Abandoned in an Elevator: Leilani's Miraculous Rescue

December 6, 2016


It was a piteous sight: A young dog huddled in the corner of an elevator in a Bronx apartment building, her dead newborn puppy beside her, with a nearby note that read “Please Take Me.” Her fur was matted, her breathing was labored and her back legs bowed out in an alarming manner.

When the elevator door opened, a Good Samaritan who lived in the building discovered the bedraggled Shih Tzu mix and brought the dog into her apartment, where she gave birth to two more stillborn pups.

It was obvious the young dog needed medical attention, so the resident took her and the puppies to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH). Veterinarians confirmed she had given birth and that she would require two surgeries: one for her abnormally-formed hind legs, and another to expand her airways and correct her labored breathing.  

Despite these injuries and traumas, the dog was remarkably calm and friendly “She was the sweetest dog from the get-go,” says Dr. Erin Wilson, Medical Director of the ASPCA’s Adoption Center who examined her upon arrival. “All she wanted was to get up on someone’s lap.” 

Leilani smiling

If everything went well, the dog, now called Leilani, would also need 16 to 20 weeks of foster care. That’s where Connie Mugno, a PR consultant and ASPCA volunteer, stepped in.

Connie agreed to foster Leilani because she lives near the ASPCA and could easily ferry her back and forth for re-checks and procedures.

In early May, the ASPCA’s Director of Surgery Dr. J’mai Gayle performed surgery to open Leilani’s nasal passages and shorten her elongated soft palate, which made her breathing easier. Later that month, Dr. Gayle performed another surgery to stabilize Leilani’s right knee cap. For the next eight weeks, Connie ensured that Leilani’s activity was kept to a minimum so her surgery site could heal.

While fostering Leilani, Connie learned the pint-sized pooch enjoyed getting up early and retiring early.

“She’s quite confident, which is amazing given her background,” says Connie. “Nothing seems to have left a mark on her. She’s a very good dog.”

Dr. Wilson agrees, saying “Despite all the surgeries and treatments Leilani went through, she never once complained.” 

Leilani rolling on a blanket

Connie and everyone that helped Leilani on her path to recovery knew that this special dog deserved the perfect home. And for Leilani, that perfect home was the home of Bronx residents Robert and Diana Sanchez, and their son Christopher. In late August, the Sanchez family was at the ASPCA in search of a new canine companion. Their previous dog, Corneal, had recently passed away at age 12 from pancreatitis, and they were ready to adopt again.

“When we saw Leilani, they told us she was a special needs dog,” recalls Robert, a retired retail business manager. “She had problems with her legs, and I’ve had both my knees replaced, so I felt like someone was speaking to me from above. I said to my wife, ‘That’s the dog for us.’ And we took her.”

He adds, “She fills a void we had when we lost Corneal, and we give her as much love as possible. She gives it back, she really does.”

Robert and the rest of his family found the perfect addition to their family in Leilani. “We fell in love with her,” says Diana, noting that that their other sons, ages 25 and 17, love Leilani, too. “She’s quiet, she’s house-trained, she’s beautiful…and I need a girl in the house so I’m not alone,” she jokes. 

Leilani with Robert and Diana

Leilani’s transformation, resiliency and recovery have truly been a miraculous thing to witness.

The amount of suffering and loss that this small, young dog had to overcome is unfathomable to even the strongest of us. It is through the support of people like you that we are able to be there for victims like Leilani—but there are still so many animals waiting to be rescued.

When you make a gift to the ASPCA today, you’ll help rescue more animals just like her, and make it possible for more innocent victims to become beloved pets. Please make a donation to help us stop the suffering of animals in need nationwide.