A dog that had been living in a park in New York City for at least 10 years finally has a home thanks to a group of residents who noticed he was sick.
Residents near Highbridge Park in upper Manhattan believe Charlie is a special dog. They’ve watched over him in the past decade and would bring him food.
But recently, Yuliya Avezbakiyeva and her mother noticed a change in Charlie’s behavior. The dog seemed more vulnerable and lonely. He even stopped eating the food they would bring him.
Concern grew when dog walker Denise Lauffer noticed that there was something wrong with Charlie’s hips. It became clear the harsh weather had taken its toll on the dog.
“I knew he wasn’t doing well,” Lauffer told The Huffington Post. “He was clearly injured.”
The group of residents all agreed it might be time to get Chalie indoors. But Lauffer knew that to do that, they would have to win the dog’s trust.
Lauffer spent hours outside during some of the year’s coldest nights building a makeshift hut for Charlie to sleep in.
“He needs to associate me … (with) food and companionship and heat and warmth,” Lauffer told DNA info. “I was able to line the bottom of his bed with hand warmers… He loved it.”
Charlie’s trust in the residents reached an all time high on Feb. 15, when he let Avezbakiyeva put a leash around his neck. She and a few other neighbors used this opportunity to take the dog to a veterinarian.
The group of dog lovers felt conflicted taking Charlie away from his home but felt they were doing the right thing.
"I cried," Avezbakiyeva said. “We all cried.”
The dog was quickly released from the first vet, but the residents still felt that something wrong. Avezbakiyeva and another neighbor, Tina Ilmet, took Charlie to another veterinary clinic where he was given several tests.
Doctors discovered Charlie had worms and a tumor on one of his testicles.
“The rest of his tests - MRI, ultrasound, X-ray — were all unremarkable, meaning they didn’t find any outstanding medical issues,” BluePearl Veterinary Partners spokeswoman Carrie O’Brion told The Huffington Post.
BluePearl added in a statement to the media that the dog is on the road to recovery but might be having a tougher time emotionally.
“Medically, Charlie is doing OK,” said Boaz Levitin, a veterinary neurologist. “Mentally, he still feels as though he was abducted by space aliens.”
Charlie now lives with Ilmet and the group of neighbors are doing everything in their power to help Charlie feel at home.
“We agreed that Tina will be the one (to keep Charlie), with the condition that the rest of us will be involved,” said Avezbakiyeva, who continues to bring Charlie food.
Lauffer still takes Charlie out for walks a few times a day. She was recognized by animal advocacy group PETA for her efforts with the dog.
“Anything’s better than where he was,” said Lauffer, noting that the dog is still adjusting but seems happy to be in the warmth of an apartment. “He wasn’t going to make it.”
But these aren’t the only people who care for the dog.
A fundraising campaign has been set up to help fund Charlie’s medical expenses. More than 450 people have already donated more than $16,000 to the campaign, which BluePearl has verified as a legitimate fundraiser.
“We always knew he was a good boy,” said Avezbakiyeva, who frequently posts updates on the dog on Facebook. “It just worked out. Everything was meant for him to be rescued that day."
You can donate to Charlie's campaign here.