Worth the Wait: Leo’s Story

Leo's story: black and tan bully breed missing fur stands in living room looking out patio door.

Our staff was heartbroken by the sight of Leo’s condition when he first arrived at the Humane Society of Utah in early 2022. Leo, a four-year-old bully breed mix, was severely malnourished and suffering from what appeared to be extreme allergies, which had led to hair loss and skin infections all over his body and in his ears. As a result of these infections, Leo’s body was covered in swollen red sores, pustules, and scabs. After our medical team assessed him, their number one priority became to help Leo gain weight and clear up his painful skin and ear infections as best they could.


Concerns of refeeding Syndrome

Unfortunately, due to Leo’s severe malnutrition, our medical team had concerns of refeeding syndrome, a severe and potentially fatal condition caused by sudden shifts in blood electrolyte levels. Since food deprivation changes the way one’s body metabolizes nutrients, there can be an abrupt electrolyte change when fat metabolism switches to carbohydrate metabolism in malnourished patients. To prevent this, HSU had to re-introduce food slowly. As a result, Leo’s healing process was prolonged and his energy low, but he made progress. 

Due to his severe medical issues, Leo was placed in our foster care program for a longer-than-average stay. His foster guardian and HSU’s Behavior and Training Manager, Anjela Sullenger, said, “He’s settling in with me and tolerating his new regime of taking medicated baths for his skin very well. He has become very affectionate with me and wants me  to sit and cuddle with him all day, which is very sweet.”


Leo's story: a severely malnourished black and tan dog stands looking out patio door. The dog is missing much fur and all ribs can be seen.

Leo’s true personality shines through

Anjela brings him to work with her every day to support Leo’s mental and emotional health. At our Pet Resource Center in Murray, Leo follows Anjela everywhere while hanging out at her office. If Anjela has to step out for a minute, Leo patiently waits by her office door for her to return. While at home together, their favorite thing to do is to sit and cuddle on the couch and catch up on Anjela’s favorite TV shows.

Anjela shared, “Leo gets along very well with my two dogs, although he is not interested in playing at the moment and not really up for much exercise. But I have high hopes that he will become more playful as he starts to feel better.”. 

HSU’s Resource Center Veterinarian, Dr. Meredith Bleuer, has been part of the team to help Leo recover. She adds,  “malnutrition is not only detrimental to metabolic function, but can also lead to many secondary problems such as skin abnormalities, delayed wound healing and major organ dysfunction.  It is important to ensure pets receive proper nutrients with a nutritionally balanced diet.”  



Worth the Wait

Over the next two months, Leo would require further visits with specialists to help get to the root of his skin issues. While visiting with the dermatologist veterinarians at Blue Pearl, it became apparent that Leo was suffering from an autoimmune skin disease. Luckily, he could make a full recovery with proper medication. While in Anjela’s care, Leo steadily began to gain weight, and his splotchy, scab-filled coat was eventually replaced with soft, velvety fur. 

Although Leo’s road to recovery has been long and challenging, our dedicated team, who never gave up, is happy to report that he was adopted on March 26th! He now spends his days cuddling with his new family and doggy friend on the couch. Leo is an excellent reminder that while most transformations don’t happen overnight, they are worth the wait when they finally do – and it’s important never to give up hope.  

A Love Story From Texas to California

Six-year-old Jaeger’s story began in El Paso, Texas. While we don’t have many details of his early life, we know that he was a frequent flyer at the local animal shelter and found himself there numerous times. After spending an unknown amount of time in El Paso, Jaeger was transferred to the Humane Society of Utah in June of 2021 for a second chance at life.

Filled with energy and enthusiasm, Jaeger arrived at HSU ready to find his perfect match. Our staff quickly picked up on his quirks and started making a plan as to what type of adopter would suit him best. We found that he had lots of energy and needed an adopter who could help him stay stimulated mentally and physically. He also wasn’t house trained and would need a refresher on doggy etiquette, so finding a patient adopter was vital.



During his stay

Jaeger worked closely with our behavior team and was learning more every day. We knew finding the right fit for him might take some time, but seeing him with a loving family would be well worth it.

From June to September of 2021, Jaeger was adopted and returned three times. There were various reasons for Jaeger not being a fit for each of these families. However, it also gave us more information about who would be a good fit for him.

Jaeger continued to work with our staff and volunteers on a daily basis who took detailed notes of his personality and behavior. He became a staff favorite and was loved by every person in the building! Everyone was rooting for Jaeger to find the best home possible and was prepared to do whatever it took to get him adopted.



