Coronavirus crisis helps dog find home after 4 years in shelter

While the corornavirus pandemic rages on, a pit bull mix named Toretto has found a second chance at life.Rescued as a stray by the nonprofit Humane Society of Imperial County in El Centro, California, the sweet dog spent four years overlooked by potential adopters. Then animal shelters and rescue organizations across America put out desperate calls for families to foster dogs in the wake of the pandemic.Michael Levitt, 52, a television producer with vast experience in animal rescue programming, wanted to do his part to help strapped shelters cope with the crisis.

“I spoke with my partner about fostering and he agreed that now, more than ever, we need to step up and do it,” he told TODAY.

Michael Levitt was happy being part of a two-dog family until the coronavirus pandemic motivated him to help a Southern California shelter by fostering Toretto.Michael Levitt / Michael Levitt Productions
After watching an online video of Toretto and learning about the 9-year-old dog’s situation, Levitt called the shelter. When he heard Toretto also has inoperable cancer in his nose, the news didn’t deter him; it made him even more convinced that fostering the pooch was the right thing to do.

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“The three hardest dogs to get adopted or fostered are pit bulls, seniors and dogs with special needs,” he said. “All three of those boxes are checked with Toretto, but he was so beautiful in that video and just stole my heart. I figured, ‘Why not?’ We’re all home. We have the time to put into it.”

So on March 21, Levitt brought Toretto home to meet his partner, Marc Loren, and their pit bull mixes, Trooper and Nelson. It went perfectly.

“Toretto is so docile and incredibly affectionate and sweet. He fit into our pack immediately,” he said. “Our other two dogs just took to him. It’s almost as if they know that he needs our help as a family.”

Within an hour, they decided to make Toretto a permanent member of the pack.

Marc Loren smiles with Toretto while getting a smooch from Trooper.Michael Levitt / Michael Levitt Productions

Toretto will start cutting-edge radiation treatments for his cancer soon. But he isn’t just getting help — he’s giving it, according to Levitt.

“I tend to suffer from anxiety and obsess on things that are serious, such as a pandemic,” he said. “Being able to take care of and focus on something beside myself has been as good for me as I know it’s been for Toretto to be part of our family. It’s helped me tremendously through this difficult time.”

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He noted that shelters can often help cover the costs of fostering pets , so expense shouldn’t be a deterrent. Senior dogs like Toretto can be great additions since they’re “older and wiser” — and typically mellower than pups — but he believes fostering any dog right now is a proactive way to give back and feel good.

“Dogs are great at living in the moment and that is probably the greatest lesson they can teach us during these scary and uncertain times when we are all concerned about our future,” he said.

Toretto seems ecstatic with his new forever home.Michael Levitt / Michael Levitt Productions

Ultimately, adopting Toretto is proving to be a win-win for the entire family — including, of course, Toretto himself.

Marc and I want to spoil Toretto rotten and show him what it’s like to be loved, and for him to know that his life matters.”