From Suffering to Serenity

December 20, 2023

Selena C. was on her way home from work last June when she noticed a dog sniffing for food in her Staten Island neighborhood. She got out of her car to take a closer look.

“This abandoned creature was so skinny and malnourished,” she says of the gray pit bull mix. “She didn’t have the energy to run, but I could tell she was scared and skittish.”


Selena called the NYPD and followed the dog, who finally plopped down on the ground by one of the buildings next to Selena’s. When the police arrived, they had to lift the dog into a carrier.

Supporting Serenity

The NYPD officers took the dog to a local emergency hospital where she suffered two seizures and was placed on anti-convulsant medication.

The following day, June 24, Serenity, as she had been named by the emergency hospital staff, was transported to the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center (ARC) for treatment, where she remained for five weeks.

The ASPCA’s Larissa De Oliveira, an Integrated Care Assistant in the Animal Recovery Center, with Serenity.

From June 24 to August 1, 2023, Serenity gained over 14 lb., bringing her weight from 23 to 38 lb.—about 58% of her intake weight, according to Dr. Laura Niestat, a Forensic Veterinarian who examined Serenity.

“That was a lot,” says Dr. Niestat. “Often, emaciated dogs put on around 30-35% of their intake weight before reaching an ideal body condition.”


Serenity was placed on a re-feeding diet, a routine step for underweight dogs, to manage her transition from ‘survival metabolism’—using her own body tissue for nutrition—to a normal metabolism in which food can be ingested and absorbed.


“A re-feeding diet is an important step in a malnourished dog’s recovery and prevents re-feeding syndrome, a serious medical condition which can occur when a malnourished dog is fed too quickly,” says Dr. Niestat. “Dogs on a re-feeding diet are initially fed small amounts of food that are slowly increased over about two weeks. During this time, they don’t experience significant weight gain. Rather, it’s a period for the gastrointestinal tract to ‘re-learn’ how to process food and begin healing.”

Dr. Niestat adds that X-rays revealed that Serenity had foreign material including pieces of bone in her stomach.

“Starved dogs commonly eat nonfood items in a desperate attempt to find nutrition,” she says.

Serenity had skin lesions and starvation-related blood changes which eventually resolved, along with her seizure disorder, according to Dr. Karla Kovach, Medical Supervisor in ARC who oversaw Serenity’s care. Serenity spent three additional weeks recovering in the ASPCA Canine Annex for Recovery & Enrichment (CARE).

Serenity’s true behavior was also starting to reveal itself.


“She was a social and sweet dog,” says Lynda Burgos, CARE Administrator. “She was also a useful 'helper dog'—a neutral dog that our Behavior Team would use in playgroups with other dogs, for dog-dog tests, or to help anxious dogs feel more comfortable walking outside with a confident friend."

“Serenity was what we call a ‘good kid in class,’” says Brittani Rae, a Behavior Specialist in ARC and CARE. “She was fearful when she first arrived, often with a tucked tail, but she was a superstar when it came to any kind of handling, and she blossomed into a very brave girl by the time she was adopted. She was very food-motivated and loved to learn new things.”

Before being made available for adoption, Serenity was spayed. Her abandonment case was eventually closed.


‘We Won’t Give Up on Her’

Selena received a phone call from the ASPCA letting her know that Serenity was in their care and was progressing back to her full weight.

Selena hoped to adopt Serenity as a companion to her family’s nine-year-old pit bull mix, Jovie, who resembles Serenity. 


Thinking about what Serenity suffered also weighed heavily on her.

“When people neglect or mistreat dogs, it crushes my soul,” says Selena, who was raised on Staten Island and always wanted a dog before adopting Jovie from Animal Care Centers of NYC. Selena’s husband, Christian, grew up with dogs.


“When we’re not home, we feel like Jovie is lonely,” says Selena, who works two jobs. “So, we decided to take that chance.”

Selena, two of her children, and Jovie, with Serenity on the day she was adopted.

On August 20, Selena and Christian, along with their three young children and Jovie, met Serenity at the CARE complex in Manhattan for the first time since the day Selena came upon Serenity three months before.


“Everyone was excited to meet her,” says Selena. “We all fell in love and agreed we wanted to adopt her, and she went home with us that same day.”


Jovie was welcoming to the new canine family member.

“Having another dog definitely brought happiness and light to Jovie’s life,” Selena says. “They sleep next to each other.”

Selena reports that Serenity is well-trained and protective. 


“She’s energetic and good with our kids, who now have another dog to play with,” she says. “I love her because she gives me her puppy eyes, and she’s cute and she listens. I know she’s trying her best. And, of course, she loves food. 

“We won’t give up on her,” Selena adds. “Especially after what she’s been through.”