Love at First Belly Rub: Escher’s Happy Tail

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - 4:00pm
Love at First Belly Rub: Escher’s Happy Tail

Victims of animal cruelty are often the hardest animals to place into a home. Shyness, fear and anxiety regularly plague these pets—and not all adopters feel up to the task. But those who do often discover that underneath the pain, there’s an animal that is eager to love and be loved. Such was the case with Escher, a 55-lb. Shepherd/Collie mix with a mysterious past who proved that sometimes, the greatest hardship leads to the greatest reward. Here is his Happy Tail.

As a photographer for the ASPCA, Stacey Axelrod spends most days meeting with and photographing dogs and cats at the ASPCA Adoption Center. Though she has worked with hundreds of animals, she knew from her very first encounter with Escher that he was special. In February, Escher and five other dogs were rescued from an abandoned van in Brooklyn, New York. Hungry and freezing, all six dogs were suffering from some form of vision impairment, ranging from Entropion (an eyelid disease) to total blindness. They were all incredibly shy and fearful, and though we were unsure of how long they had been in the van, it was clear that it would take a lot of work to restore their faith in humans.

After meeting Escher, Stacey began visiting him at the Adoption Center every day. “I knew I wanted a dog who might have some trouble finding a home,” she says, so she invited her fiancé Jon to come meet him, too. “At first, Escher would shy away when we tried to pet him,” says Stacey. “He was scared of everything and I could tell he just needed someone to give him confidence.”  After spending some time with the timid pooch, she and Jon were sold. “I have no idea what he went through earlier in his life, but I just felt like he deserved the life I could give him.”

At home, Stacey and Jon discovered the full extent of Escher’s issues. “He was terrified of stairs and there are lots of stairs to get into my apartment building,” she says. “I spent hours with him just sitting there and trying to coax him one step further.” In addition to the stairs, Escher also exhibited an extreme fear of strangers, other dogs, and being left alone. Stacey did research on dog behavior and Positive Reinforcement Training, and slowly but surely, helped Escher become more comfortable.

Love at First Belly Rub: Escher’s Happy Tail

“I remember the first time he laid down and rolled over next to me,” Stacey recalls. “It was the first of many milestones and the first time I saw him truly relax. I never really wanted to nap on my kitchen floor, but I couldn’t resist it that day. He allowed me to snuggle up next to him and everything changed after that. It was love at first belly rub.”

As time went on, Escher continued to show signs of improvement. He tackled his fear of stairs, and he even mastered some tricks like sit, down, paw, and high five. “He’s still learning typical dog behaviors,” says Stacey, “but at some point, he realized that he could trust us and that he was here to stay. It was like something clicked. We celebrated the tiniest of changes, and now I can’t believe how far he has come.”

Though working with Escher has been a roller coaster of emotions, Stacey never once doubted her decision. “When I get discouraged, I just play some games with him and remember how amazing and goofy he is despite his fears,” she says. “He’s the perfect dog.” And though she has spent a lot of time working with Escher, he has given her so much in return. “He has taught me so much about commitment, living in the present, and celebrating the small things. I never knew I could have such a strong mutual relationship with a dog until I got Escher.”

Admittedly, the timid Escher is still gaining confidence, but his progress is undeniable.  And from the cold February morning in an abandoned van to the warmth and love of Stacey and Jon’s home, he has already come so far.

Three of the dogs rescued with Escher, Caitlyn, Dermott, and Brona, are still waiting for their forever homes. For more information about adopting these sweet dogs, please contact the ASPCA Adoption Center at (212) 876-7700 ext. 4120

Love at First Belly Rub: Escher’s Happy Tail

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You are right, Donna. He is not a shepherd/collie cross. There is no shame in being a pit bull mix.

Gail Costa

So what! Pit mixes are fabulous dogs. I have had two and wouldn't want any other breed. I always rescue my pets and will continue. The person who said that seeing what Stacy and Jon did sort of makes you forget -- for a time -- the bad things we hear about animal abuse. There are a lot of good people who love animals and do whatever they can and I try to remember that. They did a wonderful thing and that little guy looks so sweet and confident in their care.

Kim Sether

This is a wonderful story to have shared. I truly hope someone just like the two of you step up an adopt the other three poor dogs who endured this kind of torture. I will never ever understand how someone can be so unbelievably cruel.


Thank you!!! Thank you!!! May God bless you!!


Thank you Stacey and Jon for giving this beautiful dog a second chance at life. All the wonderful people that help animals will be blessed many times over for their kindness.


Aw thanks to you he has a loving home. It is so sad what some dogs go through early in their lives.


Yay, Stacey and Jon!

Bev Noia

My landlady took in a 'battered, scared' dog--a keeshund mix, maybe--nobody knows. Similar story of the dog's fearfulness, and my friend's patience and love...and now that dog is absolutely a lover who seeks out belly rubs and such. So we know how it feels to see this beautiful transformation--and hats off to you for sticking with Escher (did you name him because of the painter's incredible stair images??)...for not giving up, not forcing, letting love and patience finally help him get over his fears, let go of an awful history. May many people take inspiration from your story and take on the "hard to adopt" dogs--I'm convinced that they make the BEST pets in the long run, becasue the KNOW what they've got at last!

Yolanda n Cordova

It makes me feel so good knowing Escher has been blessed with a good home. Wish there were more people like Stacey and Jon. Escher has truly been blessed and wish all animals would be so lucky to be adopt in good homes to get lots of love, care, and peace.


What a sweet story! I really hope Escher's siblings get adopted soon! I adopted a troubled dog. I don't know what happened to her before I got her, but she was turned in by her owners (which I suspect were her tormenters) and she didn't trust anyone and she didn't get a long with my other two dogs. I think I cried regularly for the first 6 months! Today, almost a year later, she is the sweetest, silliest and most loving dog! She gets along with her sisters, too. It was worth every tear I shed and I wouldn't trade her for anything! It just shows that a dog I was afraid was a lost cause can really come around and be a wonderful member of the family!