Meet Teddy, the German Shepherd Mix Who Survived 7 Harrowing Months in the Wilderness as Total Strangers Tried to Save Him
Even though he's only 4 years old, Teddy has experienced more than his share of hardship—and that's even before he was likely hit by a car and plugged with birdshot.
Rescued from a California shelter in 2021 just days before he was scheduled to be euthanized, the German shepherd mix got a fresh start with a new family on the other side of the country. But just when things began to look up, Teddy escaped in rural Pennsylvania and spent the next seven months surviving extreme weather and severe injuries, all during a constant hunt for food and shelter.
Now, thanks to a rescue story that includes volunteers, first responders, hundreds of online strangers, and more than a few egg sandwiches, Teddy is back home with his family.
"He went from nobody wanting him to this whole community of people wanting to help him," his grateful owner, Salvatore Della Monica, tells Daily Paws.
Della Monica and Rozhaja Doci have always been animal lovers. In addition to having pets of their own, the married couple has passionately helped animal welfare organizations around the country. Doci in particular has made a regular habit of following the social media accounts of rescue organizations, keeping abreast of the latest rescue stories and challenges.
That was how, in May 2021, they first found Teddy, who was scheduled to be euthanized before Memorial Day weekend at a shelter outside Los Angeles, Della Monica says.
The couple felt compelled to help the then-3-year-old German shepherd mix. Listed by the shelter as an owner surrender, details on Teddy's life and background were scarce, but Della Moncia and Doci knew he'd been at the shelter since April and was severely traumatized, refusing to interact with other dogs or even the shelter volunteers. The frightened doggo captured the couple's hearts, with Doci in particular feeling a strong connection to the fellow.
"We had lost a family pet, and that was pretty traumatic," Della Monica says. "That grief certainly played its part, but Teddy also reminded [Doci] of her childhood dog."
The pair committed to adopting Teddy and began the laborious process of transporting him across the country from the Los Angeles shelter to their home in Washington, D.C. Because of his size (nearly 70 pounds) and his anxiety issues, the couple decided flying Teddy across the country was too risky. Instead, Della Monica flew to Los Angeles, collected Teddy, and drove back home, where he and Doci began the long process of acclimating the timid doggo to life in a loving home.
"After we brought him home and started all of the rehab for him, we had him evaluated by a behavioral therapist," Della Monica says. "She said that he was probably always a backyard dog or even a stray, so he didn't have much in the way of social skills."
In the beginning, there were plenty of vet bills and many long, patient days and nights waiting for Teddy to get comfortable in his new surroundings and open up to the love from his new family—Della Monica, Doci, their two children, and two smaller dogs. After several weeks of work, the family started to see Teddy come out of his shell and slowly spend more time with his new people.
By the end of June, Della Monica and Doci felt comfortable enough with Teddy's progress to take him on a trip with them to visit family in Stroudsburg, Penn. Feeling less timid and anxious, but still not fully socialized to his family, Teddy bolted through a gap in a fenced backyard.
"He was leashed," Della Monica says. "He was having a good time. We were playing. I foolishly let him off the leash, he saw an opening, and took off."
The family searched frantically for Teddy for the remainder of their visit but turned up no trace of him. Returning home anguished at the loss, the couple kept up a vigil, posting online and continuing to keep an eye on shelters and "found pet" notices from the surrounding area. But as the weeks dragged into months, hope began to fade.
However, the family had had Teddy microchipped during his first few trips to the vet. And that microchip was why the couple received a call from Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery in Blairstown, N.J., in January. They had found Teddy.
Missing for seven months, Teddy had roamed some 80 miles, crisscrossing rural Pennsylvania, apparently scavenging food where he could, and dealing with harsh weather, terrain, and other untold hardships. Thankfully, a dedicated group of state troopers, volunteers, and good Samaritans managed to catch him.
He was in rough shape. The vet who treated him told Della Monica that Teddy had sustained a broken tailbone and "severe bilateral hip dysplasia." One of his legs had been rendered nearly non-functional. It's emotionally wrenching to watch this video of Teddy limping into the scene where he was ultimately captured.
"He was likely hit by a car, which would explain the leg. He's also got bullet fragments in his hind. They think it was pellets from birdshot, so they think it was someone out bird hunting who shot into some brush and caught him by mistake," Della Monica says.
Once again, Della Monica and Doci brought Teddy home. Once again, they intend to rehabilitate Teddy as best they can. This time, though, Teddy's story of hardship and miraculous survival resonated with a bigger group of people. Local reporters covered his return, and Della Monica set up a GoFundMe page to help defray the costs of Teddy's recovery. So far it's exceeded its initial $10,000 goal with $11,753 raised. The outpouring of support makes Della Monica emotional just talking about the donations, Buddha Dog Rescue and Recovery's work, and the state troopers who left out egg sandwiches to try to catch Teddy.
Most of all, Della Monica credits Doci as the driving force behind keeping Teddy alive and loved.
"She's the one who found him in that shelter in LA," he says. "She's the one who worked to find the money to get him here; she kept up the search for him all these past months. She deserves all the recognition for Teddy being with us today."
Teddy's exact road to recovery is still unclear. He has an appointment with a neurologist to better understand the extent of the damage to his back leg, and his family has set up an Instagram account for people to follow along with his progress. But while Teddy's future still has a lot of uncertainty, there's one thing in his life about which Della Monica and Doci are absolutely positive.
"As long as he's healthy and happy, he'll be here with us," Della Monica says.