At just 3 months, a pit bull puppy’s life very nearly ended on a deserted block at the edge of Gowanus. On Easter, his former owner tossed him from the car like so much unwanted garbage and left. The puppy was extremely malnourished, dehydrated, and suffering from mange, a parasite-induced skin disease, when Alex Darsey, a bartender at Park Slope’s Southpaw, found him moments after the car had sped away. The only other witness shied away from even touching what was clearly a diseased animal, but Darsey knew there could be no looking past the pup. He picked him up, named him Walter, and saved his life.
Now Walter has a whole new family in the Southpaw staff and his own blog — HelpSaveWalter.blogspot.com — that’s blowing up. We caught up with Darsey to get the story.
How did you come to find Walter?
I was reluctantly walking to the gym on Easter Sunday evening. I saw him walking alone toward me on the sidewalk. I first noticed his beautiful face; as I got closer I saw he was in severe shape.
There was only one witness and he didn’t want to go near him because Walter was so sick. He had seen someone pull up and drop him off and then leave, but he had no real description. Whoever dumped Walter was clearly looking for a remote area. It was kind of Park Slope, kind of Gowanus — kind of a dead zone at 4th Avenue and 15th Street in Brooklyn.
What was your reaction when you learned what had happened?
I was very concerned. I knew I needed to get him somewhere to be put down and began calling my friends with pets.
My good friends Kenan and Ro Juska came immediately and picked me up, and we went to VERG animal hospital in Carroll Gardens. The doctor who saw Walter said he was extremely malnourished and dehydrated, and had the worst case of mange he had ever seen, as well as possible secondary infections. My friends [and fellow Southpaw bartenders] and I thought he deserved a chance, so we got him medication and decided to work together to rehabilitate him.
Did you think at any point that he might not make it?
After we brought him home we started feeding him and trying to make him comfortable. After about a week, though, his skin was cold to the touch, his body was contorted, and he could no longer stand on his own. I was fairly certain he was dying right there, so we again rushed him to the hospital.
The doctors suspected that since he was basically a giant open wound, bacteria had taken over and gotten into his blood, turning him septic.
Septic sounds like a terrible thing to be.
They were no longer positive that he could fight against all these problems. My friends and I were left with the decision of whether to go into extreme debt for a puppy that no one had asked for and might not even live, or to walk away and let him be put down.
Being that we were totally suckers for him already, we again decided to give him a reprieve. That was when we discussed a fund-raising effort.
And that’s what inspired you to start the blog, Help Save Walter.
Yes, with Paypal attached to donate. It has made all the difference in the world. Ro has really been the one steering the ship, and she’s been trying to personally thank every person who has donated, which has become a full-time job. She is also constantly updating the page with new photos, videos, and information. We were just trying to reach out to our family and friends, but it totally blew up. The reaction has been overwhelming.
How much money has it raised?
We raised enough to take care of Walter’s hospital stay and possibly make donations in Walter’s name to area shelters and animal cruelty organizations.
Where is Walter now?
At VERG. He is expected to be released sometime this week. His therapy will continue there, but soon he will be coming home with me.
Are you planning on keeping him when he’s healthy?
I think we may be stuck with each other, but my other friends are very interested in participating in bringing him up.
Have you been getting adoption offers from others because of the blog?
Many, many. He has a family now, but our focus lately has been on trying to alert people that there are thousands and thousands of Walters in the world who need good homes. Shelters are overwhelmed and overcrowded, and while Walter is undoubtedly the sweetest dog around, there are certainly other amazing animals that need love.
What’s your advice for readers who want to help out but who maybe aren’t ready for a pit bull puppy in their lives, or their apartments?
Beyond money, which is always in short supply, area shelters need volunteers desperately. Once all this dies down and Walter has recovered, I plan to pick a shelter to volunteer at.
What’s the best reaction you’ve seen to Walter’s story?
There have been so damn many, but my personal favorite is a little girl from somewhere in the Midwest who was making Shrinky Dink dog tags and selling them to raise money for Walter’s care. I need to order a bunch.