Last spring, Earl the pit bull came into an animal shelter as a stray. The brown and white doggie instantly ingratiated himself to volunteers and staff, pushing himself up against their hands, sticking his head into their laps and rolling over for belly rubs.
"He was a wonderful little dog," Cathy Leistikow, operations director for the Humane Society of Madison County in Ohio, said. "He was a lover from the get-go."
But despite what is arguably the world's most warm and charming personality, Earl just wasn't getting much interest from potential adopters.
Perhaps because he's a pit bull -- a type of dog that can have a notoriously tough time finding a home. Or maybe it's got something to do with the fact that whenever someone would come by his kennel, Earl would just roll over on his bed instead of getting up to greet them.
"It's too much effort to get out of bed to get attention," Leistikow said.
And then in early October, some seven months after the dog first turned up, a volunteer from the shelter took this video of Earl in his kennel, begging for someone to come rub his tummy.
One quick post to Facebook later and there was practically a riot of people wanting to make Earl part of their family.
Arika and Dan Haupt had been talking about getting a dog for a while, searching adoption listings and contemplating options. After the couple saw Earl's video, the search was over.
"I put an application in that night," Arika said.
Leistikow says it was an easy choice for the shelter, too. On paper, the Haupts seemed like they could give Earl the ideal home. And Earl's response, upon meeting the Haupts, also portended well.
"Earl kissed Dan's face," Leistikow said.
It's been basically a great big love fest ever since, too.
Earl's name is Duke now. It's a name the Haupts say he personally chose, when presented with a roster of possibilities.
"We are huge Buffalo Bills Fans, and so we were calling him players' names until he responded," Arika said. "He stopped and looked right at us when we called him Duke, for Duke Williams."
Since he came home about a week ago, Duke has discovered the joys of long walks around the neighborhood. He loves to play, and he loves to love.
"When Dan is working in his office, Duke will lay on the carpet at his feet and every now and then Duke will stand up and give Dan a big hug and kisses," Arika said.
"I get paws past my shoulders as though I am getting a hug with my slobber-filled kisses," Dan said.
Duke still spends a lot of time in bed -- only now, he prefers being wedged between his two humans. And still, always, he wants those belly rubs.
"If he could survive solely on people running his belly, he would," Dan said.
The Haupts have been wondering how they can repay the Humane Society of Madison County, for bringing such a special creature into their lives. Perhaps on top of volunteering or donating, the best way is like this: by letting folks know how happy they've made their newly adopted dog, and he them. Maybe someone who learns about Duke, will even go and adopt a dog of their own.
"We hope he can inspire change even if only one dog's life," Dan said.
There's a lot of hope, after all, in the story of a dog like Duke -- one of the estimated 3.9 million dogs in U.S. shelters, who was overlooked for months before becoming indispensable.
"He has not only brought joy and happiness to a marriage that I was convinced couldn't get any better, but he is also inspiring us to be better people too," Dan said. "If the world could learn to love like he does, we would have a whole lot less issues in our society."
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