According to a quick Google search for the name “Balto,” the word found its meaning in the definitions “bold” and “brave,” which is only fitting for junior Anna Palmesano, who found just that in her new best friend.
Balto, a now 3-and-a-half-month-old rescue puppy, was saved in December of 2017. He was discovered by Palmesano’s close friends in a ravaged trailer park in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. He was one of six other dogs—the runt of a litter of five.
After a night of driving from Houston to Omaha, a local vet diagnosed all dogs with sarcoptic mange, fleas, giardia, hookworm, roundworm and for the two large dogs—the parents of the pups—heartworm.
They were surprised that most of the dogs made it through the drive back and later found out that one of the only reasons they were still alive in Houston was due to neighborhood kids tossing candy and McDonald’s in the direction of the dogs.
Palmesano, who said she was proud of her friends and wanted to help, quickly came to donate some necessary items and meet with the dogs, who were then all housed in a garage with space heaters. In that first encounter, Balto waddled over to her, sat in her lap and refused to get up.
She knew then: this living, breathing miracle would be her dog.
“My parents were still on the fence about having a dog since we haven’t had one since we moved houses years ago,” Palmesano says. “But somehow, I managed to get them to just meet the puppies. I asked them which of them they thought was the cutest, and my entire family agreed on Balto. It was a sign.”
Palmesano drew up a spreadsheet to convince her parents that she could handle the financial responsibility of a new puppy, and since then, has spent countless nights of her spring semester sleeping on the couch just to make sure he doesn’t have an accident inside.
Despite a myriad of veterinary treatments and health issues, Balto now lives a life of luxury. He gets daily coconut oil massages to aid in bringing moisture back to his skin and is often tucked into a blanket when he sleeps. Palmesano says he prefers HGTV over anything else when he relaxes in the living room.
“My dad just recently said he can’t believe that two months ago, this little guy was struggling to survive in a trailer park,” Palmesano says. “And now he’s pampered beyond belief.”
Balto is the definition of a mutt. His mother is a mix of a shepherd and a Catahoula, while his dad is a rottweiler-labrador mix, making him a little bit of everything. His ears flop awkwardly and his tail curls in a perfect circle. His coat has grown in to carry a variety of browns and blacks, and he has a textured wave in his fur toward his derriere.
Palmesano says the best milestones she’s shared with him are watching him grow into a healthy puppy.
“He is finally getting comfortable in our house,” Palmesano says. “When he first came in, he only knew a garage. And he lived with dogs 24/7, so to be in a human family, he was so shocked. But now he’s almost a little too comfortable running around in our house. He kind of runs like a kangaroo, too, because his legs aren’t the strongest yet, and he just jumps around wherever he can.”
Balto has been cleared of all of his infections and is now finishing treatments to get on the right foot of gaining weight and building stronger muscles. At this point, the next step will be to neuter him and to buy him a more masculine collar, which Palmesano says will probably go hand-in-hand.
With a bright vision for the future, Palmesano says she hopes to train Balto as a therapy or emotional support animal, so she can bring him more into the world, since so far, he has seen so little of it.
“I saw a video of a homeless man who lived with a dog, and that was everything to him,” Palmesano says. “It gives you something to look forward to, something to do, to take care of. The house isn’t as quiet. This is what makes it home.”
And for some of us—the mange-ridden, small-boned, tough-hearted few of us, just coming home is the bravest thing we can do.