This story begins as many shelter stories do. An owner was moving and couldn't take his dog, so he dumped it at the shelter like it was an old cast-off piece of furniture.
Except in this case it wasn't just one dog, it was two. And as difficult as it is to get one dog adopted from a shelter, getting two adopted together is a mountain to climb, especially when one of them weighs 93 pounds. But these two dogs - Tiberius and Jaeger - were so compelling that countless people came to their aid.
I tell this story in the hope that people will truly understand what it takes to get a dog rescued, and how close each rescued dog comes to being reduced to ashes. I also hope people will realize that a rescue isn't the work of a single person, or a pristine, miraculous event, but takes an enormous network of volunteers who give their time, their money, their hearts and souls to make sure abandonded animals get the loving forever homes they deserve.
Rescue work is complicated, it's emotionally draining, but when it works out and the stars align, it's the best feeling on earth. Because you're not only saving the life of a dog or a cat, but you're changing the lives of adopters too, giving them a new family member to love and cherish and learn from.
A couple days before Halloween, I went to the North Central Shelter near downtown Los Angeles to liberate a dog whose time was up. Paco, a big, sweet pit bull mix, was heading to a home in Indiana to live the rest of his life with a wonderful man named Jim.
But while I was there, the outreach director for the shelter had an huge, handsome Shepard mix dog leashed beside her who was agitated and panting. When I petted him, he calmed and was lovely, a true gentle giant. I asked her about him and she said he'd just been left behind at the shelter the day before and she wanted him to be the featured dog on a morning news show adoption segment, but she felt he was too anxious to handle it. When I asked her more, she told me his name was Tiberius and he'd come in with a chihuahua who was his best buddy. Of course I asked where Tiberius' best buddy was, and I was told that they were kenneled apart.
That just broke my heart. This dog had just lost his home, AND his brother? And they could have comforted each other in this strange and scary place? Too painful. Of COURSE he was agitated.
I said that if the shelter would kennel the dogs together they'd both be a lot less anxious and would probably get adopted sooner. I mean, who doesn't love that visual? A dog the size of a small pony and his sidekick who'd fit in a tote bag? But she didn't seem to want to get into it with me. So I took Tiberius' impound information sheet and told her as soon as I shipped Paco off, I'd start working on Tiberius' behalf. Unfortunately his impound info didn't have the name or the impound number of the dog he'd come in with. That would have been too easy
After Paco stayed with us, and I shipped him to Indianapolis and reveled in his happy landing and happy new home, I contacted another rescuer I know, Cynthia Dofton. I was heading out of town myself, so I asked her to contact the outreach director to ask again if there was anything she could do to get the dogs kenneled together. Cynthia called, and the woman said she couldn't do it. It wasn't her jurisdiction. It was up to the kennel director. And besides, she didn't even know who Tiberius' buddy was.
So Cynthia went through all the listings in the LA Shelters to see if she could find a male chihuahua who came into North Central on the same day as Tiberius - the needle in a haystack. Incredibly, she found two. When I got back to town, I went to the shelter with the two chihuahuas' impound numbers, and asked a kennel worker to look both dogs up in the system and see which one was Tiberius' best pal.
Jaeger. That was who. I asked the kennel director if they could be kenneled together. When I went to visit Tiberius in his run, he was despondent. The picture at the beginning of this post is him, refusing to leave his den, he was so depressed. I was told they would not kennel Jaeger with Tiberius because they feared food aggression, which was absurd, since the dogs were bonded. They'd lived their whole lives together, until now. But at least the shelter tagged them within the system as "best buddies." It was a step in the right direction.
But both dogs had terrible intake photos, and were only listed on the city shelter website, which doesn't do much to help get them a home. The next step was to get them photographed at one of the photo shoots run by Carolee Reiling, who started the North Central Animal Shelter page on facebook, and gives so much of her time and energy and income to helping shelter dogs and cats. Another rescuer I knew, Jody Paul, is one of the bio writers for the dogs and cats on the photo shoots, so I asked them both if they could try to get a photo of the dogs together. But that was a no go. Still, Debbie Zeitman took these two fantastic portraits of the boys, they were posted on the North Central facebook page and the photos and bios were directly linked into each other, identifying them as a bonded pair.
Tiberius even got his own video.
Already the boys had been in the shelter for three weeks, and now the REAL networking could begin. All the North Central networkers, rescuers and volunteers got busy, sharing, begging friends for pledge funds, a foster home, a rescue, a forever home. I visited the dogs whenever I could and every time a rescuer I knew went to the shelter, I asked them to check in on Tiberius and Jaeger. Yoko Furuno, took the incredibly sad photo of Tiberius in his cave, and everyone who checked in on him reported back to me that he was OK, but profoundly sad. He needed OUT. Jaeger, in the small dog kennels, at least had kennel mates, but they weren't his bro, his bestie, Tiberius.
After another three weeks of everyone doing their utmost, it came down to this - the shelter was overcrowded and Jaeger was put on red alert. He had 48 hours before being euthanized.
