Skinny dog blossoms in foster home

Rico the dog, sitting outside and smiling
Rico was stressed and kept dropping weight, but a loving foster home was just what the doctor ordered to help him bulk up and feel safe.
By Karen Asp

How Rico ended up on the streets is a mystery. But as soon as animal services in Los Angeles picked him up, one thing was obvious: This roughly 6-year-old dog was seriously underweight.

Rico’s story is similar to countless pets like him across the country, and before the no-kill philosophy became common, Rico likely wouldn’t have made it out of a shelter at all. Fortunately, though, today more shelters than ever have no-kill programs that save dogs like Rico.

Yet while shelter staff and volunteers did everything in their power to get him healthy and adopted, time passed with no luck. So they transferred him to Best Friends for continued care and a fresh start.

Finding Rico

What Rico lacked in weight he made up for in personality. The staff at the shelter where he was taken reported that he was an affectionate, well-mannered dog who enjoyed being around people and even other dogs. In playgroups, he was friendly and sociable.

But he still wasn’t eating well and continued to lose weight — about a pound a week. Best Friends’ veterinary team ran tests to rule out any underlying conditions and found nothing awry.

“He couldn’t get his bearings,” says Ana Pulido, Best Friends senior coordinator of lifesaving outcomes in Los Angeles. At first, he wouldn’t easily enter or leave his kennel, pancaking to the floor when staff attempted to get him to move.

[Skinny bundle-of-love dog gains weight, then a family]

Even though he was affectionate and well-mannered, he didn’t have much interest from potential adopters. “In his kennel, he looked sad,” Ana says. “Because he wasn’t engaging people much, I took him home for a two-night sleepover to observe him.”

The strategy worked, as Rico instantly perked up. “Even just a two-night foster break can be huge for a dog like him because you can see the change immediately,” Ana says. She learned that he was house-trained and had probably been in a home before. And once he was more relaxed, he alternated between napping and asking for cuddles. It was obvious he would do well in a home, and because he still needed to plump up Ana went looking for a foster home to see whether that might change his course.

A love for older dogs

Two years ago, Karla Valenzuela and her two kids suffered a devastating loss when their 12-year-old pit bull terrier mix, Luke, died. They decided it was time for another dog, but before they committed, Karla wanted to foster. She had already fostered a puppy for a few weeks for Best Friends, but she was now interested in an older dog. When she saw Rico’s picture, she fell in love, especially when the staff explained how calm and friendly he was.

When Rico came to her house, his loving side instantly came out. “Although he was shy, he put his head on my hands,” she says.

Karla’s main task? Help Rico gain weight. Best Friends’ veterinary team provided her with medication and a specific diet to help him put on some pounds.

[Skinny puppy is now living her best life]

One favorite calorie bulker? Kongs stuffed with peanut butter, which eventually became a daily treat. Rico, in fact, became such a food lover that Karla had to make sure he wasn’t overeating. Over the course of the next five months, she also took him several times to the vet team for checkups.

During this time, Rico shed his shyness and let his true personality shine. “One time we even heard him bark, and because it was the first time he’d done that, we all looked at each other and laughed,” she says.

As can happen with foster pets, Karla and her kids fell in love with Rico — so much that they couldn’t part with him. “I knew I would get attached when I started fostering him,” says Karla.

Since then, Rico has been living his best life. He’s more outgoing and loves walks as well as peanut butter and bananas. He enjoys playing in the water at the beach and snuggling with his people when he’s relaxed.

And his weight? Although Rico will always be on the slimmer side, he’s gained enough that it’s no longer a worry. Turns out love really is powerful medicine.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

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You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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