Fast forward to the end of September

It began as a typical day but little did we know, it would end up being an unforgettable one for Jaeger. A woman walked into our Adoptions Center and talked with our staff about the type of dog she was looking for. After introducing her to several dogs and learning more about their personalities, she laid her eyes on Jaeger. With his vibrant red coat and puppy dog eyes, she couldn’t resist taking him out to the play yard to see if they’d be a good match.

A short time later, she brought Jaeger back inside and insisted that he was the one for her! Filled with excitement, our staff gave her a rundown of Jaeger’s history, enjoyments, and struggles, emphasizing the importance of him finding the right fit. The potential adopter was sure she could help Jaeger become the good boy he was destined to be and started filling out the paperwork.

Only a week after taking Jaeger home, we received this message:

“Thank you so much to you amazing humans. It has been a little over a week since I adopted Jaeger, renamed River. He is exactly what I was hoping for and more. He’s definitely a cuddle bug but loves his walks, especially with our next door neighbor’s dog who is his new best friend. I love him so much and as much as I wish he wasn’t adopted and returned three times before me, I’m glad they brought him back so I could give him an amazing home and all the love I have.”



Worth the wait

We were elated to see that Jaeger (renamed River) had finally found his perfect match. We kept in touch with his adopter throughout the following months and learned that they had moved to California together. She expressed how she was so glad to have River by her side through the move and that he behaved perfectly through it all. “River has been with me every step of the way,” she said. “He was a champ and enjoyed the car ride more than I did! So far, he loves going for walks more than ever because it’s warm and there’s still light later in the day. We have yet to go to a beach out here but I’m positive he’s going to love it!”

Stories like this show that even if a dog has tried out multiple homes and bounced around from shelter to shelter, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find the right fit. Jaeger (renamed River) would never have met his current family if he didn’t wind up at the shelter in El Paso, been transferred to us, and returned three times before meeting her. Some dogs may take a little extra effort when finding a home, but in our minds, we think it’s worth it!

Butch’s Story

Butch laying on his back with a silly look on his face

Lisa and her fiancé, Austin, came to the Humane Society of Utah during our Mountain America Credit Union Fall in Love adoption event in November 2019.  They had no intention of adopting a dog – they just wanted to see all the gorgeous pet faces and be surrounded by the excited families who had come to adopt that day. 

Then, they saw a photo in our lobby of a dog named Butch that needed a foster home. He was black and tan colored, one and a half years old, and looked like a hound, lab mix breed. There was something about Butch that drew Lisa Ann and Austin in, so they made their way over to our foster department to inquire about him. 

Butch and his x-ray of the bullet fragments

“Your foster team warned us that day that Butch did not like tall men, especially tall men in hats, which is the exact description of my fiancé,” Lisa explained. “But when they brought him out to us, he and Austin connected right away.  We knew we had to take him home even though we still had no plans to adopt another dog.” 

Butch needed foster care because he was sick with kennel cough and very malnourished. He also had bullet fragments in his shoulder. Since he had been transferred from a shelter in Texas, we had no information on his injury, but our medical team said that his leg would have to be amputated if his shoulder didn’t heal properly. 

They brought Butch home that day, and he and Austin continued to bond.  “He would get so excited whenever Austin came home from work. Every single morning when Butch would hear him wake up, he’d shuffle out from under the bed, hop up, and shove his face in between his neck and shoulder to get morning cuddles. Now, they’re best buds!”

Eventually, Butch’s kennel cough cleared up, and his leg healed. Our medical team assessed him again and saw that an amputation would not be necessary after all. Butch was finally healthy, and he became officially available for adoption on December 7, 2019. 

Butch on a shore with another dog

“By then, he’d spent almost a month with us, and we knew we had to keep him. He’s just so goofy! I had no idea that a dog could love balls THIS MUCH. When we wake up in the morning, the first thing he does is get cuddles from dad, then immediately finds his ball and brings it to us. It’s a fun party trick to show our friends that he will choose the ball over breakfast, food, walks, or anything else you can offer him.”

Butch is now three and a half years old, and he can walk, run, and jump just fine. His leg and shoulder barely bother him at all. And he has begun associating tall men in hats with his dad, so much so that if he meets one in passing, he will get excited and try to greet them. He also has a dog sister named Gracie, with whom he loves cuddling and going on walks, and playing fetch. 

