We all love a real-life canine tale with a happy ending. And it doesn’t get much more heart-warming than this recent story involving a lonely Labrador, a North Michigan animal shelter and an NBA coach. Get your tissues at the ready.
Eastwood the Labrador was first picked up by a North Michigan stray center when he was found roving the streets in the cold. The center then passed the dog onto Harbor Springs’ Little Traverse Bay Humane Society. And it was apparent that the one-year-old had a number of health problems, including being nearly blind.
Staff at the shelter believe the animal’s poor health is why he was cruelly abandoned – although his issues could have actually been fixed. The dog suffered from entropion, a condition which sees the eyelids folding inward, and had a deformed leg. Sadly, too, these health problems initially appeared to deter other families from adopting Eastwood.
Still, staff hoped that the red-coated hound would find a new home when they staged their regular “Empty the Shelters” event. Twenty-two animals were put up for adoption in total, and all but one were taken. Unfortunately for Eastwood, though, he was the unlucky creature left behind.
Jessica Evans, the communications and marketing coordinator for the shelter, told ABC News that staff had practically no idea why Eastwood hadn’t been adopted. “It was kind of sad,” she said. “We were all kind of baffled because, even with his health issues, he’s such a nice dog. He’s amazing.”
What’s more, the shelter was determined to find a new family for Eastwood and later posted an emotional message on Facebook about the neglected dog. Thankfully, the post worked, too, leading to over 130 responses from the public. Indeed, in the end, 80 different families applied to adopt him.
At one point, in fact, Little Traverse Bay Humane Society had a queue of possible adoptees all the way outside the door. Evans revealed that it was the biggest response to a dog in need in her four years at the shelter. However, Eastwood’s story was soon about to get even bigger.
Why? Because one of those hopefuls was none other than the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. After hearing about Eastwood’s plight, Stan Van Gundy, his wife Kim and their four children decided that he was the dog for them – and they made every effort to ensure that they would be the family to take him home.
In fact, Kim even posted a pleading message on Facebook written from the perspective of the family’s other pets. “Dear Eastwood,” it read. “We hope you become our brother! Our people are really nice, and we all get along well and have lots of fun together. Fingers (paws) crossed!”
The tactic obviously worked, too, as shortly after, the Van Gundys were chosen as Eastwood’s new owners. Evans refutes claims that their celebrity status was a factor, though. “We knew that Eastwood would be going to a phenomenal home, and they obviously have the financial means to pay for his health care in the future,” she said.
And thanks to Eastwood’s famous new owners, his sad-turned-happy story was inevitably picked up by news organizations across the United States. On its Facebook page, the shelter even broadcast coverage of the Van Gundys picking Eastwood up. Evans described it as a “fairy tale in the making.”
Stan Van Gundy’s name undoubtedly helped the story go viral as well. That said, the NBA coach admits that without Kim’s dedication, none of it would have happened. “Make no mistake that my wife is the impetus behind this,” he said. “She is one of the most caring and generous people in the world.”
In a press release about the adoption, Kim, for her part, thanked Bissell Pet Foundation for its sponsorship of the event which drew such attention. The statement read, “If it were not for Empty the Shelters, our family would not have seen Eastwood. We always believe our animals find us.”
Owing to his troubled background, Eastwood didn’t completely settle into his new home with ease, however. In particular, as well as all of his physical issues, the animal occasionally acted aggressively. So, the family took Eastwood to a well-respected dog behaviorist to help even out his temperament.
Stan told The Oakland Press that it was an issue the family immediately had to get resolved. “Ninety-five percent of the time he’s great,” he said. “What’s been tough is it’s unpredictable. So it’s not like (one thing) will always set him off, so we need to avoid that situation, whether it’s the cats or whatever.”
Eastwood was subsequently put on medication before going to an intensive training camp. That said, Stan credited Kim for initially trying to change the dog’s ways all by herself. “My wife is basically doing 24 hours a day with him seven days a week, but she’s not a dog trainer,” he said.
Yet Stan has faith that all of their efforts will eventually pay off. “He’s young; it’s not like he’s totally set in his ways. So hopefully the training can do it,” the coach said. Stan also revealed that Eastwood helped him to prepare for the 2017 NBA Draft by watching game footage alongside him.
Funnier still, Stan later admitted to WWJ that his own local popularity has now been usurped by Eastwood’s. “We’ve always walked our dogs in the neighborhood, but now people come out of their houses to meet him and everything else,” he revealed. “So he’s the famous one, and the rest of us are sort of around for the ride.”
In fact, Eastwood was even the subject of a spoof Twitter account set up by someone outside the family. Adopting the name Eastwood Van Gundy, the user regularly posted updates on the dog alongside witty captions, and the account soon racked up an impressive 2,000 followers.
Meanwhile, in a recent update about Eastwood’s progress, Kim revealed that he’s now far more settled. “He no longer chases the cats, [and he] comes when called, walks nicely on [a] leash [and] no longer shows food aggression, etc. He is sweet, cuddly and affectionate. We absolutely adore him!”