GREENSBORO, N.C. -- When 6-year-old Hercules arrived at the Guilford County Animal Shelter as a stray in April, he was scarred. Noticeable bumps riddled his body, likely from years of exposure to the elements. But, thanks in part to an exceptional smile and loving demeanor, he quickly became a favorite among the shelter staff.
Yet, it was what was hidden inside his body – specifically his heart – that resulted in Hercules being separated from most of the animals inside the building. He had heartworm, a potentially deadly disease, spread by mosquitoes.
"He has to be kept on a leash, more or less kind of contained so he can't get too excited, because heartworms can possibly kill him,” explained Guilford County Animal Services Community Engagement Manager Lisa Lee.
For about five months, Hercules was housed in a cage at the shelter, surrounded by loud yelps and barks coming from the fellow heartworm-positive dogs. But Hercules stayed quiet.
"He makes the cutest face when he sees you and he gets so excited,” Lee said.
Once on a leash, Hercules’ tail begins to wag uncontrollably as his trademark smile returns. Upon being brought outside, he often preferred to cuddle opposed to explore.
"Yes, he loves to give kisses, he loves the attention,” Lee added.
While heartworm diagnoses were once considered a death sentence, notably because of the cost of medications to treat and perhaps cure the disease, Hercules has fighting chance thanks to a new fund being utilized by Guilford County.
A “Have a Heart” fund, consisting of donations from the community, goes toward the cost of treatment for heartworm-positive dogs. In what Lee refers to as a “fast kill method,” the dogs receive a series of three injections, hopefully leaving them heartworm negative.
"A three to four-month period, we pay all of his medical expenses,” Lee said.
But there’s a catch. The dogs need to be fostered to adopt for the treatments to begin. Once the injections are completed, the soon-to-be owners return to the shelter to finalize the adoption.
Yet, as of Sept. 10, Hercules was still sleeping in his cage without a forever home.
On Sept. 11, Chad and Karen Allison had lived without their dog, Sergeant, for nearly a year. As the anniversary of Sergeant’s death approached, they found they desperately missed the pitter-patter of his feet around their home.
“We've kind of had a little hole in our hearts since then,” Chad said.
To try to fill the gap, they took a trip to the shelter.
"Just a senior dog is what we wanted,” he added.
Karen had gone to the shelter a couple weeks before, having played with staff-favorite Hercules. When they reunited, Hercules recognized her immediately.
"Hercules just kind of chose us,” Chad said.
When the time came for the Allisons to leave, Chad says Hercules tried getting in the truck with them. As Hercules was walked back inside, and the couple sat in their truck, they couldn’t bring themselves to leave Hercules behind.
"I told my wife as soon as he tears something in the house, I'm gonna get to call him Jerkules instead of Hercules,” Chad joked.
They went back inside, signed the papers, and Hercules had found his parents. After stops for treats, toys and a bed, Hercules walked into his new home for the first time.
"To hear those feet pitter-patter across the floor, we missed it,” Chad said.
A cellphone video taken by Chad shows Hercules bounding into their living room before jumping to embrace him. That night, he had his first bath, and spent the entire night in his new bed.
"He slept right beside us all night long,” Chad said.
The Allisons say Hercules’ heartworm diagnosis doesn’t worry them.
"No, not at all,” Chad said. “That didn't concern us at all."
Hercules, who’s scheduled to get his next round of treatment on Sept. 27, has plenty more truck rides and walks in his near and distant future. What he’s yet to do is be called Jerkules, as he’s behaved since the moment he walked into his new home.
Also, he’s yet to adopt the noisy nature in which he lived for five months.
"I'm sure that inside this big old head of his there's a big old bark but so far I've heard nothing out of him,” Chad said.
By bringing Hercules home, the Allisons have also freed space in the shelter for another animal.
"They said he'd been there since April and that kind of will break your heart if you think about it,” Chad said. “This is a loving dog."
FOX8 will be following Hercules’ journey as he receives his treatments. In the meantime, if you’d like to donate to the Have a Heart Fund, click here.