When we rescue a new pet, sometimes the pet rescues us

Oftentimes, when we seek out a new family member at the local Humane Society or animal shelter, we think we’re rescuing a dog or a cat (or some other animal). Sometimes, though, it’s the new pet that rescues us. 

After his beloved pit bull, Maia, was euthanized in January 2022 due to cancer, a grieving Pete Murphy of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, decided to give back by volunteering at the Berkshire Humane Society. With no one staffing the front desk, Murphy took a peek inside the kennels and couldn’t help but notice a very overweight dog named Rusev.

Some time later, he returned to BHS to fill out the volunteer application. Volunteering might take his mind off of Maia’s death and a recent divorce, and help with his alcohol recovery, he thought.

The staff told Murphy they had the “perfect dog” for him and, though unsure he was ready for a new pet, Murphy hesitantly consented to meet him. To his surprise, out came a slimmed-down Rusev, who flopped over next to Murphy for a belly rub. He was a “goofball,” says Murphy.

Pete Murphy with his rescue dog, Rusev
Pete Murphy with his rescue dog, Rusev. Photo courtesy Berkshire Humane Society

The 9-year-old pit bull had been surrendered twice to BHS and had been there for more than two months waiting for a forever home. Most people want a puppy, says Murphy, 57, a driver with Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. “Every dog needs a home,” he says. 

“If he only has a couple of years,” Murphy told himself, “well, I’ll give him a couple of good years.”

A few days later, Murphy took Rusev home, and the pup has become his constant companion, giving him unconditional love and, he says, a purpose to get up in the morning. 

If Murphy has a bad day, he says he comes home and forgets all about it because Rusev goes “berserko” and is always so happy to see him.

As a registered service dog that still acts like a puppy, Rusev is always with Murphy — except at work. Insisting on riding shotgun in Murphy’s car, the two often go on adventures together — hikes, road trips and visits to parks like October Mountain and Rock Horse Reservation, and even museums.

“He’s my travel buddy. He’s my shadow. He’s my boy,” says Murphy.

Rusev has his own Facebook page, which features many photos with Murphy. His bio says he “studied” at Obsidian K9 Academy and is “in a relationship” (with Sweets, a St. Bernard mix).

Claire Bosma with her rescue rabbit, Hershey
Claire Bosma with her rescue rabbit, Hershey. Photo courtesy Berkshire Humane Society

Rabbit Therapy

After losing her cat and a rabbit in 2023, Claire Bosma, 80, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, visited Berkshire Humane Society twice before adopting a chocolate-colored 4-pound, 8-year-old rabbit in November. The rabbit, which Bosma named “Hershey,” had been surrendered to BHS because its owner was moving out of state and did not want to bring him along. 

She’d tried to talk herself out of adopting, telling herself “I’m getting older” and even rabbits are “more work than you’d think.” But, she says with a laugh, “I’m weak.” 

For the last five years, Bosma and her friend, Mary Davis, 71, have been visiting nursing homes to show off their rabbits, which they tuck into baskets and wheel around in baby strollers. 

Not as traditional as a dog or a cat, bunnies bring a very different kind of joy, says Bosma. They can be house-trained to use a litter box, she says, and they actually play with toys.

“They’re just like people,” she says. “They all have their individual personalities. If you spend time with them and keep them safe and warm and you interact with them, you’ll have a good pet.”

Reflecting on a recent visit to a nursing-care facility where residents gathered in the community room to meet the bunnies, Bosma says, “You see them waiting and then when we come in, especially if we have the strollers, it’s really funny, because everybody thinks we’re wheeling in our grandkids.”

Davis and Bosma each take one side of the room and meet in the middle — doing their best to answer questions and entertain the residents. “The room becomes illuminated with happy faces,” Bosma says. “Most of them want (the rabbits) on their laps so they can really pet them and ooh and ahh over them.”

It’s amazing to see how the bunnies transform the residents, Bosma says. “There could be a woman there that maybe doesn’t know the woman on her right. And when they’re both petting the rabbit, they get to laughing together.

“You can’t have a bad day with a rabbit in the house,” says Bosma. “You’ve got a headache, you’re mad at somebody, you don’t feel good, whatever’s going on with you, just pick up a rabbit.”

She says she and Davis get as much out of the bunny visits as the residents do. “It is extremely therapeutic,” she says.

Randy Winters with her rescue cat, Jaspurr
Randy Winters with her rescue cat, Jaspurr. Photo courtesy Berkshire Humane Society

Crazy About Cats 

One by one, the pitter-patter of little paws claimed a piece of Randy Winters’ heart.

The saga began in May 2010 when her nephew, Ryan, asked her to take care of his black 8-year-old cat “Coffy” for about five months.

“I just fell in love with her,” says Winters, 77, of Dalton, Massachusetts. “When (Ryan) got settled and I had to give her up, I was heartbroken.”

So, she went to the Berkshire Humane Society just to “check out” the cats. A little black-and-white tuxedo named Jilly caught her eye. Jilly had been found on the streets in Pittsfield and in her seven months had already been adopted twice and returned because families said she “wasn’t friendly.” But she was, insists Winters, who took Jilly home in September 2010.

Six months later, the retired schoolteacher thought Jilly needed a friend and adopted 1-year-old black-and-white Penelope Rose. “She’s the sweetest little thing, so they got along very well from the beginning,” says Winters.

Then, because her nephew got a different job and was working too much, Winters took Coffy back and the three felines got along splendidly until Coffy passed away at age 13 in June 2015. 

“The girls and I were grieving and it was very quiet,” says Winters, who decided to “bring a little life back” by adopting another rescue cat, warning with a chuckle, “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Jaspurr” had put on a good act when she met him at BHS. “He just melted” into Winters’ arms like a little “gentleman,” she says. 

“I was hoodwinked,” she jokes. “He’s like a bull in a China shop.”

Like children, Winters says each of her three cats is unique and she loves each one for different reasons.

Winters said her cats provide her with love and companionship and “someone to care for.”

She emphasizes that she doesn’t want “to be called a crazy cat lady, but I am crazy about my cats.”

Contact Berkshire Humane Society, 214 Barker Road, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to learn about adopting, fostering and volunteering. The society also offers veterinarian services, dog-training classes, a pet food pantry and more. Call 413-447-7878, or go to berkshirehumane.org. Have a pet story to share? Email jantormay@comcast.net.

The Senior to Senior Animal Adoption Program is a joint program between the Saratoga County Office for the Aging and the Saratoga County Animal Shelter to place senior dogs and cats, ages 5 and older, with loving older adults, age 60+. Cost is only $6 for dogs, which covers a New York state dog license, and free for cats. Visit the Saratoga County Animal Shelter’s website or call 518-885-4113 for more information.

Top image: SeventyFour from Getty Images, via Canva.com

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