A sprightly pit bull wanders through the aisles of a store that features an assortment of doggie toys, from fluorescent-colored balls to fanciful plastic hoops. The little guy eagerly wags his tail as he gets ready to pick out a new toy just for himself. But this pooch wasn’t always so carefree. In fact, before this joyful day, he lived a treacherous life in a nightmarish place…
The dog’s name is Kona, and he once lived in Palm Beach, Florida. While that locale may conjure up images of palm trees and sunshine, the canine’s first home was not a home at all. It was, in fact, an unlawful farm named Rancho Garcia, and it was perhaps the unhappiest place on Earth for Kona and his fellow animal residents.
These precious creatures were found to have been kept – by the shady farm/slaughterhouse’s owner Jorge Garcia – in utterly repugnant conditions. Garcia and his people had apparently massacred animals for their meat, maimed them with blunt knives and bullets, made them battle each other and even hawked them off for dark magic ceremonies. But this reign of terror wouldn’t last forever.
Among the residents of this illicit Florida slaughterhouse were dogs, pigs, ducks, goats and horses – whose meat was illegally being sold as food for humans. There was even a poor, dear turtle living on the premises of the horror farm.
But the inspectors at Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) were onto this evil operation, along with that of two other slaughterhouses in the area. Before a raid could be conducted, however, there would be months of careful monitoring. During this observation period, undercover operatives witnessed the kind of atrocities that even the most hardened carnivore wouldn’t be able to stomach.
Inevitably, then, there were animals that needed extensive treatment after what would ultimately be a valiant and dramatic rescue. A goat named LuLu, for instance, had hooves so long that she couldn’t walk. The pain from this was equally debilitating and unbearable, so four inches of her nails had to be clipped off.
Yet other animals had to undergo serious medical procedures. For example, another goat, Matumbo, had such deformities that it was difficult for him to even breathe. He therefore had to have his face restructured via surgery after the raid. To add to all this misery, Kona’s farm/prison was also home to an illegal puppy mill.
And, like some of the other animals on the diabolical compound, Kona was being conditioned to become a fighting dog. Nevertheless, ARM founder Richard Couto became enamored with Kona while on the undercover portion of the operation, but he wasn’t able to demonstrate any tenderness toward the pooch until after the raid.
Couto is a well-respected animal rights activist, and he was central to the work that allowed the animals to be liberated here. What’s more, Couto would later go so far as to pitch a tent close to the rescued animals to ensure that they had all settled in okay after the rescue. This was a rescue, after all, that couldn’t have arrived soon enough for the animals.
It took place in October 2015. The trio of illegal Loxahatchee, Florida, slaughterhouses – including Kona’s – were raided in what has been called the biggest planned action against animal cruelty operations ever to take place in the U.S. ARM conducted this calculated mega-bust – which saw close to 1,000 animals freed – in cooperation with area police.
“While we were undercover, all the ARM investigators really took a strong liking to [Kona]. He’s a really lovable, amazing, amazing dog,” said Couto of his new best friend. He added, “We were hoping to strike the property soon enough, while he was still alive.” Still, Kona was initially given over to animal control after the raid. But his ultimately heartwarming tale didn’t end there…
Yes, Couto adopted Kona just as soon as he could. The handsome pit bull apparently became a permanent fixture around the ARM office, too, and his bond with Couto seems to have continued to strengthen more and more each day.
And so, Couto was able to give Kona the upbringing he’d been so unfairly deprived of before. Fortunately, even with a history of abuse in their early years, some dogs are capable of getting a new lease on life.
So Couto took Kona to see the seashore – a first in the pit bull’s life. Likewise, there were other special occasions to come that brought a little shake to Kona’s tail…
For instance, Kona and Couto have been known to go on walks around Newport, Rhode Island, which is Couto’s hometown. And by all accounts, most people would never guess from looking at the good-tempered and well-adjusted dog that he had been a badly abused rescue animal.
But Kona’s big and blissful moment – perhaps the cutest experience of his life so far – was yet to come. This, of course, took place that fateful day in the dog toy aisle. But rather than just impersonally picking out a toy for Kona, Couto had other plans for his new pal.
“I let him walk through the aisles,” said Couto recalling their trip to the pet store. “It was very foreign to him. He’s never owned a toy. He’s never owned a bone, unless it was from a slaughtered animal. He used to have to fight for the scraps of horse meat. The first time he’d ever owned a toy. It was a nice moment.”
Kona also learned to connect with new human friends since he found a home with Couto. In fact, he’s apparently done so with all the charm and warmth that one might not expect from a dog who grew up seeing the worst in humans.
Perhaps most significantly, this beautiful dog – who went through so much pain and alienation only to be saved by his guardian angels at ARM – is now paying it forward. Yes, Kona has since become a service animal. He’s also living a deservedly glamorous life in the spotlight.
So, in the wake of the heroic rescue that saved Kona and his buddies, Couto and ARM continue to raise funds for post-raid animal care and have housed 350 rescued animals in their sanctuary. Equally, Kona – something of an animal rights mascot these days – appears alongside Couto at animal cruelty awareness events. Of course, being so popular can sometimes take a lot out of a canine. But we’d say Kona has earned his share of dog days under the palm trees.