5 Times Adopting a Homeless Animal Saved the Owners’ Lives Too

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Because pets are the emotional, physical, and spiritual gift we didn’t know we needed.

The human-pet connection

When I was living alone in Santa Rosa, California, and running a business division for Intuit, my two cats Wiley and Wilbur were my family. We took care of one another, needed one another, entertained one another, periodically annoyed one another, and unfailingly adored one another. Then, at only ten years old (not very old for a cat), Wilbur was diagnosed with cancer.

Letting go of Wilbur was devastating, and I was heartbroken when the time came to say goodbye. Wiley, my other cat, was bereft too. He and Wilbur were best friends. He had always been happy and well-adjusted, but he seemed lost and adrift after Wilbur’s passing. Wiley and I grieved and healed together.

Day after day, we cuddled and comforted each other, and slowly I started to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Wiley was my safe haven, and I was his. The refuge we gave each other during that sad time carried us both through.

The power of adoption

When people adopt a homeless pet, it’s clear that they are saving the animal from homelessness and adding animal companionship to their lives. They’re obviously providing a far better life for the animal—just look at these dog adoption before and after pictures that will melt your heart. What’s less clear is just how transformational living with and caring for an animal can be for the human. Time after time, people who adopt homeless pets find their own lives being saved too.

That’s just one of the benefits of adopting a shelter dog. And that’s why I created Mutual Rescue, an animal-welfare initiative aimed at highlighting this special bond so that more homeless animals’ lives (and adopters’ lives) can be transformed. I also wrote a book with journalist Ginny Graves about the impact animals have on our lives: Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too (April 2020, Grand Central Publishing). Here are some of the beautiful, life-changing stories I’ve encountered.

Judy and Yuki

judy and yuki pet rescue mutual rescueCourtesy Mutual Rescue

When Judy’s mother passed away, she inherited her nine-year-old cockapoo, Josh. It took some time for the two to acclimate to one another, but once they did, they formed an incredibly strong bond. When Josh died three years later, Judy was heartbroken. For the first time in her life, she began to feel the depths of her choice to remain unmarried and not have children. She experienced a profound sense of loneliness, and couldn’t fathom any dog ever replacing Josh. She assumed she’d never adopt another dog.

A few weeks later though, mired in the depths of despair, Judy knew something had to give. She began searching local shelters for a small dog she felt drawn to know more about, but none of them quite suited her, so she cast a wider net. Within days, she found a group of small poodle mixes in Texas, over 500 miles away from her Sedona, Arizona home. Inspired, she made the trip to the Animal Rescue League of El Paso.

She connected with a small white poodle mix and decided to adopt her. Judy named her new friend Yuki, a Japanese name that means “happiness.” After the long drive home and some acclimating of their own, Judy and Yuki became fast friends, and Judy felt a lightness return to her heart and her life.

“Yuki is the reason I get out of bed,” says Judy. “I know she’s waiting for me and needs me—and I love that feeling. There’s something deeply satisfying about being needed. … She’s like the child I never had. Together, we’re a family.” Don’t miss these other stories of rescue dogs finding their forever homes.

Joe and Meatball

joe meatball mutual rescue pet rescueCourtesy Mutual Rescue

Joe spent 16 years as a fireman and emergency medical technician (EMT) and has been honored for his bravery in risking his life on numerous occasions to save others. One emergency call exposed him to noxious chemicals that later led to repeated strokes. At only 38, the man who had grown accustomed to having the physical strength and mobility to save lives was now unable to tie his own shoes or button his own shirt. He was prone to drooling and couldn’t feel the left side of his face. Worst of all, the strokes left him with debilitating migraines and seizures that would strike randomly.

Before his health deteriorated, Joe was known for throwing spur-of-the-moment parties and jumping in the car for spontaneous road trips. After his strokes, he spent day after day in bed, dangerously depressed. One of his only remaining joys was Lucky, his 12-year-old Dalmatian, but Joe’s wife Kim feared what would happen to Joe when Lucky passed. She didn’t want to wait to find out, so she suggested they add a new dog to the family.

