Rio: A Story of Rescue, Hope, and Trust

By Dr. Heather Kovac

The Rescue

I had been thinking of adopting a small dog for a few weeks, knowing that my geriatric dog at the time was in her golden years of life and hoping it would be easier for my whole family to say goodbye to her having another dog in the house. My co-worker was part of an organization that pulled certain dogs out of high-kill shelters in Los Angeles to try to rehabilitate them and find them homes in the San Diego area. She told me about a little dog that she had gone to visit just the day before and asked me if I knew someone who might be interested. She had no idea I had been considering adopting a small dog. It seemed too much of a coincidence since her rescue group typically only rescued pitbulls and shepherds from the shelters. She was so excited that I might give this dog his forever home. I told her that I wanted my husband and kids to come meet the dog before we decided for sure. We arranged a meeting at a park near her home a few days later. Unfortunately, the dog was very ill with a deep cough and terrible skin problems. He was very pathetic looking but seemed sweet and shy. He was very gentle with me and my two kids but very nervous around my husband. Our family had a prearranged family vacation that next week so my co-worker graciously kept the dog at her home until our return. While we were away, he became sicker and sicker and got into an altercation with one of her other rescue dogs and sustained some injuries. As soon as I got back, we brought him home and began to nurse him back to health.


We named him “Rio” since we adopted him during the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016. Rio had a few health problems. First, he had bacterial pneumonia in his lungs. He was coughing all the time and had low energy. Second, he had severe flea allergy dermatitis and a few wounds on his body from his altercation. The bottoms of his foot pads were essentially worn away and he could barely walk. He was emaciated and also not potty trained. He had never been in a house before. Thankfully, he loved to eat! He would eat faster than any dog I had ever seen. I started him on a course of three different antibiotics, medicated shampoos, and pain medications. He came to the right house since his new mommy knew just what he needed. He loved to sit on my lap. He would crawl right up and curl into a ball and fall asleep. I don't think he had ever had any one on one attention from a person before. We kept him isolated to one bedroom, away from my other dog for a few days until he started to feel better. Once he was well enough, we introduced the two dogs and they were fast friends. Rio was extremely fearful of my husband. He would growl and bark at him whenever he came into the room. He would not allow my husband to touch him or feed him. Clearly, he had been mistreated by a man in his prior life.

Learning Trust

Slowly, over the next two years, he has learned to trust my husband more and more. Just in the last 6 months, he has started to allow my husband to pet him and put on his leash. Of course, I am still his very favorite! He is such a sweet, happy little boy and seems so appreciative of his new amazing life. He has been a blessing to our family and it has been a joy to watch him heal, learn to trust, and get to know what it is like to be a beloved family pet.

Here at The Drake Center, we believe that pets are family. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog or cat’s health, please contact us or schedule an appointment.

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