NEWARK, N.J.-- When an emaciated pit bull found at the bottom of a trash chute in New Jersey was rushed to a veterinary emergency room last month, doctors there thought he would be dead within the hour.
Instead, the scrappy pup, nicknamed Patrick, has defied the odds and is getting stronger by the day.
"He is a tremendous fighter," said Dr. Thomas Scavelli, the director and founder of the Garden State Veterinary Specialists, the pet hospital in Tinton Falls where Patrick is being treated. "There are very few animals, or any life form, that could have gone through and survived what he has, and really never looked back."
Hospital staffers, who named the dog for his reddish fur and because he was found the day before St. Patrick's Day, have been chronicling his progress on their website and a Facebook page that has garnered fans from around the world. He's received hundreds of emails, donations, gifts and letters from those inspired by his tale of survival.
When Patrick was brought to the hospital after being rescued by officials at the Associated Humane Societies, he was so starved, emaciated and dehydrated he was curled into a ball, unable to walk or stand. His ribcage protruded, he weighed about 20 pounds -- roughly 30 pounds less than average -- and was covered in sores with parts of skin hanging off him, according to Patricia Smillie-Scavelli, Thomas Scavelli's wife and the administrator of the hospital.
"Everyone thought that, you bring in an animal like that, that looks like it's really just a corpse, you put it to sleep," Smillie-Scavelli said. "But of course, he looked up at you with those eyes, and you say: How can you give up on this dog? How can you, when he's not giving up on life? So, we gave him that second chance, and he has just run with it, and thrived."
Today, after weeks of emergency measures that included a transfusion of three pints of dog blood, a special diet, medicine and physical therapy, Patrick continues gaining weight, is finally eating solid food, and enjoys taking outdoor walks in the sun and playing with the many toys that well-wishers have sent him.
"This is not a month of starvation," Thomas Scavelli said. "This is a lifetime probably, or at least months and months of neglect, and to see the way he cares for people and trusts people, that's really been the most interesting and rewarding thing to see about the canine spirit."
Kisha Curtis of Newark was charged with two fourth-degree offenses for "tormenting and torturing" an animal by failing to provide food and water, prosecutor said. The charges could carry a maximum jail sentence of 18 months and a fine of up to $10,000. She also faces two abandonment charges punishable by up to six months in jail with a $1,000 fine.
Authorities said Curtis tied the dog to a railing in her Newark apartment building and left the state for more than a week. A janitor later found the emaciated dog in a trash bin.
Curtis, who was released on bail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Curtis' mother told reporters at her daughter's court hearing that the dog had been given to Kisha but she could not take care of it, so she'd tied it up outside hoping somebody else would take it.
Now, the dog that prosecutors say had been left for dead has been inundated with adoption offers.
The Essex County courthouse has received more than 600 letters and faxes from around the world expressing concern for the dog and urging swift and harsh punishment for Curtis. The hospital ordered 500 thank-you cards with Patrick's picture to mail to those who sent collars, dog shirts, toys, scrapbook pages or dog blankets embroidered with Patrick's name, and it is fast running out.
Officials at the animal hospital say he is a long way from being healthy enough to be placed up for adoption and faces some health issues related to his prolonged starvation. He is still too weak to operate on to find out about a unknown foreign object in his stomach, doctors said.
For now, he seems at home at the hospital, where he follows staff around, enjoys being patted and played with, and watches attentively as they open the many gifts and letters he receives each day.
"In the 17 years we've been here we've never seen this type of response to an animal," Patricia Smillie-Scavelli said. "There's something about Patrick that has really sparked interest, honestly, from throughout the entire world."