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20 Dec 2023

I’ll Have A Home For Christmas: A special needs foster finds her forever home.

I’ll Have A Home For Christmas: Raya A special needs foster finds her forever home.

The story of Raya, a special needs foster pup, finding her forever home is truly a heartwarming holiday miracle. You can’t help but be moved by the compassion and dedication shown by pet sitters Brian and Wanda, who played a crucial role in making this possible. This story reminds us of the importance of family, connection, and empathy, especially during this special time of year.

Raya with puppies


Raya was found living behind a dumpster with her five puppies before she was dropped off at a Texas SPCA shelter in the Spring of 2021. All odds were stacked against her. She was emaciated, terrified, nursing five puppies, and still a puppy herself at an estimated ~8 months old. While Raya was a gentle and nurturing mother and sweet with humans, she was labeled as “aggressive” and “reactive” with other dogs. She had zero social skills, and it was apparent she came from a backyard breeder.

Within a month of arriving at the shelter, Raya collapsed at the shelter due to a serious heart condition that required costly surgery.
While the shelter was able to raise the funds for Raya’s surgery, they knew she’d need a calm, understanding foster home to provide an environment for Raya to heal.

Mistie, a former ASPCA professional, was instantly drawn to Raya. Mistie’s family had recently lost their dog but weren’t ready to adopt. Mistie offered to foster Raya for 2-3 months so Raya could undergo and heal from life-saving heart surgery. Mistie, her husband, and their son were planning to move to South Africa for 6 months to work for her nonprofit and were happy to foster Raya in the meantime since their travel plans prevented them from adopting a dog.

Change of Plans

Things didn’t exactly go to plan. During the surgery, Raya’s cardiologist discovered three additional heart issues that would require daily medication and special care. Raya also still needed to be spayed, so Mistie and her family agreed to continue fostering Raya to get her healthy and ready for adoption.

Mistie, a lifelong animal lover, was determined to get Raya to a place where she could be adopted.

When Mistie’s HVAC technician expressed interest in adopting Raya, they decided to take her to meet his male German Shepherd. Raya reacted with fear and aggression, but the families vowed to keep trying. They made some progress, but ultimately, the other family backed out.

The next several months were filled with more setbacks as they worked with different animal specialists, from professional behaviorists to renowned “boarding schools” for aggressive dogs, but nothing was working, and time was running out.

What began as a 3-month foster commitment had turned into two years after several health and behavioral setbacks. Mistie and her family were exhausted and beginning to lose hope. Even her own vet said, “Raya is a people dog. She cannot be around other dogs.”

The Turning Point

In March of this year, after nearly two years of fostering Raya, Mistie was sitting at her kitchen table about to leave for a trip when Brian, Pet Gal sitter, and animal whisperer, came for his visit with Raya. Mistie expressed her frustration that nothing they did was working, and time was running out. Mistie knew Raya was a “sweet little girl that had a lot of hard knocks, one after the other,” but something had to give.

“Let me help you,” Brian told her. “Let me start working with her three times a week.”

Brian’s confidence and calm demeanor put Mistie at ease.

“When Brian said ‘let me help you,’ a sense of calm washed over me. I hadn’t felt that calm in the last two years,” Mistie said. “He became her angel.”

Brian and his wife, Wanda, had been Raya’s go-to pet sitters at The Pet Gal.

“Brian was the only person who wasn’t scared of Raya and how she was perceived,” Mistie said. “He took her leash with confidence. He believed in her, and she felt that. Sometimes, you need to see something to believe it’s possible, and working with Brian and Wanda made us believe it was possible again. He let his intuition guide him, and he showed me the way.”

Brian, a retired army vet, has always had a special connection to animals. It wasn’t until he had a near-death experience after being attacked by his own dog, Ranger, three years prior that his animal communication skills really amplified. Brian compared the traumatic experience to a “Dr. Doolittle moment” and attributes it to enhancing his ability to communicate with animals, especially difficult ones.

Brian had quietly watched as Raya worked with other animal professionals and behaviorists and questioned their approach. “They didn’t take the time to understand her history and that she had zero social skills.”

Brian was able to read Raya and understood she needed to burn off her pent-up energy (with special attention due to her heart conditions) and that she desperately needed social skills.

Brian began bringing Raya to his own house to work with his non-reactive dog, Hana.

Mistie recalls the early visits to Brian’s, saying, “You could see the change in Raya’s face after going to Brian’s. She was calmer and more confident. Brian helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Before long, Raya and Brian’s dog, Hana, were eating treats side by side, and Raya was learning to socialize and be a dog.

“Raya was labeled as aggressive, no kids, no dogs, and we proved all of that wrong. She’s a beautiful dog and her story touched me. I wanted to help. I knew her so well by the end,” said Brian.

Mistie and her family were also becoming more attached to Raya. Mistie’s husband had a bedtime routine with her every night after going outside; he’d give her a “frosty pup” ice cream treat. Then he’d brush Raya’s teeth, and afterward, she’d carry an empty cup over and make him chase her around the kitchen. When she was satisfied, she’d wait for him to put a chicken treat in her cup and head to bed.

Home Coming

When it came time for Raya to go back to the shelter, Mistie and her family were heartbroken, and they could see the heartache on Raya’s face, too, as they packed her things and brought her back to the shelter.

The next 36 hours were agonizing as Mistie and her family suddenly weren’t as excited to travel to South Africa for 6 months. “We realized we loved Raya more than South Africa, and that’s saying a lot.”.

Mistie went to tell Brian and Wanda that her family wanted to adopt Raya, stay in Texas, and eventually find a companion dog for her. She asked Brian and Wanda if they’d continue working with Raya.

Brian and Wanda were thrilled, and the three of them hugged and cried in their kitchen.

Mistie says if it weren’t for Brian and the Pet Gal, she wouldn’t have adopted Raya.

“I wasn’t finding the quality of care I needed until I found The Pet Gal. The Pet Gal hires a certain level of animal expert and is very good at vetting. Brian and Wanda were instrumental in getting us to adopt. After working with dozens of brilliant and credentialed professionals, Brian did more than anyone else,” Mistie said.

Happy Ever After

Mistie and her family officially finalized the adoption for Raya on November 30th, and while the shelter offered to bring Raya home a week later, Brian drove to pick up Raya and her giant crate so she could come home the next day, on December 1st, 2023.

While Raya came to the shelter with a broken heart, it was mended by two families who came together, looked a little deeper, trusted their intuition, and persevered in the name of love, family, and living with heart. Raya was originally named Annie, but Mistie’s son, inspired by Raya and the Last Dragon, decided to name her Raya, Princess of Heart, and it stuck.

“Raya is love, and we love Raya, Princess of heart. She gets more loving at the end of each challenge,” said Mistie.

Raya’s family has decided to take turns traveling to South Africa on shorter trips in order to care for Raya. They continue to work with Brian and Wanda and hope to adopt a younger dog for Raya to bring out her mothering instincts.

article by Pet Gal Sarah.