On January 21, 2015, Brittany Faske received a disturbing phone call. A worker at a construction landfill in Houston, Texas, had spotted an injured pit bull with what looked like half his face missing. The dog hid in the bushes, not letting anyone get near him.
Faske, a volunteer for ADORE (All Dogs Official Rescue Enterprise of Houston), rushed to the scene. When she found the pit bull sitting near a ditch among fast food bags and old tires, she could see he was in worse shape than she initially imagined. At best, she thought she could help end his suffering.
"This once gorgeous, large dog had been reduced to almost nothing," Faske tells The Dodo. "Along with his injuries, the dog's ribs, hip bones and backbone were all clearly visible under his skin. He was covered in dirt and was too weak to run."
Original photo has been blurred.Brittany Faske
As Faske inched closer, the pit bull gave a warning growl. This didn't alarm her — she expected it after what he'd been through. But the dog let Faske get close enough to inspect his injuries more closely. Most of the dog's nose and snout were gone, and what was left dangled in front of his face.
Faske was positive a person had done this — perhaps the same person who had placed the gray collar around the pit bull's neck, and presumably dumped the dog near the landfill. "The cut was so clean and even, it could have only happened with a sharp instrument," Faske explains. "It was as if someone had literally taken a knife and cut off the front of his face."
Besides the gruesome appearance of the injuries, there was the smell. A strong stench told Faske infection had set in.
After a bit of coaxing, Faske managed to slip a lead over the pit bull's head. They named him Apollo, after the mythical god of healing and medicine. "Immediately, you could see his body go limp," says Faske. "It was as if he knew he was safe."
Faske loaded Apollo into her car and drove him straight to the vet. This poor dog would have been in an extraordinary amount of pain, but Apollo relaxed in the car, and even fell asleep. "I think that's the best sleep he'd ever had," says Faske.
Apollo wasn't out of the woods yet. He needed urgent medical attention, and Faske wasn't sure he'd make it. But when he arrived at the vet, Apollo trotted around the waiting area, sniffing people and interacting with the other dogs.
"Everyone at the vet seemed a little intimidated by Apollo," says Faske. "I don't think anyone expected a dog in his condition to walk around as if nothing was wrong."
Besides his facial injuries, Apollo tested positive for heartworm, a condition that occurs when parasitic roundworms migrate through a dog's tissues into his heart. When untreated, heartworm leads to death.
Faske and the veterinarian placed food and water in front of Apollo to see what kind of quality of life he'd have. If he ate, they thought he might have a chance. Without hesitation, Apollo gobbled two bowls of food and lapped water. Then Apollo walked up to Faske, and laid his head on her leg. "From that moment on, we knew he wasn't just another dog," she says.
Apollo needed urgent surgery, but Faske wanted to make sure he got the best possible care possible, so she took him to another vet for a second opinion. Then, a few weeks later, Apollo had reconstructive surgery. Apollo's outer nose was gone, but he still had a nasal cavity that allowed him to breathe.
During the operation, the veterinarian placed a skin graft around the exposed bone of Apollo's naval cavity, which would protect what was left of his nose. While part of Apollo's upper jaw and a few teeth had to be removed, the vet also managed to save enough of his mouth so that he could eat and drink normally.
While all of this was happening, adoption hadn't entered Faske's mind — she was too busy worrying about Apollo making it through his surgery. Yet Faske knew she and Apollo shared a special bond, and this bond grew stronger every day. She visited him as often as she could while he was in medical boarding.
"Deep down inside, I knew that I wanted to keep him, but just needed to find a way," Faske tells The Dodo.
As soon as Apollo had recovered, Faske introduced him to her two other dogs, who were both males over the age of 10. "They were both bully breeds and very temperamental," says Faske. "Just a couple of grumpy old men. I wasn't sure if they'd accept another dog. They were pretty set in their ways and protective of me."
Once again, Apollo exceeded Faske's expectations. Not only did her dogs accept Apollo, but Apollo clearly adored them. Apollo also loved being around people, which was quite surprising after everything he'd been through.
It ended up being an easy decision for Faske to officially adopt Apollo.
Even with his facial injuries, Apollo now lives a full life. His reconstructed nose functions like any other dog's nose, allowing him to breathe, sniff and sneeze. His reformed jaw hasn't stopped him from eating or playing.
"The boy can eat!" says Faske. "He also plays with toys and tennis balls."
With Faske's love, Apollo seems to have worked through his emotional trauma. "I've never seen a happier dog," says Faske. "You can see the confidence and love in his eyes."
Apollo's favorite activities are sitting in a big chair he's claimed as his own and watching TV with Faske. He also loves playing with his doggy brothers, eating and sunbathing.
Each Saturday, Faske takes Apollo to training at Total Control K9 College, which kindly donated private training sessions that Apollo loves. "He somehow knows when it's Saturday because he's waiting patiently for me by the door," Faske says. "It's definitely our weekly bonding time. And he can't wait to go for a car ride."
Apollo has been such an inspiration to everyone, ADORE made him its official mascot for animal cruelty awareness.
"He seems to have found his calling and has been able to put his cruel experience behind him," says Faske. "He's showing the world that an animal who has suffered so much, then been thrown away, can rise above the circumstances they may have been fated to, and become a champion for other animals."
"After everything he's been through, it amazes me how happy and carefree he is around everyone," says Faske. "Apollo truly is a blessing. Without ADORE Houston and the support of the community, Apollo would not be where he is today. It took a village to help with his recovery and I am so thankful to everyone that has contributed."