“We are just so happy we brought him into our family,” Lisa shared. “He’s really an example of not always getting what you’re expecting. We had zero thoughts of adopting a dog that day and just wanted to look at all the animals you had available. The second we saw him, we knew he was meant to be with us.” 

A Gotcha Day Celebration!

Ryan and Lauri Vincent have fostered homeless dogs for the Humane Society of Utah for nearly two years, including senior dogs and three-month-old puppies with mange. Fostering is how they met Faith, their friendly and playful, nine-month-old pit bull breed type pup.

“Faith was around three days old when we first met her,” Lauri explains. “She had to be fed Pedialyte through a syringe, or she would die. This experience bonded our family so intensely that it felt like she was our baby in a way. So we decided to make her a member of our family.” 

On August 1st, Ryan, Lauri, their son Daniel and Faith attended our first annual Gotcha Day event, presented by Mountain West Veterinary Specialists (MWVS). This free event celebrated HSU adopters and included food vendors, photo-ops, live music, and an interactive community art piece. Plus, a birthday cake and puppuccinos for all the dogs in attendance!

“Most people who adopt pets don’t know the exact date their pet was born. We wanted to create an opportunity for our adopters to be able to observe their pet’s unofficial birthday. August 1 is “Dogust: The Universal Birthday for Shelter Dogs, so it was the perfect day to celebrate together with our adopters.” explains Kaya Nielsen, our Events & Merchandise Manager. An adoption anniversary is typically called a ‘gotcha day,’ and throwing a party to celebrate the occasion has become common among adoptive pet parents. 

According to the American Pet Products Association, an estimated 1.7 million people throw Gotcha Day parties for their pets every year. Since 46 percent of individuals in America adopt from rescues, humane societies, and animal shelters, many people throwing parties for their pets don’t know their birthdays, which is why these events have become so popular over the years. 

Kirsten Gull, the owner of MVWS and longtime Utah Humane supporter, says, “We were so happy to sponsor this birthday celebration because we are always looking for ways to help our animal friends and make our community a better place.”  

For those interested in throwing an epic gotcha party for their rescued pet, we recommend coming up with a theme, ordering pupcakes from your local pet-friendly bakery, and getting party favors and food for the humans. 

If you’re hosting an outdoor party during the hot summer months, as we did, be sure to put out plenty of cold water and some plastic baby pools in your yard so your party guests and pets can go for a dip.

There is no place like home, Will’s story

Will, a four-year-old Australian Shepherd, needed surgery, and soon. He came to our Animal Resource Center suffering from severe bladder stones. As a result, he wasn’t eating or drinking and was at high risk of acute renal failure. For Will to regain his health, our veterinarian recommended urgent surgery to remove the stones. The estimated cost of this operation was $3,400.   

His family stressed that they would do anything to ensure Will lived a long and healthy life — but unfortunately, they couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery. 

“We wanted to keep him, of course. Will is a valued member of our family,” explained Jystine, Will’s guardian. “But we couldn’t afford the procedure to remove the stones, which would mean putting his life in danger. We didn’t know what to do or what our options were.” 

That’s when Jystine contacted the Humane Society of Utah for help. Our Admissions Team determined that our Pet Retention Program could assist Will’s family best. The program provides resources to pet owners who wish to keep their pets but are experiencing financial hardship. In addition, resources are offered to people and pets who genuinely need them and include food, medical care, or behavioral services.


Due to Will’s dire situation, our staff scheduled him for an urgent bladder stone removal operation. Stressed and worried about their pet, Will’s owners called to check on him every four hours. They wanted more than anything for Will to recover and return home as soon as possible. 

Fortunately for Will and his family, the surgery was a success, and after just one day of recovery, Will was able to go home. But due to the global pandemic, so many families like Will’s are struggling to make ends meet. 

And too often, when loving owners can’t afford food, medical care, or other essential care for their pets — they feel surrendering them to the Humane Society of Utah is the best or only option.


“While we have a great facility, and we work hard to provide the best possible care for the animals who come to us, a shelter is still a stressful place for any animal,” says Amber Henry, our Admissions & Placement Manager. “We’d much rather keep pets and people together, if possible.” 

Since then, Will’s owners have expressed their sincere gratitude to our team, who helped save Will’s life and make it possible for them to afford the costly surgery. Learn more about our Pet Retention Program at UtahHumane.org/petretention.