Kristina Helfer is no stranger to the pet in need. As Adoption and Foster Care Coordinator for Wise Animal Rescue in New Jersey, she’s seen her fair share of dogs with injuries, illnesses, and various tragic histories of trauma and abuse. In fact, Kristina’s two pit bulls, Piper and Frank, were both rescued out of abusive and neglectful situations and came with their own unique health challenges. But when Kristina met Tito, she knew his case was different.
Kristina first met Tito at a shelter in New York City about four months ago. The 16-year-old chihuahua was completely blind; a mass on his backside rendered his hind legs unusable, and respiratory complications left him perpetually wheezing and needing to turn his head and chest from side to side to catch even the shortest breath. The shelter informed Kristina that his previous family had been unable to care for his medical needs and therefore surrendered him to the shelter. His outlook was bleak, and Kristina knew that she had to take action.
A regimen for his recovery was laid out by a veterinarian, and Kristina brought Tito home with her to recuperate while medications were administered to address his collapsed trachea (the source of the chronic wheezing). Things were beginning to look up for Tito, but his real path to healing would only begin upon meeting his new best friend, Frank. Frank, like Tito, came to Kristina broken and in need of love. At 2 years-old he was taken from a junkyard covered in mange and emaciated. Years of tender, loving care with Kristina and Piper helped Frank make tremendous strides. Though he’d always suffer from anxiety, Frank became a caring and gentle soul with a soft spot for other animals who, like himself, were in need of love.
“We call him ‘Nurse Frank,’” said Helfer in an interview with The Dodo. “He is such a dad, and extremely in tune with other dogs. I’ve had foster puppies before that he’s stayed right by and licked to help keep clean. He just has this instinct to gravitate toward dogs who need help.” It was just this brand of love that would help bring Tito back to his former glory. The blind, fragile Tito took to Frank right away, and the two quickly became inseparable. “[Frank] was going over to check on Tito constantly — just sniffing him, licking him,” Helfer said. “At first I was worried how Tito would react just since he’s very elderly and wasn’t in good health. But he took to Frank just as much.”
The power of Frank’s loving companionship immediately took effect in spurring restorative change for little Tito. In combination with help from medication, Tito’s breathing issues quickly became a thing of the past. Each day saw Tito becoming increasingly happy and increasingly self-assured, and upon recovery (and with help from “Lola’s Legacy,” a sponsorship program that places senior dogs in their forever homes), Tito finally found respite from his difficult past: in the loving arms of Kristina and with his forever friend, Frank.
Today, Frank and Tito take life in stride as two peas in a pod. The two enjoy lounging by the pool together, and share a love of snacks! And while walking is still not an option for Tito due to his incapacitated back legs, the two friends have found a way. A carrying pack strapped to Frank allows Tito to ride comfortably and in style, and also spurs some worthwhile conversation among people who see the pair. “When we walk by, people are like, ‘That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!’” says Helfer.
“Then they ask us questions about them, which leads into how they were rescued… They’re definitely breaking stereotypes about pit bull mixes, and senior dogs. Walking them is really special.” It’s clear that the love between Frank and Tito is infectious to all who meet them.
Their powerful friendship has had the strength to heal, and offers hope for continued growth among those who may have harbored misconceptions about pit bulls, senior dogs, rescues, or all of the above. And Tito, who is now living his best life, offers proof that no past challenges are insurmountable, even for an old guy!