Sometimes we are certain we have seen all of the photos of dogs in horrifying conditions that we can stand. Then another pops up and we can’t tear our eyes away.
Nobody knows the history of the dog now known around the world as Billy. But, we know for sure that had it not been for the heroic efforts of Valia Orfanidou, Billy would not have had a future.
When Billy was picked up near the train tracks in a small town in Greece, he had been neglected to the point of near death. His body was emaciated, covered in scars, sick and weak.
The poor abused and neglected creature had only days, perhaps only hours left to live.
He was spotted from a train by a woman who posted on Facebook about the “scene from a horror show” she had just witnessed standing beside the railroad tracks.
The terrified dog was finally caught by a Good Samaritan and taken to “The Orphan Pet.” TOP is a pet rescue/fostering organization run by Valia Orfanidou.
Valia takes in sad cases like Billy, rehabilitates them, retrains them if necessary and finds them responsible permanent homes. Sometimes the animals are too far gone and the only thing you can do is give them a safe and comfortable place to die.
When Valia took in Billy, she was fairly certain he would fit in that category. There was so much wrong with him she barely knew where to begin. She had never attempted to rehab a dog in that poor a condition.
She took Billy to the vet, where she expected to be told that his injuries and illness were insurmountable and he should be euthanized. But despite his horrifying appearance, his terror and his weakness the vet said he should be given a chance.
That was the only encouragement Valia needed. She took him into her home and started with him the long journey to recovery. For a while she only tried to keep him comfortable, taking comfort for herself in the knowledge that at least he would not die alone.
That when death found him he would be clean, have a full stomach and would meet the end in caring arms.
Billy surprised her and lived through that first night. And the next day. Over the next few days she did little more than let him rest; keeping him fed and clean and just letting his body heal itself gathering strength from her caring hands.
It was 10 days before Billy was strong enough to take even a short walk onto the veranda. His first steps were those of someone who was having to relearn not only how to walk again, but how to live.
His stomach was too shrunken to be able to hold or process much food. For weeks, Valia fed him many small meals throughout the day, always patiently helping him with every meal.
“He would eat four times a day and then just go back to sleep. I felt like I had a tiny treasure to protect and nurture, and checked on him a dozen times per day.”
When Billy was strong enough, Valia started working with him to regain what years of neglect had stolen from him. It took her over two months to really begin to be able to see the beautiful dog that was still hidden beneath the crusty skin and hairless body.
After regaining his trust in humanity, Billy was devoted to Valia. She was his savior. His angel.
The hardest part of fostering a dog that you grow to love is knowing that they aren’t permanently with you. Sometimes there are “foster failures” that end up staying with a foster forever, but to someone who fosters and rehabs regularly, that just isn’t an option.
You always know that tomorrow there will be another that needs you desperately. And the day after that. And for all the days of the future. There are not enough hands and loving hearts in the world to take care of every animal that needs care.
People that saw Valia and Billy together and recognized their bond would ask her, ““Why don’t you keep him? How can you let him go after all he’s been through. He loves you!”
Valia would smile and answer that he would always be in her heart, but Billy deserved a home and a family of his own. And one day, she received the letter that meant that time had come.
Despite Billy’s huge Facebook fan club, not a single person had applied to adopt Billy. Everyone wanted to be part of his rehabilitation cheerleading squad, but no one wanted the responsibility of continuing the care that Valia had started.
One person can change the world. And, the one letter that Valia received inquiring about adopting Billy was the only one that could make Billy’s life any better than what he had with Valia.
A woman 1200 miles away in Switzerland had been following Billy’s story since the day he was spotted from the train. She had decided that Billy was meant to be her dog.
So, for the next few weeks, she and Valia corresponded back and forth, sharing questions and answers and making certain that this would indeed be the best thing for Billy.
He had been through so much, Valia was determined that the rest of his life should be happy and as joy filled as possible. Eventually, she decided that the lady in the letters, Emma, was the person who could provide that for him.
Valia’s heart broke at the thought of letting Billy go. After the miles they had walked together, physically and metaphorically, the idea of waking up without Billy beside her seemed impossible to bear.
But, finally, the day came that Billy, freshly bathed and groomed, waited beside her at the station for the plane to arrive that would carry him to Emma.
“Saying goodbye at the airport was one of the hardest things I ever had to do…Billy’s photos were my desktop background, my mobile wallpapers, and even my facebook cover.”
Valia wasn’t certain she could go through with it. But, she did. Billy’s future depending on her being strong.
And so she watched through tears as the plane took off the tarmac taking Billy out of her life forever. Over a thousand miles away, another woman waited with breathless anticipation for that plane to arrive bringing him to her.
The letters between Emma and Valia didn’t stop. But now it was Valia asking the questions and Emma telling Billy stories and sharing Billy photos.
When she looks at the healthy Billy now, she doesn’t see the Billy she knows. She writes on her website, “My Billy was that tiny, scared and sick creature I fostered those first weeks.
The dog I nurtured, and treated and trained. The dog that wagged his hairless tail for me on the fourth day. The dog whose diapers I changed and whose sheets I washed.
The dog I couldn’t touch for three weeks without my gloves on. That was mine. And nobody can take that away.”