Tonka is finally home for the holidays—and every day after that, too.

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Tonka was five days short of setting a record for the Orange County Animal Service’s longest shelter stay when he was adopted late last month. The 7-year-old pit bull mix had been at the Florida animal shelter for 216 days when South Daytona resident Wilfredo Vega heard the heartbreaking story and made the 90-minute drive to adopt the dog.

Tonka’s seven-month shelter stay began in April, after being abandoned in the backyard of an Orange County home when his previous owner moved. Tonka was adopted twice during that seven months, but he was returned both times—once, after only hours.

Diane Summers, the division manager at the shelter, tells Daily Paws that Tonka was a case of a dog who'd gotten "stuck" in the shelter. He couldn't be housed with other dogs, and seemed to be selective in warming up to potential adopters.

Orange County Animal Service shared posts about Tonka on their Facebook account, and local news picked up the story.  That’s when Vega, a 46-year-old father of four and owner of an auto repair shop, saw a news report about the abandoned pup that prompted him to head to the shelter. 

Vega adopted the dog and took him home just before Thanksgiving—and it seems that he was just as lucky to have Tonka home for the holiday season as Tonka was to have a new home. Vega told local reporters that until the adoption, he hadn’t felt much like celebrating the holidays this year. Vega lost his mother, Carlina Rosa, to COVID-19 this past spring. The legacy of his late mother, who always told him to do the right thing, helped Vega make the decision to give Tonka a forever home. Vega’s daughter Aaliyah, who works with a local pet alliance, also encouraged her father to give the adorable pit bull mix a chance.

Even though he'd been overlooked before, it seems as though Tonka may have just been waiting for the right human to come along. Summers says that the right person for a shelter pet like Tonka is one who can “provide the animal with patience and love through stability and routine—as that’s typically what these animals need to thrive.”

After spending their first holiday together, Vega told the Orange County Animal Service shelter that Tonka has been “absolutely phenomenal.” Vega says the the family spoils Tonka with love and chew toys, and that the pooch is adjusting well to life with his new family, including Vega’s four children, six parakeets, and two cockatiels.

Because he was a little more reserved at the shelter, some assumed Tonka would be a big 'ol couch potato at home. Nope! He has a ton of energy and loves to be rewarded with treats. He was waiting on the right person: Vega.

Even though most people looking to adopt a shelter pet expect an immediate reaction from the animal they're interested in, Summers says that Tonka is a great reminder that some pets are shy, and may take more time to reveal their true personalities. “My hope would be that for anyone considering a longer term shelter pet, they be patient above all else.”

We're so thankful Tonka finally found his forever home. If you're looking for a pet to cozy up with for the rest of their life, search AdoptAPet.com to find a shelter near you where you can adopt your own furry friend.