Every once in a while, something special comes around. It may be in the form of a best friend, a really meaningful book, a world-shattering AHA moment. But sometimes, and maybe more often than not, it comes in a form most unexpected — like maybe a puppy mill captive set free and redeemed. But like all good stories, the true redemption, if you want to call it that, comes to the redeemer, not to the redeemed.
Way back in August of 2008, officials got wind of a single dog living in a rabbit cage at a local breeder. Search warrant in hand, they arrived to remove that dog for care and found a whole lot more misery — about 1,000 dogs held in cages just to breed and produce puppies to sell for profit. Now, the puppies’ lives had promise. The ones who produced the puppies? Nary a chance of living life in a real home, with people, gentle caresses and kind words, toys and warmth and a soft cuddly bed instead of wire cages and no one to really love them.
That single dog who tipped off a massive rescue effort was taken for observation and evaluation at a local veterinarian’s office where, once freed from his tiny rabbit cage, he ran around in circles, dragging that nonworking leg and wagging his tail furiously. And so he became Mr. Happy.
Long story short, Mr. Happy traveled to Columbus for a surgery that offered about a 50/50 chance of helping. But help it did, and that 50/50 became 80/20. Despite a setback here and there, Mr. Happy continued to improve. And that tail. It continued to wag. A lot.
Much of that was due to the man who stepped up to foster him — Jon Six, a local hairdresser who had been in the dog business for many years, breeding and raising Chinese Cresteds, including the top-ranked Champion Barney Google, who was a frequent competitor (and winner) at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
“I stepped up to volunteer to help feed at the makeshift shelter set up after the puppy mill bust,” Jon says. “When I saw Mr. Happy I just felt this tug and knew I had to do what could for him, so I offered to foster him.”
Jon worked patiently with his newfound housemate, helping him relearn how to use his hind leg, and actively working to help prepare him for a new “forever” home. Somehow, things just kept getting in the way of that new forever home in New Hampshire, miles from West Virginia. Transportation was arranged, but first Mr. Happy needed to be neutered. That surgery proved even harder on Mr. Happy than the spinal surgery, which delayed things even more and, well, the date just kept slipping until one night Jon just called his New Hampshire adopter and, through tears, said, “I just can’t let him go. He matters too much to me.”
It was Jon’s first real foster. It was also Jon’s first ever foster-fail, but naturally not his last (he currently has three of those to his credit). Just so you know, that’s just the backstory, because the real story is the transformation of Mr. Happy. And the transformation of Mr. Jon.
Mr. Happy settled in at Jon’s house. As Jon recounts it took patience because it was a whole new game for his foster fail — this dog had never had someone love him, had not lived outside a cage, and just wasn’t wise about being in a home. He had to learn to trust, Jon thought. He also would need to learn how to walk again, and how to behave with others, and how to share food and lots of other “firsts” for an older adult dog.
But to Jon’s surprise, Mr. Happy wasn’t an angry, mean dog. On the contrary, he seemed thankful, grateful for his second life. If you want to talk about forgiveness, this dog embodied the very notion of it. Mr. Happy lived up to his name, never showing trust issues and fitting in well with his canine siblings. He loved everyone.
You know what else? Mr. Happy began working his magic on Jon.
“Today, I think about Mr. Happy coming into my life and, you know, I presumed I would have to help him learn to forgive and forget what went before and learn how to trust,” he says. “But HE actually taught ME — he taught me to learn to help less fortunate animals who needed rescuing. Now, when I foster, I look for special needs and older, overlooked dogs.”
Jon says Mr. Happy showed him that those dogs have less chance to get a second chance. He also helped open Jon’s eyes to the reality for other, older humans who have canine companions. Seeing dogs who are left behind when owners die or can no longer care for them has made Jon bound and determined to not leave any dogs behind.
“It’s just not fair to a senior dog to suddenly be homeless,” he says. “They have no way to even understand why their lives are so different. It’s heartbreaking.”
After Mr. Happy’s arrival, Jon gave up breeding show dogs and began devoting time to rescue. It’s more rewarding, he says, to make a difference in a dog’s life than to get a ribbon in a dog show.
Now, you might think it would end there, but it doesn’t, because Jon was a good learner. Or maybe it’s just that Mr. Happy was such an excellent teacher, because pretty soon the community at large had another “bloody do-gooder,” as Mike Rowe of “Returning the Favor” would say.
In fact, Jon had learned so well from Mr. Happy’s example of forgiveness and unconditional love that he began leading the charge for causes ranging from securing backpacks for needy school children (and stuffing them with goodies) to feeding the homeless and hungry, to spearheading food drives and clothing drives and tirelessly working to fund a new Spay/Neuter clinic. His causes are diverse and he’s known in the community as a man who can pull in the donations as well as a man who will go out there and help “do” the work, too.
In fact, in 2019, Jon won a prestigious state volunteer award for the humanitarian work he has done on behalf of pets and humans. And while that’s an amazing accomplishment for anyone — the shelves in his shop are always filled with donations and items for some cause or another — Jon’s quick to give credit where it’s due.
“It takes a village to do what we do here,” he says. “I can’t do any of this on my own, but with an interconnected web of people who understand the needs and catch the momentum and expand the networks, we can do so much for so many.”
And that, my friends, is the legacy of Mr. Happy, who brought joy to everyone who saw him up until his last day on earth. This had to be his most remarkable achievement, beyond regaining his ability to walk and run and never losing his ability to love and be grateful. He redeemed his redeemer, and gave him a bigger, grander purpose in life.
Here’s to your memory, sweet pup.