It was a sight tender enough to bring a room full of people to tears.
Chester, a pit bull who has been living in a shelter for five years — first at the Riverhead Animal Shelter, where he was found a stray, and most recently, at the North Fork Animal Welfare League’s Southold location, where he has lived for the past months — went home today with his new family.
And he went home a celebrity.
After NFAWL manager Gabby Stroup launched a Facebook page, “Chester: Waiting Five Years” on Wednesday afternoon, the response was massive and unheralded, with calls and emails coming in from as far away as Australia, Nova Scotia, and England as the unbridled power of social media worked its magic.
“It was crazy. I posted the original photo on the League’s Facebook page and by later that day there were over 6000 shares,” Stroup said. “Someone suggested I make him his own page and I did, at about 3:30 p.m., and that evening there were close to 2000 likes.” On Saturday, the page had 4,385 likes.
Stroup said she’s received at least 300 emails, and possibly more; on Saturday they were still pouring in, as well as a call from England.
“There were more phone calls then I can count; the phone just never stopped. People called from Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Michigan, Oregon, New Jersey Wisconsin, Nova Scotia, Australia and more — people tearing up as they called.”
But one family knew that Chester was meant to be their dog.
“A woman named Dana called me inquiring about him; a friend of hers from Michigan had shared Chester’s picture on her page,” Stroup said. “Dana and I talked about Chester for a bit; she wanted to talk it over with her family.”
On Friday morning, Dana Dor, her husband Adi, and their boys, Aidan and Brandon, headed from their Lake Ronkonkoma home to the Southold shelter to meet Chester. “They came and met him and it is just a perfect match,” Stroup said. “It was by far the most amazing thing I have ever seen — the amount of people who shared and called or emailed was amazing. This was one of the happiest days,” Stroup said.
Saturday morning, volunteers came to the shelter to say good-bye to Chester, a longtime favorite among those who’d come regularly to walk him and give him belly rubs and kisses.
“It’s always a happy day, when one of them gets a family,” said volunteer Yvonne Gallagher.
The big moment came when the Dors arrived and Chester covered their faces with happy kisses.
“We saw him and we felt connected. It was meant to be, ” Adi Dor said; his wife said her husband had tears in his eyes the first time he met Chester.
Dor said the family lost two Yorkies, five years ago, the same amount of time that Chester has been waiting for his forever family. “We think he was waiting for us,” Dana Dor said.
She added that another sign that Chester was meant to be her dog was that his name is the same as a grandfather she’s never met.
“Somehow the universe pulled it all together,” she said. The family’s new addition will be coming home to celebrate both Passover and Easter, just in time to help with the Easter eggs, she said. “He’ll have a lot going on this weekend,” she smiled.
Before making the decision, the Dors spoke with their boys, who’ve been asking for a dog. Both boys were excited. “My mom came in and told me she needed my advice,” Brandon said. Her older son, who is normally difficult to wake in the morning, was up and dressed like a shot when he heard about Chester. And once the family met him, the deal was sealed.
Stroup and others at NFAWL sent Chester home with a bag filled with his favorite toys, after long good-bye hugs and kisses.
As the family walked out with their new addition, Dana said, “I think he saved us.”
She added that Chester’s warm nature was a testament to all the love and care he’s received at the NFAWL. “They raised him,” she said. “He’s been so loved.”
Stroup said the tremendous popularity of the Facebook page sparked a massive response and to that end, other rescue groups have already posted on the page, hoping to find other dogs their own happily ever afters. Stroup plans to feature another dog on Chester’s page this week.