Cynthia and I decided that if it came down to the wire, and no one would take them together, she'd go get Jaeger and foster him in her home and I'd go get Tiberius and foster him in mine, and hopefully we could reunite them in the future. But Cynthia had an ace up her sleeve. She called a young actor named Lou Wegner, a well known animal rights activist who has inspired teens nationwide to help animals in need. Lou called in a favor at the shelter and Debbie Zeitman arrived once again was to catch these incredible images of Tiberius' and Jaeger's reunion.
The first photo is the first time they'd laid eyes on each other in six weeks, and the last photo is the one that went viral.
It lit up the rescue community, and was shared far and wide. But their savior ended up being close to home.
Mariah Greenburg Roncetti is the director of Hounds of Hope, a local rescue founded by Shelly Mack that's not afraid to take on the Herculean task of finding homes for bonded pairs of dogs. She was contacted by a friend, Andrea Diamant, who had seen the photo, and by late morning of what would have been Jaeger's last day on earth, Mariah swooped in, had the boys pulled from the shelter and had her local transporter, Rebecca Morley pick them up and take them to her vet, where thanks to the generous donations of many, many people, they could board for a while. The money pledged to them bought them time. Literally.
Here they are, their first photo out of the shelter and at the vet.
I'm not the only rescuer who cried like a baby that day. But even though they were safe, they weren't yet out of the woods. Because pledge money only goes so far, and a boarding kennel is not a home. Rescue means rescue, not forever home. There was still more work to do. I promised Mariah I wouldn't give up on these two and would continue to help her in any way I could.
Mariah went straight to work, reaching out to everyone she knew, and she knows a LOT of people. But the boys sat almost two weeks in boarding with no foster or forever home in sight. Mariah visited them almost daily, took them on walks, made sure they were as happy as they could be, and she kept networking. The money was running out, but not Mariah's hope and faith - she has deep reserves of both.
Finally, she found a wonderful home for the boys where they could live the ideal life together - a woman who had been in touch with Mariah in the past regarding other dogs she'd rescued. Elizabeth Covington wanted Tiberius and Jaeger, and had the perfect home and family for them. But there was one complication. She lives in Telluride, Colorado, and we had to get the boys there.
I priced out commercial cargo flights, but we'd have had to raise even more money to ship the boys, buy their travel crates and their travel health certificates. So I reached out to a pilot I know, Sarah Todd, who not only flies for the U.S. Air Force, but for a wonderful charity organization called Pilots & Paws. Through an online message board, Pilots & Paws links pilots who own small private aircraft and are willing to transport shelter dogs with rescues and adopters in other states. Sarah posted our flight needs - 106 pounds of dog needing a flight from LA to Telluride, and miraculously one was available, most of the way.
Josh Rapaport and his wife Katja Wichland were visiting friends in Phoenix and had recently signed up with Pilots & Paws. Animal activists themselves, Josh and Katja founded the Telluride Animal Alliance and run the Telluride Thrift Shop to help fund the group. They happily offered the backseat of their airplane to Tiberius and Jaeger, and now Mariah had to get the dogs to Phoenix by 9AM on a Friday, which was only a day away.
She called a young woman named Carlee Alyssa who immediately agreed to drive the dogs in her little Honda Civic across the desert through the night. The boys were on their way! Arriving at the airport in the morning, Tiberius and Jaeger were introduced to Katja and Josh and loaded onto the plane. Here now, are Katja's photos of their flight, ending with their landing in Telluride and their first meeting with Elizabeth.
Tiberius crosses the tarmac.
The boys are ready to copilot.
A kiss mid-flight for Katja.
Tiberius and Jaeger find comfort in each other.
And finally, on the ground in Telluride with Josh, Katja and their first meeting with Mom.
Throughout the flight, Mariah was sending photos to the entire rescue community as Katja was sending them to her, in real time, and at touchdown, the tears of joy flowed freely.
The boys have settled into their new lives and new home beautifully, and they now have boys of their own.
And snow! For a couple of Southern California dogs, that's a big change, but a welcome one. Because how cold is snow compared to being abandoned? Is it colder than a hard concrete kennel at the shelter? Or colder than being separated from your best pal? Or colder than nights spent alone, listening to dogs around you whine and howl, aching for comfort?
Many might argue that the time and money and effort put into just these two dogs is a waste, and that those resources would be better spent helping the hungry or the indigent. But much more than these two dogs were saved. Every person named here who directly helped in this rescue, and all the others who shared Tiberius' and Jaeger's shelter listing, pledged money and advocated for them, they too were changed by this event. Not one of them will ever look at any task again and think, "No. It's too much. I can't do it." Because now they know they can. As a community.
Every save is a miracle, made possible by people coming together, working as one, toward a single goal. In this case, it was a home for the holidays for two discarded dogs who will be the love of their new family's lives.
From here on in, the story of Tiberius and Jaeger belongs to Elizabeth and her family. It's now theirs to live and to tell. And there's no better ending than that.
Tiberius and Jaeger, happily ever after.