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After they saw her adorable photo, at least 20 people expressed interest in adopting Tootsie, a tiny chocolate lab mix puppy.

About 10 people filled out applications for the pup, said Julie Masterman, president and founder of Sadie’s Safe Harbor Canine Rescue in Springville.

Three families made the final cut and were invited to meet Tootsie.

But when a veterinary exam revealed that she would need heart surgery, two of the families backed out.

Jill and Brian Madurski, of Dunkirk, wanted her anyway.

“I will never forget the words they said for as long as I live,” said Masterman. Jill Madurski “called me and said, ‘We still love her and want her, and even if she can’t be fixed we will give her a loving home for however long she has.’ Needless to say I was floored. This was Tootsie’s family. It was just meant to be.”

The pup is scheduled for heart surgery Thursday.

Tootsie was the only female in a litter of four named for candy bars after Sadie’s Safe Harbor Canine Rescue pulled them in February from the Yadkin County Animal Shelter in Yadkinville, N.C.

When the family, which includes the couple’s 4-year-old son, Alex, got the news about Tootsie’s heart ailment, Jill said, “I told Brian, ‘I don’t care if we have her a year, or we have her 14 years; she needs to come home with us.’ ”

The Madurski family already had coped with canine medical issues. Their black lab, Morgan, now 11, had a stroke a few years ago and temporarily lost the use of her back legs. The Madurskis used a harness to help her walk for a while until she recovered. The only side effect is that now she hops when she runs, Jill Madurski said.

Tootsie’s condition is patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA. A vessel that supplies the pup with nutrients before birth fails to close completely after birth, so the pup’s blood does not take the normal route.

The condition “is not common but not rare, either,” Masterman said. “You won’t find this in a puppy from a breeder because it’s expensive to fix, and they will just destroy the dog.”

Masterman established Sadie’s Safe Harbor Canine Rescue in 2006 and named it after her first rescue dog. Through the years, the registered charity has established relationships with high-kill shelters in other parts of the country, including the Yadkinville shelter.

The person who owned the mother of the litter turned them in when they were just over 5 weeks old but kept her. Masterman said the shelter has a program in which they accept litters if the mother is spayed, preventing further unwanted pups.

“We had to make a quick trip for them,” she said. With the sponsorship of car-rental company Enterprise Holdings, she said, “We get our own van and drive down and back, 10z hours each way.” Other dogs were brought here on that transport, too, said Masterman. “If we’re going, we fill the van,” she said.

The litter – which included males named Rolo, Heath and Symphony – were placed with Molly Pace and Nicole Kuslik of Hamburg, in one of the rescue group’s 35 foster homes. “This rescue would not be as successful as we are without the dedication of our fosters and volunteers,” Masterman said. “Grateful doesn’t even begin to cover the feelings I have for the entire group. I’m blessed, and I know it.”

About a week later, the pups’ photos were placed on Petfinder with the note that they were not ready to be adopted yet, but would be available when they were 10 weeks old and had had their vaccinations.

At the pups’ first veterinary exam in late February, the vet detected a heart murmur in Tootsie, and recommended that she have an ultrasound “to find out whether this was something repairable or not, or even whether it might just go away on its own,” Masterman said.

As Tootsie’s veterinary care progressed, so did the steps for her adoption. The Madurskis made a great impression on Masterman when they met her. “We see how the puppy interacts with them, how comfortable they are with handling the puppy, do they ask intelligent questions,” she said. “And when you ask them questions, they should be able to tell you how they plan to exercise and train the dog.”

Alex’s behavior, in particular, impressed Masterman. “Their child is young but was extremely well-behaved,” she said. “He properly handled the dog and listened very well to his parents. When you are going to put a puppy in a house with children, you need to know that the children are going to be respectful and not mishandle the puppy.”

A few days later, the ultrasound allowed the veterinarian to diagnose Tootsie’s condition as fixable with surgery, which Madurski said is “99.9 percent successful.”

At the end of March, Tootsie went to live with the Madurskis. She is best friends with Morgan, but the family’s cat, Sylvester, 7, while tolerant, is unimpressed by the pup. The dog will legally belong to Sadie’s Safe Harbor until she is healed and cleared by her vet.

Supporters and volunteers of Sadie’s Safe Harbor have raised most of the $3,500 needed to pay for Tootsie’s surgery and follow-up care. “There was never a choice to be made in my mind. If she could be saved, we would find the way to do it,” said Masterman.

Tootsie acts like a typical puppy, said Jill Madurski. “You would never know that there was anything wrong with her, she has so much energy.”

Before Tootsie came to live with them, said Jill, “Every day, my son would ask about her. Julie would send pictures, and I would print out a picture so he could see her every day.”

Now, she said, he is aware of her medical problem. “He knows she has a broken heart, and that she has to go have it fixed.”

email: aneville@buffnews.com