An Adopted Dog Keeps Their Father’s Memory Alive

June 23, 2020

DJ resting in some grass

For Rachel Justus and her two children Emma and Oliver, adopting a dog during the COVID-19 pandemic was a way to honor the memory of their husband and father David Justus, who lost his two-year battle with glioblastoma—brain cancer—on March 26, just as the city was shutting down. 

After adopting, Emma and Oliver re-named the family’s new three-month-old terrier mix “D.J.” in his memory.

“D.J. makes the kids so happy,” said Rachel, an oncology social worker who is currently on leave. “And if they’re happy, I’m happy. It’s been especially tough lately.”

Adapting to a Pandemic

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the ASPCA and other animal welfare organizations have been leaning on technology to implement innovate solutions, including remote adoptionsand online meet-and-greets, to help animals find homes. 

D.J. was transported to the ASPCA on March 11—before the “stay-at-home” order—from Felines and Canines Rescue Center in Cross Roads, Alabama. Originally named Eeyore, he was part of a litter of six, all named after Winnie The Pooh characters.

“All of the puppies D.J. came in with were spoken for except for D.J., who was still in foster care,” recalls Adi Hovav, Manager of Behavior at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “Despite being closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, we were still placing animals in new homes as well as with foster caregivers.” 

Rachel had notified the ASPCA that her family was interested in adopting a new dog, so Adi arranged a call between Rachel's family and D.J.’s foster family and sent Rachel photos of D.J.

DJ resting in blankets

“D.J. checked all the right boxes for Rachel’s family,” Adi says. “We arranged for them to pick him up, and they adopted him on April 18. They’re over the moon about their new family member.”

“Puppy Love At First Sight”

Teresa T., who fostered D.J. for a month, tells us he was a happy, playful and vocal puppy who loved to play fetch with a squeaky ball. To help D.J. transition to city living, Teresa let him play in a quiet Manhattan courtyard. 

“After several weeks, he loved walking outside and seeing people on the street,” Teresa says. “I love those floppy, fuzzy ears.” 

Those floppy, fuzzy ears impressed 13-year-old Emma and 10-year-old Oliver, who both wanted a dog for a while. They knew D.J. was the right fit from the start.

“It was puppy love at first sight,” says Oliver. “He really matches us.”

“D.J.’s so cute and he makes us really happy,” adds Emma.

“We all had a real bond, a connection,” says Rachel, who tells us D.J. has adapted well to his new home and spends a lot of time with his “doggy cousin,” a rescued Jindo named Malone who belongs to Rachel’s brother, Daniel, and his fiancée, Virginia. “They love being together.”

DJ ready for a walk

A Source of Joy and Comfort

Rachel tells us her late husband believed that “life should not be measured by time, but by joyful moments.”

Inspired by that idea, Rachel, Emma and Oliver—known to friends and family as The Justus League—established The David Justus Joyful Moments Fund, administered by Making Headway Foundation, to help low income families who have a child with a brain or spinal cord tumor find moments of joy. 

“We know how much a cancer diagnosis affects the family,” says Rachel, who also runs a cancer support program. “Despite everything going on right now, we want to spread joy.” 

DJ at home

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the trio sponsors gift cards for online shopping sprees and covers unanticipated coronavirus-related needs like rent and groceries for approved families. They’re also sponsoring socially distanced professional photo shoots for families dealing with brain cancer, so they have a visual memory of their joyful moments together. 

David Justus is in the minds and hearts of his family on Father’s Day and every day. But they also have a new four-legged friend to remind them of David, as well as to inspire exactly the kind of joyful moments David was talking about.

Create Second Chances.

Behind every animal rescued and every happy ending at the ASPCA is a generous friend like you. Please help us find loving homes for animals—and make more second chances possible—with your special gift today.