ILLINOIS — She was abandoned, had nearly starved to death and hobbled on swollen, infected feet. But the strawberry-blond pit bull with a tan nose and brown eyes rebounded – and waltzed her way into many people’s hearts.
Along the way, she earned a new name.
“We named her Audrey because it means ‘noble strength’ – and that just kind of fit her from day one,” said Cookie Huber, general manager for Animal Care Centers. The veterinary clinic’s Fairfield location has cared for the dog since authorities found her Dec. 19 in Hamilton’s Joyce Park.
The year-old dog then weighed just 27 pounds – about 18 pounds underweight. Huber called the animal “the thinnest, skinniest dog I’ve seen that was actually alive” during her 30-year career with animals. Audrey was so cold that her body temperature, which should have been around 101 degrees, didn’t even register on a thermometer.
“She had to have a great will to live,” Huber said, and that’s why her recovery has inspired everyone at the clinic and touched so many hearts.
At first too weak to show much personality, the dog now displays a friendly and playful disposition. She has added 13 pounds to her frame, attracted donations of money, food and toys, and even has a Facebook page, “Justice for Audrey,” dedicated to her.
On Tuesday, followers of that page welcomed news that authorities had tracked down Audrey’s owner, Edwin L. Saunders, 53, of Lockland.
Butler County Dog Warden Julie Holmes said Deputy Warden Kurt Merbs waded through hundreds of tips before finding one that led him Friday to Saunders, with the help of Fairfield police Officer Sandy Sears.
Authorities wouldn’t say what brought Saunders to the Hamilton park where Audrey was found, but they say he admitted to owning and abandoning the dog there.
After hearing that Saunders had been found and charged, one of Audrey’s supporters, Tracy Padgett, posted on Facebook that she wept tears of joy. “People need to know that these animals (cannot) be treated like this,” Padgett wrote. “Give Audrey a big hug. … Let her know she will never be hurt again!!”
Saunders, who couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, faces misdemeanor charges of cruelty to a companion animal, abandonment, failure to license and failure to confine the dog. If convicted, Saunders could be sent to jail for up to six months and could be fined $1,000.
Audrey’s supporters say that punishment is insufficient. They said they intend to pack Hamilton Municipal Court when Saunders appears; Holmes thinks his court date will be late this month.
Audrey likely will need to remain at the veterinary center awhile longer before she is strong enough to be spayed and then released for adoption in a permanent home, Huber said, adding, “We want to set her on the best road to life that we can.”
Officials are working with a pit-bull rescue group to secure a loving home for Audrey. Despite the breed’s being designated “vicious” by law, Huber says Audrey has been “nothing but darling.” She gingerly accepts food from her caretakers’ hands and behaves lovingly and appropriately in every situation she has encountered, Huber said.
The outpouring of love and support for the dog has been heartwarming – and so has Audrey’s response, Holmes said.
“She went from being a dog that nobody wanted to being a dog that is adored,” Holmes said. “It just melts me when you see a dog who has been so neglected react like this. She never lost the capacity to love — and I think that says tons about these animals.”