A Magical Photo Helps a Family See Beyond a Dog’s Deformity and Into His Heart

Zulu the Pit Bull is so much more than his deformed leg, as a portrait by Nanette Martin shows.

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Life can be hard when you’re a little different. And if you’re a homeless dog, a disability can make it pretty darn tough to get adopted. Luckily for a sweet Pit Bull named Zulu, an extraordinary photographer and a loving adopter saw just how special he was.

Zulu was turned in to the Tangipahoa Animal Control Shelter in Hammond, Louisiana, by a man, presumably the dog’s owner. When asked the dog’s name, the man just shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

The Pit Bull was skinny but seemed healthy, other than his two front legs, which were deformed. These dogs have a hard time getting adopted due to their unfair and undeserved reputation as an inherently aggressive breed. When you add in a disability, the chances of being noticed and adopted are slim.

That’s where Shelter Me Photography comes in. Nanette Martin, an award-winning editorial photographer, left her career to take photos of shelter pets full time. She has photographed more than 10,000 dogs and cats in need of homes since 2009 when she co-founded her nonprofit organization, which also offers photography workshops to shelter staff, teaching them how to take better photos of the pets so they have a better chance at getting adopted.

Related: Looking for a creative gift for someone who lost a dog? Here’s our top ideas for meaningful pet memorial gifts.

Nanette happened to be taking photos at the shelter and used her magic to create a stunning photo of Zulu that captured the sleek gray Pit Bull’s loving personality.

“His [original] profile photo was truly awful, and he didn’t have a chance of being adopted,” said Pamela Hill, program advisor for Shelter Me Photography. “There really was no way for a potential adopter to see what a great dog he was. Nanette took a beautiful photo of him, which ultimately led to his placement in an amazing home.”

Zulu's new profile photo caught his soon-to-be-adopter's attention. (Photo by Shelter-Me Photography)
Zulu’s new profile photo caught his soon-to-be-adopter’s attention. (Photos by Shelter Me Photography/Nanette Martin)

That amazing home was with Sarah Gray and Monica Kaskey of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I have no idea why this particular photo ended up on my Facebook newsfeed, but it did, and I immediately fell in love,” said Sarah, speaking of Nanette’s enchanting photo of Zulu.

There was just one problem: Zulu was in Louisiana, nearly 1,000 miles away. “My heart broke, and I prayed that he would find a good home to call his own,” Sarah recalled.

But as Sarah was about to learn, you can never underestimate the power of fate. About a week after she first saw Zulu and fell in love, she saw yet another Facebook post about the dog. This time, Fur Angels Animal Sanctuary, a rescue out of Northwest Indiana, shared that Zulu was being transported to one of its foster homes — just 10 minutes away from Sarah’s mother’s house. It was a clear sign.

“I drove down to Indiana one day and met this handsome guy,” Sarah said. “This was it. He was my ONE. I could see it in his eyes. I took a picture of him and texted it to my wife, Monica, asking if she would be his mommy.”

Zulu, who’s about 6 years old, lives with Sarah, Monica, and three doggie siblings: Dee Dee (Bichon/Shi Tzu), Nora (Australian Shepherd), and Cash (Stafffordshire Bull Terrier). “Zulu keeps right up with them,” Sarah said. “He has no idea that he is a little different. If I take the others for a walk, he wants to go for a walk.”

Sarah and Zulu. (Photos courtesy Shelter Me Photography/Nanette Martin)
Sarah and Zulu. (Photos by Shelter Me Photography/Nanette Martin)

Although Zulu has some physical limitations, he lives life to the fullest. His left leg is completely non-functional (Sarah and Monica call it his “chicken wing”). He can bear weight on his right leg, but he needs to wear a brace to help support his weight. Sarah and Monica bring him in for monthly chiropractic treatments and laser therapy.

“Life with Zulu is pretty interesting, very entertaining, to say the least,” Sarah said. “He is a comedy of errors, yet still so stoic. He is goofy and silly and crazy, and two seconds later, he is sitting in his chair, head propped up on his “chicken wing,” contemplating the meaning of life. We often call him ‘The most interesting dog in the world.’”

Some of Zulu’s favorite things are tennis balls, tearing apart stuffed toys, and basking in the sun. “One time, he was lying out in the middle of the yard, soaking up the rays, and he had about 50 birds on the ground surrounding him,” Sarah said. “Seriously, he was like Snow White! I think he might be Buddha reincarnated.”

Zulu is the one whose life was saved, but Sarah feels like she is the lucky one. “Words can’t express how much he has changed my life,” she said. “He has taught me so much. No matter what shortcomings you might have been born with, no matter your past, no matter the pain you may have on occasion, you can still choose to be happy. Life is about making memories, and my life is so much more enriched because I have Zulu to make memories with!”

Jackie Brown

Jackie is a freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. She lives in Southern California with her husband, son, and adorable Miniature Poodle, Jäger, who is obsessed with fetch and killing all the toys. She is the former editor of Rescue Proud, Dog World, and Puppies 101. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website.


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