At Last, His Lonely Days Are Over: How Orson Finally Met His Match
For some of us, it may take a long time before we feel like we’ve truly found “the one.” Love takes time and can often be a difficult, trying and long journey. These sentiments were especially true when it came to our boy Orson.
Orson first came to the ASPCA in early November 2016, after being removed from an alleged dogfighting situation in the Bronx. Through the New Year, and up until May 2017, Orson remained at the ASPCA Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment (CARE) where he was able to take the time he needed to heal before he could begin his journey toward a loving home. It became clear through his behavior, that Orson’s experiences in a home were limited, and though he was already eight years old and mostly deaf, Orson was really like a big puppy in need of time, patience, training and plenty of understanding. He needed someone to truly see him for the dog he could be, and we were certain that those people were out there somewhere, waiting for an Orson of their own.
However, no one expected that Orson’s journey home would take as long as it did. Though it was clear by the scars on his face and body that Orson’s past was marred by some sort of trauma, he was rarely ever seen without his big, toothy grin and his tail wagging. He was a big, lovable goofball at heart, and his ability to remain so trusting and loving inspired all those who met him. It wasn’t long before he became a staff favorite across the ASPCA.
“Sometimes all it takes for a long-stay dog is showing off a special skill,” says Rachel Maso, Behavior Specialist at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “Orson just kept getting overlooked, so our team worked hard to get him in tip top shape from teaching him to jog on a treadmill to spending time helping him to relax in our real life room! He also got plenty of his favorite activity—car rides. These special features ultimately brought in his family and gave him the opportunity to show off in person!”
But days at the Adoption Center turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, and soon it was time to celebrate another New Year. During this time, nearly everyone at the ASPCA rallied to find opportunities where Orson could potentially meet his adopters.
He went on an outing with the NYPD, he participated in multiple social media livestreams, including our Winter Pup Cup, and he even got to meet actor Sir Patrick Stewart—but it felt like we just couldn’t find “the one” for our special pal no matter how hard we tried.
Orson showing some love for this NYPD on his day out.
Orson poses for a photo with actor Sir Patrick Stewart.
Then after nearly two years, in May 2018, the tables finally turned for Orson. Robert O., his wife Maria, and their children decided that they wanted to meet the lovable dog. Robert and Maria’s daughter had spotted Orson on the ASPCA website about a week after the family had been forced to make the difficult decision to put their dog down after he’d been suffering from cancer for some time. Since Robert’s job is close to the Adoption Center, he decided that they should take a chance on meeting Orson.
“We could not save our dog, so we knew that the only way my husband was going to be okay was if he was able to save another dog,” Maria tells us.
Though Orson wasn’t what the family first had in mind when they thought of getting a new dog, there was something about him that struck them.
“My idea of a dog was a terrier-mix. I didn’t want a puppy, but I didn’t want a dog that was too old, so I was looking for someone between the ages of one and three,” Maria says. “We get to the Adoption Center, and then we find out that Orson was exactly what we weren’t looking for—an eight-year-old puppy!”
To their surprise, the family connected with Orson immediately. They liked that he enjoyed car rides and that he seemed laid back. Robert initially felt wary about adopting a pit bull, but was soon warmed by Orson’s backstory. He needed a buddy, and Orson needed a chance. For Robert, the answer seemed simple.
“He hadn’t had a home. He’d been bouncing around from the shelter to foster homes, and no one would take him,” Robert tells us. “I figured that’s the perfect dog for me and I’ll try to help him out. He needed a friend and I needed a buddy. At least he’ll have a chance at a real home.”
Robert felt unsure about Orson at first, but the two are now best buds.
It was a chance that immensely paid off for everyone. After the family made the adoption official, they never looked back—Orson truly became one of the family.
After bringing Orson home, Robert noted that the dog had a certain level of “swagger” in his stride, reminding Robert of legendary actor John Wayne, whose nickname was “The Duke.” So, they decided to rename him Sir Duke Orson, or Duke for short.
Robert, Maria and their grandson walk Orson through their neighborhood in Queens.
“Orson was the old life, and I wanted to start him off with something for his new life. I just wanted him to start off fresh,” Robert says. “And one day I was walking with him and he had that proud walk, and he reminded me of John Wayne.”
But Duke’s got plenty of nicknames to go around. Maria tells us that she calls Duke “baby bear,” but they also call him “chub-a-lubs” and “teddy bear.”
According to Robert and Maria, Duke made himself right at home. Though there was an adjustment period and some behavioral things they had to work on with him, Robert and Maria knew that Duke was right where he was meant to be. Little by little, day by day, Duke gets calmer and better-behaved. And every day, he knows just how loved he is.
“He’s just super gentle,” Maria says. “And his behavior is just amazing, you wouldn’t believe it with everything he’s gone through.”
After his adoption, the staff at the Adoption Center threw a party for Duke, with a special cupcake delivery and party hats to celebrate. It was a celebration that had been a long time coming.
Duke now spends his days absolutely spoiled by his pet parents, who joke that they are going to get him his own chair for the dinner table. He’s got plenty of toys and people around him all the time, showering him with love and lots of playtime. He’s even friendly with the family’s two cats! They are looking forward to celebrating Duke’s birthday this month, Maria even got a dog-friendly cake mix for the occasion.
Now, life with Duke couldn’t be better. And as for Robert’s aversion to pit bulls, he tells us that those fears are long in that past—he has Duke to thank for that. Robert found just the buddy he was searching for in Duke, and we think the same goes for Duke.
“Duke really changed my mind. Now, I love pit bulls,” Robert says. “They’re great dogs, I’ll never be scared of one again. To me, this is one of the best dogs I ever had. I say give the pit bulls a chance, there’s a lot of dogs that need help.”
When they aren’t spending time with the family, they enjoy walks around their neighborhood in Queens together, where Duke likes to say hello to everyone he can. He’s even made friends with local firefighters at Engine 297 and Ladder 130, frequently visiting them and enjoying plenty of attention from his heroic buddies.
“He’s in love with firemen,” Maria says with a laugh. “He’ll make friends with anyone, but he really loves firemen.”
Duke’s story isn’t just one of resilience. Sure, he overcame more than any of us could ever know, but most of all, Duke’s story is about patience, understanding and loving with an open heart. A lot of people would have given up on a dog like Duke, and a lot of people passed him by. But Robert and Maria saw beyond Duke’s scars and his “rough around the edges” appearance. They saw an animal who needed a chance. Compassion like theirs is what keeps us hopeful everyday as we continue to fight for dogs like Duke. When asked about who saved whom when it comes to Duke, Maria and Robert answered unanimously: “We saved each other.”
During the month of October, we recognize Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, and this year, we are honoring this important month with our #FindYourFido campaign. This movement is meant to encourage more people across the nation to take action for dogs in need and help make more matches possible. It’s not easy to find “the one,” but with people like you by our side, together we can make more happy endings possible and give more Fidos like Duke the homes they deserve.