A two-year-old American Bulldog was left to fend for itself in freezing conditions in early 2018 after being tied to a tree in a park in Baltimore. The abandoned doggo was discovered by a local, 35-year-old Stephanie Dagenhart. She also found a heart-rending note nearby, from which the teacher learned the truth. The animal lover became dogged in her determination to do everything she could for the dignified white dog.
In fact, Dagenhart had only been in Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland, that freezing winter’s day because she had her own canines to walk. The teacher had been taking her two rescue pups for a breath of freezing fresh air on the morning of January 13, 2018, when she was given paws. There sat an American Bulldog, sitting tethered to a tree, shaking and looking lost and abandoned. Shocked by the state of the frozen-looking dog, Dagenhart knew she just had to help him. It is unclear how long the white pupper was tied up, but his desperately cold condition was enough to make Dagenhart’s heart take a dive.
But as well as being physically cold, the canine looked quite chilled, mentally. Dagenhart later described the upsetting scene to Baltimore TV program ABC 2 News. “He was just sitting there so somber and freezing cold,” she recalled. “I could not get that out of my head he was shaking so hard from being cold.” Indeed, the doggo’s deprived state was so appalling that Dagenhart declared that the pitiful picture will remain in her mind forever.
The dog lover’s first thought was to take the abandoned animal straight to the local BARCS – Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. But, unfortunately and perhaps understandably, the bulldog did not appear to be ready to be approached by a stranger. The cold canine seemed nervous and occasionally growled at Dagenhart. She told the ABC cameras that she felt the animal needed “space,” so the caring teacher decided to just sit quietly with the shivering pupper.
Nevertheless, Dagenhart knew she had to act. Consequently, she called the cops to organize some help from Baltimore’s animal welfare department. While she waited for them to arrive, the animal lover then reached out to the local community by posting on a neighborhood Facebook page. She uploaded a picture of the poor bulldog, and wrote, “Losing faith in humanity here… found this pup tied up… He’s too scared to let me approach. Anyone recognize him?”
However, Dagenhart soon spotted a clue which would reveal the abandoned doggo’s name. The teacher found a note on the grass in front of the tree, presumably written by his owner. It simply said, “My name is Duke. Here’s my favorite toy and my food. I am looking for a new home.” Dagenhart’s heart sank again.
Nevertheless, now she knew the bulldog’s name, Dagenhart resolved to lift his spirits as they waited for assistance to arrive. She told ABC 2 News that she sat on a bench near Duke and began “calling him by his name and just talking to him… to let him know he’s not by himself anymore.”
And while they waited, something truly extraordinary began to happen. Neighbors alerted by Dagenhart’s Facebook update began to drift into Patterson Park, armed with things to comfort Duke. Dagenhart told ABC 2, “People started coming over with towels, with blankets, with treats. [And saying] did you try this technique or did you try this.”
After about an hour, officers from Baltimore City Animal Control showed up and took Duke straight to Dagenhart’s first choice, BARCS. Soon, the rescue center has been bombarded with adoption requests for Duke. Although this was great for the abandoned American Bulldog, there was a hitch. Apparently, there was a legal complication which meant that Duke could not just simply be adopted straight away.
Bailey Deacon, director of communications at BARCS, outlined this red-tape technicality to ABC 2 News on January 16. Deacon explained that when Duke arrived at BARCS, he was on a statutory three-day stray hold. This meant that, because Duke’s owners had not given BARCS official responsibility for his welfare, the law stated the dog would have to stay at the center for 72 hours before the possibility of adoption.
Deacon went on to say that the center understood from the note that Duke’s “family was unable to keep him and didn’t want to.” And the BARCS spokeswoman was particularly heartened by the doggo’s tale, telling ABC 2 that “everyone in the community just wants to give Duke a home… I think that’s just the warm spot of this entire story.” Deacon herself later described Duke to TV current affairs show Today as a “big mush.”
She made this comment six days after Dagenhart’s discovery of Duke, by which time he was well settled into BARCS, and had made a healthy recovery. Furthermore, as Deacon went on to tell Today, “He is very trusting and enthusiastic to meet new people. His smile is infectious, and his tail is always wagging. He’s the type of dog that thinks everyone in the room or walking by is there especially just for him.”
And Dagenhart also spoke about the incredible rally of public support surrounding Duke’s rescue to ABC 2 News. The teacher said, “I think he kind of captured everyone’s hearts because he’s so adorable and looked so stoic just sitting around that tree.” Indeed, the fact that so many people wanted to adopt Duke demonstrates how much the canine’s story struck a chord in the local community.
But local well-wishers did not hesitate to also voice their concerns about Duke’s plight on social media. After Dagenhart said on Facebook that she was losing faith in humanity, other commenters echoed similar thoughts. One user reacted, saying, “I couldn’t imagine the frustration or the anger that someone would have to put a dog on a tree and tie it up like that. I guess they got the reaction or what they were looking for.”
Others were full of praise for Duke’s initial rescuer, but Dagenhart was not having any of it. As she told ABC 2, “I feel like you do have to stop, you do have to stay. You know, it wasn’t a choice.” She also told the cameras that she hoped to be reunited with Duke soon, but under happier – and warmer – circumstances.
Dagenhart was also keen to commemorate the spot where she discovered Duke. She wanted a small reminder there to let animal owners know that it is acceptable to give away a pet if it can no longer be cared for, but it should be done in a responsible way. Indeed, BARCS is just one example of an animal rescue center that will take all animals with no questions or exceptions. Deacon reassured pet owners when talking to Today, saying, “We welcome all animals into our care without judgment.”
Happily, the same day these words from Deacon were broadcast, Duke was allocated a home with his new owner Wallace White, a U.S. Army specialist. Reporting on January 19, 2018, as well as passing on the pleasing news, local channel CBS Baltimore revealed that White had no idea about Duke’s rescue until he was informed of his new pupper’s fame by a friend.
Subsequently, a BARCS staffer celebrated the news on the organization’s Facebook page. They wrote, “This is the BEST ending – no, beginning – for our big buddy Duke. Thank you, Baltimore, for saving this handsome boy.” Other Facebook users rejoiced as the post received 10,000 reactions. The update also attracted many positive comments, such as, “Thank you Officer Wallace for your kind heart and for serving our country,” and “BARCS, you are amazing. Thanks for all you do.”
Unfortunately, Duke’s abandonment is a common story. According to ASPCA – the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – about 3.2 million pets are taken in by U.S. shelters each year. Out of this number, more than 700,000 are strays. ASPCA put this sorry state of affairs down to a number of factors. Some owners struggle to cope with their pets’ difficult and aggressive behaviors, uncontrollable growth rates and unsolvable health issues.
But no such worries anymore for Duke now that he has found a happy furever home. BARCS gave thanks to all who helped in his rescue, calling it a “community effort between the great neighbors of Patterson Park… and Baltimore City Animal Control.” The American Bulldog’s wagging tale and big smile has earned him enormous popularity. And especially with his new owner who, according to BARCS, fell “in love with Duke for just being Duke.”