LOCAL L.A. Now

Coachella pit bull Gideon left to die, but wins hearts worldwide

When she first saw him, cuts covered his beaten body, fear shimmered in his eyes.

Whoever owned the starving pit bull had abandoned him near the Coachella desert, possibly for months, before Annie Hart of the Bill Foundation drove from Los Angeles to rescue him in late December.

"Truly, he was one of the sickest dogs I've ever seen," Hart says.

She named him Gideon, "for warrior — because I felt that he needed everything to help him win this fight" for survival.

That story of survival has since become an Internet sensation on YouTube and Facebook, with media outlets and supporters tracking Gideon's transformation. More than 800,000 people had viewed a YouTube video about Gideon as of Thursday.

The pit bull's road to recovery has been long and involved after suffering from a highly resistant bacterial infection, as well as ringworm — a skin infection caused by a fungus, affecting his face, paws and nails, according to Dr. Annie Harvilicz, owner of Animal Wellness Centers in Marina del Rey, who's been treating the pit bull.

She believes the dog contracted the illness living in a junkyard, where Hart found him, sporting deep lacerations around his neck, typical of dogs tied up over a long period.

"Some dogs who are hurt or fearful would bite or show aggression. But from the start, Gideon was the opposite. He would actually be very loving, wanting to cuddle up with you," said Harvilicz, whose clinic has a nonprofit, the Animal Wellness Foundation, funding the dog's medical care.

Her staff fell in love with the affectionate pooch, and during Gideon's six-week quarantine — crucial because the affliction was contagious — they would don sterile gowns and gloves to visit him daily, putting booties on his paws before carrying him outside to walk in the fresh air.

His supporters tried to help socialize him, teaching the dog to play with toys and keeping his mind busy so that after intensive treatment, he might go to a safe foster location.

Week by week, Gideon was transformed, wiggling with happiness when seeing visitors and hearing them talk. Among them, Angie Starry, who recently lost her yellow Labrador, Savannah, at age 17. Harvilicz, who had cared for the lab, suggested Starry meet Gideon to help her through her grief.

Starry immediately agreed to foster Gideon, who's about 2 years old and whose struggle is winning hearts across the world with hundreds of thousands of shares on social media, among them the Bill Foundation's Facebook page.

"I saw him and he came straight to my arms," she recalled. "It's been quite shocking what a people dog he is, because he's lived ignored. We've both been in such pain, and we've healed each other."

Starry is introducing Gideon to her friends and family, hoping to help counter the popular image of pit bulls being unsafe and violent. She gives him medicated baths three times a week, continuing some of the treatment.

"He constantly lets me soak his paws, licking my face the whole time. This reminds us, again, how kind and gentle pit bulls can be when treated rightly," she said. "His spirit really is quite amazing. He's able to forgive. He deserves to be loved."

Hart agrees. She remembers bringing Gideon back to Los Angeles and finding out that he had a microchip. She called his registered owner.

"They told me, 'We don't want him anymore,' and hung up," Hart said.

Wondering if they had a wrong number, she asked an employee at the microchip company to call again. The employee got the same response, and told Hart that where she found Gideon "was nowhere near his old home."

But what Gideon lost in care and affection from his original owners, he's more than made up for in Starry and the huge interest he's getting from supporters.

"As rescuers, we see this all the time," Hart said. "Many dogs who have been abused or forgotten grow to trust the hand of their rescuer, rising up from the ashes, learning to love again."

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anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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