The only time the small, reddish, mixed-breed dog named Teddy wears a leash these days is to go for walks with his new owner, Ann Murphy of North Tonawanda. That's a big change for Teddy, who spent the first 21 months of his life tethered by a cable to a ramshackle box outside a house in rural Ohio.
"It took a village to save this one little dog from Harrison County, Ohio," said Robin McClelland, executive director and sole volunteer for the Appalachian Ohio SPCA in Scio, Ohio. The "village," besides McClelland and several other people on both ends of Teddy's journey, included a group called Dogs Deserve Better and a volunteer pilot from a group called Pilots N Paws.
The story began in August, when a woman called McClelland to alert her to Teddy's plight.
"Teddy was tethered outside on a cable with a fairly heavy latch, tied to a dog box that was made of very thin plywood, which had all kinds of garbage on top of it, and he was ignored," says McClelland. Because dogs crave interaction with humans, they suffer when isolated and ignored in a pen or at the end of a chain. Dogs tethered and ignored often become overly protective of their small territory, sometimes dangerously so.
McClelland contacted Teddy's owner, who expressed interest in allowing Teddy to be adopted by a better home. Although the owner and her family owned other dogs, including Teddy's parents, he was the only one tied outside and ignored. The owner supplied a photo of Teddy, which McClelland posted on her Facebook page in August.
It was that photo, cross-posted by a friend, that haunted Ann Murphy.
"Usually I don't look at these things, but I did look at this one, and I just couldn't get him out of my mind," says Murphy. "He was kind of cowered back and his ears were pressed back against his head, and this was [his reaction to] his owner taking a picture of him. And he's got the biggest ears!"
While Murphy was thinking about the foxy-looking little dog, McClelland was negotiating with his owner. The Companion Animal Law of Ohio, enacted 10 years ago, requires that dogs have shelter, "but it doesn't define shelter to the extent that animal advocates would like," says McClelland, so a dog can legally be chained for its entire life to a plastic barrel in freezing and scorching temperatures.
A woman who saw McClelland's Facebook posting contacted a nonprofit group called Dogs Deserve Better, which works to free chained dogs through education, legislation, rescue and rehabilitation. Dogs Deserve Better has its headquarters in Richmond, Va., on property formerly owned by NFL quarterback and convicted dog abuser Michael Vick.
Dogs Deserve Better offered to pay for Teddy's veterinary care – vaccinations, neutering and treatment for parasites and other ailments. But he still needed a home.
And, McClelland says, the dog's owner finally told her, "Teddy deserves more time than we can give him, and we want him to go to someone that can love him."
While Teddy's future looked brighter, Murphy kept wondering, "Why is nobody stepping up for this dog?"
Finally, says Murphy, "I told Robin McClelland, ‘Just send him to me.' I couldn't believe that nobody had taken this 22-pound dog."
There were still a few hurdles, however. McClelland didn't want to send Teddy to an owner she knew nothing about, so Cindy Caccese, a volunteer and board secretary for the Lockport rescue group Diamonds in the Ruff, met Murphy and her two dogs, Brandon, 12, adopted from the Cattaraugus County SPCA after he was struck by a vehicle, and Abby, 3, adopted from Paws and Claws in East Aurora, who only has one eye. "I like the misfits, I guess," says Murphy.
McClelland then approved the adoption.
But she still had to get Teddy to New York, since most dog rescue transports only deliver to other resues.
She posted a "ride wanted" notice on a message board operated by Pilots N Paws, a South Carolina group that links up some 3,000 volunteer pilots with homeless animals that need rides, transporting about 12,000 animals each year.
"Within hours, I had a pilot offer," says McClelland.
With a ride planned and a home at the end of it, Teddy's owner dropped him off at the veterinarian's office for treatment paid for by a Hero Grant from Dogs Deserve Better. Thin, timid and crawling with fleas, the young dog was photographed standing on the exam table. This time, his head was up and his large ears were alert.
Teddy's transport was planned for Oct. 27, but rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy. This wasn't all bad, because it gave him a week to recuperate.
Finally, on Nov. 3, McClelland and her ex-husband, Vic, picked up Teddy for his journey.
"Teddy was timid, a little skittish when I picked him up to put him in the truck, but on the short ride he was licking Vic's ear as he was driving; he's just a real sweetheart of a dog," says McClelland.
At the New Philadelphia airport, Ross Edmondson, a 28-year-old pilot, and his father, Ron, who was visiting from Edmondson's native England, met Teddy and a coon hound named Louie, who also needed a ride to New York.
"I love flying to new places and meeting new people, and the opportunity to help animals while doing it makes it all the more satisfying and purposeful," said Edmondson, who moved to the United States three months ago for work.
Edmondson said, "Louie slept most of the way, and Teddy spent a lot of the flight with his front paws on my shoulder trying to stick his head out of the window!"
At the Niagara Falls International Airport, Murphy welcomed Teddy and took him home, where he has settled in well.
"It was a huge leap of faith for him to trust people," Murphy says. "He doesn't have any manners, but he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He could have come with all kinds of issues, such as food guarding, and he has nothing, he is too sweet. He will still cower occasionally if I reprimand him – he likes [to grab] shoes, Q-tips, paper towels. He's just acting like a puppy."
Although Teddy was never house-trained, "He's been good from the get-go," she says. "We have had one mistake."
Murphy is perplexed by the circumstances in which Teddy spent his life until she got him. "I don't understand the mindset of getting a dog and keeping him outside," she says. "That's one extreme, and I am probably the other extreme: ‘You want to get up on the couch, go ahead!' ?"
Teddy's days at the end of a cable may be only a dim memory. "I think that might be why he runs crazy circles in my backyard," says Murphy.