The German shepherd was lashed to a fence inside an abandoned junkyard. With no food and water, he began drinking his own urine. Part of his right ear was torn or bitten off. A too-small collar was embedded into his skin. Lesions and scabs dotted his back where there should have been fur.
When an unidentified good Samaritan brought the dog through the front door of the Emergency Pet Clinic of San Gabriel Valley last winter, a stench filled the room. Dr. Jeffrey Patlogar took one look and thought the animal needed to be euthanized, immediately, to end its suffering. But almost as quickly, the vet noticed something else.
The dog showed no sign of aggression. Perhaps that's why he had been abandoned, Patlogar surmised. Maybe the shepherd wasn't enough of a fighter, or a defender. There was something else. Kohl-black fur rimmed the dog's eyes and trailed off at the edges, making him look even sadder, more pitiful.
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The veterinarian crouched down. "You look awful," he told the shepherd. The dog replied with a lick.
Judging by the condition of his teeth and gray muzzle, he looked to be 7 or 8 years old. He weighed 53 pounds, about half of what he should have weighed based on his sizable paws and frame. Even if the dog survived, it would take months to nurse him back to health. It would take thousands of dollars.
Patlogar pulled out his iPhone, snapped a few pictures and texted them to his wife: "Can you believe this?" The shepherd looked remarkably like the vet's own dog, Bear, who had recently succumbed to old age. Patlogar made an impulse decision. The shepherd could stay, for now.
But no sooner did Patlogar find a large-enough kennel inside the El Monte practice than he began to second-guess himself. Was he saving the shepherd? Or prolonging its suffering?
Taking the dog home wasn't an option. Patlogar had four rescues. And the kennels inside his practice were already brimming with "projects."
"Realistically, what is going to happen to this guy?" Patlogar wondered.
Each year in the U.S., about 4 million dogs are taken in by public and private shelters. Some are lost. Most are abandoned or strays.
Roughly half will make it out alive.
Dogs with tags, or owners looking for them, usually get to go home. Almost as lucky are the dogs taken in by private shelters, where volunteers work tirelessly to find "forever" homes.
But scarce resources force the nation's public shelters to often make painful decisions.
Younger, prettier and healthier dogs are the ones most likely to be kept alive for adoption. That's why Patlogar and his staff hadn't seriously considered taking the shepherd to county- or city-run shelters, which euthanized a total of more than 29,000 dogs last year.
But by early summer, the clinic staff had reached a crossroads.
The shepherd had been nicknamed Sid, for "skinny itchy dog." It was a suitable moniker. Chronic skin ailments inflamed his back and legs and contributed to his yeasty, acrid odor and ceaseless scratching. An abscessed tooth was eating its way through his right cheek, which would require dental surgery, and blood tests detected a thyroid condition.
The staff had tried to find Sid a home through friends, family, Facebook. They had been caring for him for more than three months and cost was becoming an issue.
Sid had to go.
In one last-ditch effort, the clinic staff turned to Ric Browde, a retired Beverly Hills record producer and client.
The walls of Browde's home are lined with evidence of a career working with the likes of Joan Jett, Poison and Ted Nugent. Most days, though, he is 25 miles away at the county-run Baldwin Park Animal Care Center, serving a community where strays are a rampant problem.
Just one healthy female can give birth to a litter of four to six puppies a year. Continue the multiplication — females in those litters giving birth year after year — and it's clear why the nation has a stubborn problem with unwanted dogs, even though the vast majority of American pets are fixed.
Known for his unorthodox approach to finding homes, Browde once boarded kennels on a private jet headed to France, where small fashionable dogs such as Chihuahuas are in high demand.
As Browde knelt down to meet Sid, it was clear why the dog was still homeless. "Who is going to want a dog that looks like this?" he thought.
Browde began working the phones. The best trait this dog had going for him, other than his gentle nature, was his breed. Browde called and emailed pictures of Sid to rescue groups throughout Southern California. Only one called him back.
Caroline Pespisa, a financial analyst for Southern California Edison, was "scouting" for German Shepherd Rescue in Burbank, helping to identify shepherds that could be plucked from public shelters before they were destroyed.
On June 19 last year, she drove to El Monte to meet Sid. "It's all about appearances, and he did not look good," Pespisa said.