September 21, 2010 06:11 PM

Two weeks ago, a 5-year-old German Shepherd without ears was found wandering the streets of Downey, Calif. His condition was so deplorable that he couldn’t even get listed among the adoptable pets on the Los Angeles County Animal Control shelter’s website, and after his requisite five-day hold at the facility, the dog was set to be euthanized.

Luckily, at the 11th hour, a shelter volunteer took a photograph and distributed it through e-mails to the rescue community.

“I saw the picture that night and knew we had to figure out a way to rescue this poor dog,” says Tiffany Norton, co-founder of Coastal German Shepherd Rescue. “The next morning, we rescued him from the shelter.”

After examining the dog, named Phoenix, veterinarians determined that he had been used for bait in a dog-fighting ring. Both of his ears were completely gone –they were either cut off or mauled over time – but his ear canals were intact. He had bite wounds on his face, neck and chest; a skin infection that covered his body; and a scar around his muzzle that appeared to be from a wire used to prevent him from biting.

Despite having endured years of trauma, Phoenix is “absolutely wonderful with people,” Norton says. “He’s just soaking up any affection that we give him.”

The dog was cautiously introduced to a small kitten, and played with it lovingly. With other dogs, however, Phoenix has shown some confusion. “Initially, when he sees another dog, he wags his tail and he’s very happy,” Norton says. “And then, it’s like a switch goes off, and he has to be standoffish and bark. He doesn’t know what to expect.”

Once he has healed physically, Phoenix will be available for adoption. Coastal German Shepherd Rescue is working with behaviorists to socialize him and teach him how to be a normal dog. He has been taking long walks, which have proved to be therapeutic for him.

Says Norton, “We’re happy that we can rehabilitate him and give him some love, which I don’t think he’s ever had.”

For more information on Phoenix, see Coastal German Shepherd’s website.

See more stories of survival on PEOPLEPets.com:
‘The Lost Dogs’ Finds Hope for Michael Vick’s Fighting Dogs
Puppy Mill Survivor Rudolph Teaches Kids About Disabilities

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