Enter Meatball. Meatball was saved as a puppy from an Afghan war zone and brought to the United States for adoption by the nonprofit Puppy Rescue Mission. Joe and Kim went to the airport to meet Meatball upon his arrival. The moment Meatball emerged from his crate, he peed all over Joe—and Joe burst into his first genuine laugh in months!

Months later, Kim was awakened by Meatball’s panicked barking. She went to see what was wrong and found Joe having a violent seizure. Joe was rushed to the hospital—Meatball had saved the day. And it wasn’t the only time. When Meatball would see or hear Joe having an episode, he would call for help with his alerting bark.

“He’s always there watching me, helping me, making sure I’m okay,” says Joe. “Since I got sick, many of my friends have fallen by the wayside, but this beautiful dog loves me, and that has to mean something. That has to mean I’m worth something after all.” Dogs save lives every day. Check out more shelter dogs who saved their owners’ lives.

Erin and Pippy

erin rescued pig pippy mutual rescueCourtesy Mutual Rescue

Erin suffered a serious concussion after a car accident, leaving her with motion sickness, difficulty concentrating, and no ability to read or watch TV. Erin, a typically very motivated and active person, found all this downtime incredibly challenging. Her saving grace, she says, was Pippy, the potbellied pig she and her husband had adopted a few months before the accident.

Because pigs are social, emotional animals that have emotions just like we do, Pippy was instrumental to Erin’s recovery: “She knew I was in emotional distress, even if I wasn’t crying or acting sad. She watched over me the whole time I was stuck at home. If I was on the couch, she wanted to be in my lap or snuggling alongside me. Pippy knew I was down. She knew I was struggling.”

Once Erin recovered, she and her husband decided they loved Pippy so much that they wanted to adopt another pig. That’s when they learned that there is a huge need for pig rescue in the United States. Most people who adopt pigs don’t know what they’re getting into, and fewer than five percent of adopted pigs end up staying with their original adopters.

“These poor animals are being constantly abandoned,” says Erin. “We were so concerned and upset by the problem that, after we adopted our second pig, Boris, we decided to start a pig rescue, Hog Haven Farm. Pigs are far more amazing than most people realize. They’re one of the most emotionally intelligent creatures on earth—right up there with humans.”

Erin and her husband have now rescued more than 150 pigs, 86 of which live with them at their pig rescue in Deer Trail, Colorado. Meet the man who adopts only “unadoptable” animals—and now has 21 pets.

Kim, Brian, and Lana

kim brian rescue dog mutual rescueCourtesy Mutual rescue

Kim and Brian were devastated by the death of their newborn baby, Aria. For both Brian and Kim, the weeks that followed felt like a bottomless pit of grief. About a year later, still struggling under the weight of despair, they moved from Florida to Texas and bought a home. They had always talked about getting a dog, and now it was possible.

They adopted a German shepherd mix, Lana, from local rescue organization Paws in the City. They began taking her for daily walks and training her together, and spent hours oohing and ahhing over how cute she was. Finally, Kim and Brian had a positive outlet for their grief.

“Every day I still wake up and always think about how Aria’s not here,” says Brian, “but I think with Lana the gift she’s given me is the ability to say, ‘Being happy doesn’t erase Aria’s memory.’”

“Lana coming into our home and the way she has changed us has been nothing short of a miracle,” says Kim, whose story is featured in a Mutual Rescue film.

Thanks to their renewed closeness, the couple came through the worst of times and is now celebrating another new addition to their family with the birth of their son, Noah. Ready to adopt? These are the shelter dogs that will need a home in 2020.


Carol Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue and author of Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too (Grand Central Publishing, April 2020). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities around the world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral and has been viewed more than 100 million times.

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