to walk more normally with more stamina and less discomfort. I’ve also got him on my standard supplements for dogs with joint problems, Dasuquin and fish oil.

His lesser problems were multiple bacterial skin infections, mild anemia that Dr. Hurson suspects is being caused by a parasitic infestation, and a dry penis that would not retract which puts his penis at risk for irritation and infection. These are all pretty easy to take care of and are being medicated with a re-check coming up in two weeks.

Finally, he has a large cyst/growth in his eye which has been looked at and medicated by an ophthalmologist a few months ago but will likely need further treatment. This is on my list of things to keep an eye on and I look at it every day. For the moment, he still has some sight in the eye and does not appear to be in discomfort – we’ll be doing the scheduled followup for this one unless the appearance changes. His dentistry is also low on the list; he only has a few teeth left.

After a few days on the joint medications we started daily walks, short at first. He has to rest often but he’s starting to get some exercise and he doesn’t hesitate to move around the apartment at will. On his very first walk he decided to tackle the small flight of stairs (only three) that lead into the building and made it up AND down them – I’d never seen him attempt stairs before! Not bad for his first shot.

He also happens to be the nicest boy ever. He is sweet, affectionate and well behaved. He has not a trace of food or toy aggression (and boy, does he love toys!). He loves rolling on his back for belly rubs, cuddling, scratches, and licking the face of people. He loves EVERYONE I have introduced him to. He’s gentle and quiet and non-destructive, and he sleeps quite a bit!

I didn’t think I had room for Baron but I couldn’t have imagined it would work out better. He’s a wonderful guy and I can’t wait to see him improve and flourish – after 12 years, he’s finally made it out. Welcome home, buddy.

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  • You’re amazing. Congratulations on the new addition to your family. He is one lucky boy.


  • What a beautiful dog. How in the world did he languish there for 12 years!

    • jbsibley

      There are more like him there – dogs that have lived in isolation for a decade or more and desperately need to get out.

  • Trudy

    As I wipe my tears I want to say THANK YOU. You’re teaching the rest of us by example.

  • Rose

    You’re wonderful John, thank you. Baron is absolutely beautiful.

  • mikken

    Bless you for giving him his forever home!

    What kind of a shelter keeps dogs for 12 years??? Why aren’t they marketing their dogs to get them into homes? It’s damned unfair to a dog to keep him in a shelter for so long.

    • jbsibley

      Pets Alive took over a shelter that had gone hoarder in Elmsford, NY about a year and a half ago – at the time they had nearly 600 dogs on the property. Now there are fewer than 200 but many of the dogs that remain are seniors, pits, have health conditions, or all three.

      • mikken

        Oh dear heavens. So very sad. Some day shelters will…shelter. Properly.