Sassy by name and sassy by nature — Laura Greaves meets a pint-sized rescue dog making a big impact.
Sassy the Blue Nose Pit Bull doesn’t look like other dogs. She was born with scoliosis and deformed legs, which give Sassy a peculiar gait and make it impossible for her to negotiate stairs. She also has an enlarged head and an underbite.
Sadly, Sassy’s outward appearance is the least of her worries. She also has internal problems including a narrowed trachea, which causes severe breathing difficulties, a grade-two heart murmur and a sternum (breastbone) that doesn’t sit where it should.
But don’t be fooled by Sassy’s physical problems: this is not a “sick” animal. Sassy is a fighter. She’s a little dog with a big personality, and she’s become the international “poster girl” for the campaign against backyard breeding.
A fighting chance
Sassy’s owners surrendered her to Animal Care & Control of NYC’s Manhattan shelter in late 2012. She was just five months old and “riddled with deformities”, says Milena Apath, Sassy’s “rescue Mum”.
Apath is the volunteer and rescue coordinator at Forgotten Friends of Long Island (FFLI), a volunteer organisation that rescues dogs and cats from New York City shelters. She collected Sassy from the Manhattan shelter where this brave dog would have faced certain death if not offered a second chance.
“Sassy’s original owners are believed to have been backyard breeders. Like humans, once you start inbreeding dogs, the pups are susceptible to various birth defects and deformities,” she says.
“I wasn’t shocked by Sassy’s appearance. If anything, it made us love her more and want to ensure she would end up in the right hands.”
As it turns out, the right hands belong to Kim Bonomo, a fellow FFLI volunteer and friend of Apath’s who became Sassy’s “foster Mum”.
“When my husband and I picked up Milena and Sassy in NYC that night, all I could do was hold her close,” Bonomo recalls. “So close that I heard Sassy breathing and thought she was crying. When Milena informed me that was how Sassy breathes normally, all I felt was anger for those that greedily bred her.”
It didn’t take long for Apath and Bonomo to realise that special-needs Sassy was a special pup indeed.
“Sassy’s name is a perfect fit. She has plenty of spirit, spunk, heart and soul. She can go from napping to chasing her siblings to cuddling to flexing in the mirror to entertaining herself with a toy in a matter of minutes,” says Apath.
Bonomo says plucky Sassy, who is now nearly one, hasn’t realised there’s anything “wrong” with her. “She has adjusted perfectly. She is loved and adored by her foster family and absolutely sucks up all the attention she gets,” she says.
“Sassy even has a part-time nanny who comes in a few times a week to take care of her while I’m at work.”
The pair was so moved by Sassy’s unwavering zest for life that they decided to set up a Facebook page, called “Sassy — the Small Wonder”, to share her story and progress with her supporters. Within weeks, the page had amassed more than 8000 followers and Sassy was making national TV appearances.
“We know she’s a special girl and we really wanted to share her story with as many people as possible. The support and outpouring of love and kind words has been great and truly appreciated,” says Apath.
“We’ve rescued some other special cases in the past and none have had a response like Sassy — but she’s Sassy, so it doesn’t really surprise us!”
As she grows older and stronger, it is hoped Sassy will become even more widely known as an ambassador.
“We’d love for her to raise awareness about irresponsible breeding and how it affects these poor dogs who are left to live with the results of it,” she says. “We’d also like to look into the possibility of Sassy helping children who are developmentally or physically challenged, or even those who might be bullied.”
Apath also hopes Sassy’s story will encourage people around the world to consider adopting, fostering or even volunteering with special needs animals.
“It’s definitely an amazing experience. Though their time might be limited, that doesn’t mean it should be cut short,” she says. “They deserve love, a home and time just like anyone else. You could give them a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Lessons in love
For Sassy, the future is an unknown quantity, but her “Mums” remain hopeful.
“We’re hoping, now that she’s getting high-quality food, nutrients, exercise and TLC, that some of her issues might be corrected,” Apath explains. “We can’t estimate how much time she has, but the vets are confident there’s nothing going on that would suddenly become life threatening.”
Surgery may be an option if Sassy is strong enough down the track, as well as braces to straighten and support her twisted legs.
Bonomo says she has been touched by Sassy’s generous spirit. “The love and trust she has for humans is beyond me,” she says.
“Sassy has reminded me that beauty and worth come from the inside. Nobody and nothing on this planet is perfect, but if you give and receive love, nothing else really matters.
“She makes some pretty funny faces, too!”
For Apath, Sassy’s determination is a daily lesson in never giving up. “I love the fact that she acts like nothing is wrong. She’s a little girl who makes progress, no matter how small, on a daily basis,” she says.
“Sassy brightens everyone’s day. Everyone should jump at the opportunity to help a Sassy, or any shelter animal for that matter, as long as they’re able to.”
Make friends with Sassy
Follow Sassy’s progress online via www.facebook.com/SassyTheSmallWonder. To find out more about the work of Forgotten Friends of Long Island, visit www.forgottenfriendsoflongisland.org.
Every dog deserves a chance
Sadly, not everyone who hears Sassy’s inspiring story believes she should have been saved from euthanasia. Sassy’s Facebook page has been the target of some negative comments, but Apath refuses to be discouraged by critics.
“No matter how much time Sassy may have, it’s hers and she deserves every second of it,” she says. “How could we consider putting this firecracker down when she’s so full of life and has such a will to live? How could we not give her the chance to live in a home, to be loved, to have a warm bed and not be seen as unwanted or an inconvenience?
“People are entitled to their opinions. It just makes me feel more appreciative and honoured that we are the ones who are able to help Sassy and give her the life she was almost deprived of.”
Sassy is not in pain and has good quality of life, and Bonomo says everyone who meets Sassy can see it.
“I guarantee that spending ten minutes with Sassy will change the mind of anyone who may have had negative things to say,” she says. “Sassy is loving life and everyone in it.”Love dogs? Why not visit our DOGSLife Directory