While county and shelter officials on Friday morning said a dying dog's owner reclaimed him days after surrendering him, they later revealed there is more to the story.
Rocco, a 7-year-old pit bull terrier, limped into the Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro on a deformed hind, right leg alongside his owner Sept. 1, the shelter said in a Facebook post.
A full medical workup showed Rocco was suffering from terminal cancer.
The dog had been limping on the deformed leg for five months, and his family couldn't afford treatment, according to Brick City Rescue Co-Founder Stephanie DeVivo.
At their veterinarian's suggestion, Rocco's family surrendered him to the Bergen County Animal Shelter (BCAS).
Knowing there was still hope for Rocco, Brick City Rescue tried rescuing him. The problem was, though, the shelter would not release Rocco to anyone but his owner -- and she needed some convincing, DeVivo said.
And so, DeVivo came up with a plan. She'd convince Rocco's owner to reclaim him, then turn him over to Brick City for a chance at a better life.
Rocco's owner agreed, and BCAS Director Deb Yankow was in on everything.
"The goal of this was to find a path to help the dog," Yankow said. "It was something we all agreed up. It was the best thing to do for Rocco."
And so on Thursday, that's exactly what happened.
DeVivo accompanied Rocco's owner to reclaim him in what she and Yankow both described as an emotional morning.
"I truly believe this is a situation of neglect due to lack of education, but not in a malicious manner, DeVivo said.
"The owners just didn’t know it was this bad and... instead of getting help at an early stage, things just got worse.
"We were trying to do what was best for the dog."
As it turns out, Rocco has osteosarcoma, DeVivo said.
Luckily, she said, he's a fighter.
"He’s pretty mobile," DeVivo said. "He's super friendly and he’s strong. He gets around on that one back leg."
The rescue plans on sending the dog for a CT scan and MRI to see if the cancer spread. If it has, he'll be a hospice case. If not, Brick City plans on amputating the leg so that the pup can get a few more good years in, according to DeVivo.
Rocco is currently being fostered by the owners of Mason's Cellar in Rutherford, DeVivo said. If he does need to be euthanized, his original family will be present, according to DeVivo.
"The dog was ill this was a means of getting him the care that he needs," Yankow said. "It’s a good end to a very difficult story."
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