“We’re the ones who are blessed, for sure,” says Champ’s new owner
Two months ago, life was torture for a tiny puppy in Mississippi.
Due to neglect and illness, the rat terrier pup was clinging to life inside an apartment. On Aug. 25, the Tunica Humane Society received a call about the puppy, his three siblings and the mom.
“A lady just didn’t want them,” says Sandy Williams, director of the Humane Society. “The mother of the puppies was chained outdoors at an apartment complex with no food, no water and no shelter.”
Inside, one of the puppies “was just hanging on by a thread,” Williams tells PEOPLE. “He couldn’t even walk; he kept falling over. His eye was horribly scratched and it had abscessed. He was sopping wet and laying in his own waste.”
Williams rushed the puppy to an animal hospital, where they immediately administered IV fluids.
“It was really touch-and-go for the little guy,” says Williams, who decided at that moment to name him Champ.
After being treated for his many ailments, “he began to rally and fight back,” she says. The Humane Society posted his inspiring story on the shelter’s Facebook page, which has more than 300,000 followers. Soon, “everybody wanted Champ,” she says.
Included in that group were Lisa and Steve Renner, who live in near the shelter in Bartlett, Tennessee. At the time, the couple was grieving from the recent loss of their beloved dog Beau, whom they’d had for 14 years.
“We were just devastated,” Lisa says of Beau’s death. “It was worse than we ever thought it would be.”
While she admits that they “didn’t know if we could ever love another dog as much,” she and her husband were moved by Champ’s story. The Renners have fostered special-needs dogs from the shelter in the past, so they were unfazed about the fact that Champ will never see out of one eye, due to complications from an infection.
“We asked if he could have a sleepover with us, and it went really well,” she says. “As soon as I picked him up, he licked me in the face.”
Champ, who now goes by the name Gus, was adopted by the Renners on Oct. 3. Since then, it’s safe to say that he’s being spoiled rotten.
“He gets all of his toys out and throws them all over the place,” Renner says. “He’s so full of life. He sleeps with us, and we’ll give him one of his little chew bones and one toy so if he wants to play at night, we’ll give him one and then he just goes back to sleep.”
As for outdoor fun, “he goes to the lake with us; we’re getting him a little lifejacket,” she says. “And he loves leaves! He’ll chase leaves forever.”
While Gus has clearly benefits from the love he receives from his new family, the reverse is also true. The couple says he’s exactly what they needed during a difficult time; Steve is recovering from major spinal fusion surgery, while Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in July.
“It’s been a tough year,” Renner says. “But there was nothing worse than losing Beau. We needed Champ to lick our tears away.”
“He’s a little fighter,” she adds. “He wouldn’t have made it a day more if they hadn’t rescued him when they did. Now he’s gained twice his weight, and he’s just a little love bug.”
Renner believes that on some level, the puppy remembers the agony he once endured.
“You can tell he’s so thankful to be saved,” she says. “This is nothing against people with pedigreed dogs, but these rescued animals just have the most loving hearts. They just need to be loved.”
While it’s clear that Gus is now living a charmed and lucky life, his owners look at it differently: “We’re the ones who are blessed, for sure.”