From a dog out of time, to having the time of his life

Brutus the dog looking up and smiling
After Brutus ended up on the euthanasia list, he came to Best Friends, beat heartworm disease in a foster home, and then found love.
By Nicole Hamilton

When Ana Diaz Covarrubias joined her friends at a bar to watch football one Sunday, her plan was simple: Watch the game, see some friends and call it a night. A bit heartbroken after a breakup, Ana knew an evening out would do her good, even though she was finding it hard to keep a smile on her face.

Then she saw a dog named Brutus who was there as part of a Best Friends in Houston adoption event. Brutus’s massive grin made her want to meet him, but it was his story that made her want to give him a home.

Saving a dog on borrowed time

Early this year, Brutus ended up at a Houston area shelter, where he spent his days hiding at the back of his kennel. The shelter environment was particularly stressful for the sweet, sensitive dog. But that wasn’t the only thing standing in the way of him finding a home. He also had heartworms and would require a regimen of powerful medication and rest to be healthy again.

The longer Brutus remained at the shelter, the more his life was at risk, and when he became one of the dogs who had been at the shelter the longest, his name was added to the euthanasia list. If the shelter couldn’t find somewhere for him to go, that’s what was going to happen. To save Brutus’s life, the shelter sent out an urgent plea for help to Best Friends and local rescue groups. The team at Best Friends, in turn, sent an email to foster volunteers while they worked with the shelter to bring Brutus to Best Friends that day.

When Claire Wolf, a nurse and longtime foster volunteer with Best Friends, read the email, she immediately stepped up to help. Although she’d never fostered a dog with heartworms before, she figured now was as good a time as ever to start. With support and guidance from Best Friends, she was confident that she could help Brutus through his heartworm treatment.

[6 unexpected benefits of fostering a dog during heartworm treatment]

“Foster volunteers like Claire, who open their homes and hearts to pets, are vital to saving lives,” says Deyra Galvan, Best Friends community outreach coordinator in Houston. “It’s because of them that we are able to support Houston’s shelters and help dogs like Brutus.”

Claire, along with her boyfriend, Josh, picked up Brutus on her birthday — an auspicious sign to say the least, because the day she celebrated another trip around the sun was also the day that she helped save a dog’s life.

Help for a dog with heartworms

With Brutus now safe in a home, it was time for him to begin heartworm treatment, which included antibiotics and two injections of a powerful medication, administered by a veterinarian. Claire was determined to make Brutus as comfortable as possible during his treatment, but it wasn’t always easy.

Although Brutus felt good on the days leading up to his injections, Claire could tell he was hurting immediately after he got his shot and the following day, too. In fact, when Josh picked him up from the clinic after his injections, he had to carry Brutus both times because he was so weak he could barely walk. At home, after the injections, Josh carried him from his crate to the backyard to go potty.

[Dog with incontinence, heartworm proves that love always wins]

“With Brutus being such a big dog, it was sad seeing him like that,” says Claire. “My dogs could tell he wasn’t feeling well, so they would cuddle on the couch with him to make him feel better, which was sweet.”

Once Brutus started feeling better after his injections, another challenge arose: keeping him calm in his kennel, a must for dogs going through heartworm treatment. Eventually, the veterinarian increased the dosage of Brutus’s sedative so he’d enjoy napping in his crate. There would be plenty of time for Brutus to run and play to his heart’s content. But for now, his heart needed to rest.

Brutus scores a home

Once Brutus was finished with his heartworm treatment and was free to roam about the backyard, Claire and Josh started taking him to Best Friends adoption events. On the day of the adoption event at the bar, Claire remembers having low expectations of meeting someone who would want to adopt Brutus.

After the football game, Claire and Josh started wrapping things up. But just as they were about to head home, Ana approached them, wanting to know more about Brutus. “She was like a breath of fresh air,” says Claire. “Brutus warmed up to her immediately, and she absolutely adored him.”

The more Ana told Claire about herself, the more Claire thought the two would make a perfect match. “I believed in her and believed they would make each other so happy,” says Claire. Truth be told, though, Ana had no intention of adopting him at first. She had simply seen him from across the crowded room, thought he looked cute in his bandana and wanted to pet him, thinking it would do her some good.

Then Claire told her Brutus’s story, and how he had been on the euthanasia list at a shelter. “She asked me if I wanted to have him over for a slumber party,” says Ana. “I told her I’d think about it.”

On Wednesday of the following week, Claire called Ana. Had she given fostering Brutus any more thought? She had. “I was lonely,” Ana says. “He needed some love. I figured we could make this work.” And after fostering Brutus for about a month, Ana decided to adopt him. “I needed him in my life forever,” she says.

A dog’s road to happiness

Brutus fits so easily into Ana’s life now that it’s like they’ve been together for years. At first, though, Brutus was tentative in his new surroundings, a bit like he was at the shelter. When Ana noticed that he wasn’t eating much, she started eating next to him. That seemed to help, as did support from Claire and the team at Best Friends.

Over the past few months, Ana has watched his personality unfold. “He’s good with other dogs. And with people, he’s shy and will test the waters until he builds trust,” she says. Brutus leans toward being mellow, but with the occasional burst of energy. And he’s smart. Ana even set up a bell near the front door that he has learned to ring when he needs to go outside.

Recently, Brutus stayed by Ana’s side when she had COVID-19, but she wasn’t surprised. It’s his nature to be kind and loving. “I feel like I am so much happier now,” she says. “I wake up every morning with a paw in my face. He makes me laugh all the time.”

[Pandemic pets: Where are they now?]

Brutus loves car rides, so when Ana comes home from her job of teaching high school students, the two of them often hop in the car and go for a drive. (It was Ana’s students who suggested his new name. He was called Bruiser at Best Friends.) The destination doesn’t matter because Brutus absolutely loves car rides.

Sometimes, when she sees Brutus sitting happily in the back seat wearing the big grin that caught her attention months ago, Ana thinks about the road he traveled to get to where he is today, and how he somehow managed to mend her broken heart. “I can’t have a bad day,” she says. “He makes me appreciate every second of my life.”

Foster to help save a life

Give an animal like Brutus the extra support needed to heal, by temporarily opening your heart and home.

Foster a pet

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