Lazaruff, once-skeletal pit bull, becomes happy rescue dog

Almost nine months after nearly dying of neglect and abuse, a pit bull named Lazaruff has been reborn.

Rescuers from St. Landry Parish Animal Control found the adult dog covered in flies in an abandoned house in Louisiana. Barely able to move, he was so dehydrated and starved that he only weighed 19 pounds. They rushed him to Bellevue Animal Clinic in Opelousas, Louisiana, where they begged the veterinary team to try to save his life.

“The first time we saw him, he looked horrible,” said Dr. Kevin Fuselier, a veterinarian at Bellevue. “But Laz was special. He had a will to live.”

As luck would have it, a few weeks after emergency care revived Lazaruff, the national nonprofit American Humane hosted a clinic at the St. Landry Parish animal shelter to provide free medical care for 300 animals who needed help.

Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian and American Humane board member, was volunteering at the event alongside his wife Teresa, a certified animal massage therapist, when Lazaruff staggered in.

“I have never seen a more emaciated dog in my life,” Becker told TODAY. “There was just this collective gasp.”

A skeletal Lazaruff is shown eating a meal shortly after his rescue.Courtesy of Dr. Marty Becker

As Lazaruff licked spray cheese off Becker’s outstretched hand and started wagging his tail, nearly falling over from the effort, the Beckers looked at one another and wept.

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Then they offered to pay all medical bills for Lazaruff.

“I am convinced to this day that Lazaruff’s resurrection was made possible not just by emergency medical care but by Marty’s fervent faith in him,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane.

The Bellevue team worked hard to nurse Lazaruff back to health, treating him for dangerous parasites like heartworm, liver issues and a host of medical problems.

Lazaruff also had fear-based behavior issues — he’d even try to bite at his own reflection. Fuselier’s son Jake, a college student, spent almost all his free time with the pit bull , taking him for walks and hanging out in the backyard listening to Lazaruff’s favorite music — reggae — to help the fearful pooch learn to relax and trust humans again.

Veterinarian Marty Becker has been helping Lazaruff overcome his health problems and anxieties.Courtesy of Dr. Marty Becker

As the founder of Fear Free, an educational program to reduce anxiety and stress in pets at animal hospitals and at home, Becker offered advice along the way. So did his daughter, certified dog trainer Mikkel Becker, and an array of veterinary nutritionists, animal behaviorists and other experts.

“Now he’s a pussycat,” Becker said with a laugh. “Squirrels, cats, people — all he wants to do is just lick everybody.”

Thanks to the dedicated ministrations of so many people, Lazaruff transformed into a healthy, goofy dog who weighs 69 pounds and is ready for his second chance at life.

Right now, the Beckers are personally driving him from Louisiana to a rescue organization near their home in Sandpoint, Idaho, where they can visit him daily while helping him find a forever home. (They would adopt him themselves, but Lazaruff needs to be in a one-dog household.)

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During the road trip, they’re stopping every few hours to share his miraculous story and spread awareness that pit bulls , despite their fearsome reputation, can make wonderful pets .

“We’re calling it a ‘Pittie Party’ — and we’ve got ‘pit stops,’” Becker joked.

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Taryn Ramirez met Lazaruff at a “pit stop” on Thursday in Chillicothe, Texas. She said she’s moved by his story, which reminds her that “there’s always hope.”

“He’s precious as ever and sweet as can be,” Ramirez said.

Mandy Evans, executive director of Panhandle Animal Shelter in Idaho, said she and her team are excited to welcome Lazaruff and work with the Beckers to find an ideal home for him.

“I have no doubt that he’s going to find a home really quickly,” Evans said. “To see his recovery is phenomenal.”

To express interest in adopting Lazaruff, visit the Panhandle Animal Shelter’s website.

To learn more about the free clinic hosted by American Humane, watch this video: