How a Sick Dog Saved His Foster Mom From an Intruder

When a man broke into Dorito’s foster home, he scared him off and earned a forever family.

Dorito the German Shepherd didn’t know much about the home he was living in. He’d spent just four days in it, recovering from surgery near the back of house. The former stray turned foster dog wasn’t sure he belonged there, but he knew the stranger who burst in through the back door definitely didn’t. This person wasn’t the man who’d pulled him from the shelter, or the woman who’d sat with him all night when a storm knocked the power out.

This unknown human was a threat to the kindest people Dorito had ever known, and the 8-year-old dog wasn’t going to be quiet about it. His recovery cone amplified the barking that brought Theresa Cavanaugh running to the back of her house, but not before it scared off the would-be home invader.

“He may have saved our lives. I feel like he returned the favor,” explains Theresa, who was home with her then-teenage son that Saturday morning back in June 2011. Her boyfriend wasn’t there, and she shudders to think what he could have come home to if it hadn’t been for Dorito.

“My house would have been robbed, and God knows what would have happened to us,” she says.

These days, Theresa refers to Dorito as her soulmate and best friend, but before the break-in she was determined to call him a foster dog. With two dogs at home already, she never intended to keep Dorito forever. He’d come into her life unexpectedly after a Facebook friend shared his shelter listing. The friend was in New York, but the dog was at Miami-Dade Animal Services, just an hour and a half from Theresa’s home in Lakeworth, Florida.

Having hosted a few short-term foster dogs before, Theresa felt she could help get Dorito out of the shelter and use her connections as a rescue volunteer to find him a forever home. Her boyfriend offered to drive to Miami to retrieve Doritio — something that turned out to be easier said than done.

According to Theresa, the shelter wasn’t planning on putting Dorito up for adoption — he was deemed too sick and was slated for euthanasia.

“He was full of ticks and fleas, he was covered in motor oil. He smelled really bad. He had a hematoma on his ear and a tumor on his testical,” she says.

After insisting that he wanted Doritio no matter what, Theresa’s boyfriend signed a waiver authorizing him to take the sick animal. Dorito was rushed into surgery — he needed to be neutered and have his hematoma removed before he could leave the shelter — and the next day he finally arrived at his new foster home.

Once Dorito learned to smile he never stopped. Photo courtesy Theresa Cavanaugh.
Once Dorito learned to smile, he never stopped. (Photo courtesy Theresa Cavanaugh)

When the attempted break-in happened a few days later, Theresa knew Dorito was no longer a foster, but a full-fledged member of the family. She nursed him back to health, celebrated his first smile, and watched as he discovered the pool and a passion for swimming. For the first time in his life, things were going great for Dorito — until suddenly they weren’t.

“Five weeks after we brought him home, he came over to my side of the bed one night and he cried out and collapsed like a sack of potatoes on the floor and wouldn’t move,” Theresa recalls.

Dorito had to be carried into the animal hospital on a stretcher. He was hospitalized for three days, but the root cause of his collapse is still a mystery. After returning home, Doritio’s health improved, but odd symptoms like a seemingly sore paw would pop up from time to time. Then, in August 2012, he had another health setback when he started dragging his rear paws. His vet was stumped, and as the dragging got worse, Dorito’s family suspected he could be suffering from Degenerative Myelopathy, a disease common in German Shepherds.

According to Theresa, the disease is progressive, but not painful. Even after losing the use of his back end, Dorito continued to enjoy life for years, something his family credits to great vet care, acupuncture, and especially swimming. For the final 15 months of his life, Dorito’s family members carried his back end for him, wheelbarrow style, but it still didn’t slow him down or keep him out of the water.

Dorito and Theresa -- each would do anything for the other.
Dorito and Theresa — each would do anything for the other. (Photo courtesy Theresa Cavanaugh)

“He would pull us into the pool if we weren’t careful because he was really hard to steer,” Theresa explains, adding that disabled, older dogs like Dorito can still make great pets if given the opportunity.

“He was happy and playing and enjoying life up until the last two days,” she says. “He had a great life.”

She remains grateful for the social media post that convinced her to pull Dorito from the shelter, and to Dorito himself for stopping what could have been a tragic home invasion. Her act of kindness saved his life, and in turn, the formerly neglected dog just may have saved her own.

Top: Dorito and Theresa taking a rest by Topanga Marie Photography.

Heather Marcoux

Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.


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