Less than a month ago, Oscar the mutt was trapped in a closed plastic trash can in Garfield under the blazing August sun, just hours from death. A too-small collar placed or left on him had eaten into his neck, embedding itself deep in his skin. Fleas infested his dappled fur, which was tangled with chewing gum and garbage.
But Oscar didn't give up. He chewed a hole through the trash can, poked his nose out and found rescue from a man walking his own dog. And on Friday, as if no one ever had abused him, Oscar -- a small, sweet and energetic mix of terrier? poodle? Yorkie? -- bounded after tennis balls and tugged on a rope toy with a family that plans to love him forever.
"He's been a great addition to our family," said West Deer resident Wendy Long. She, her husband, Dave, and her daughter and son, 10-year-old Ryleigh and 8-year-old Noah, officially adopted Oscar on Friday.
Mrs. Long saw Oscar's story on the news after he was rescued in August, then told her kids about him the next day. All three immediately wanted to bring him home.
"He is like, the perfect dog," Ryleigh recalls thinking.
"I really want to win that lottery," Noah told his mom, after hearing that so many people had offered to adopt Oscar that the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center in East Liberty planned to select a qualified adopter at random.
So they sent a YouTube video about Oscar to Mr. Long, who was out of town. Oscar, Mr. Long said, looked strangely similar to their dog, Cosmo, who had died in May after 14 years with them. And when it came to dealing with a wife and two kids who had fallen hard for a cute, injured dog, Mr. Long knew better than to resist.
He knew right away Oscar was coming to live with them, he said, even though his family was one of 60 who asked to adopt the little stray.
"I said, 'That's the lottery we're going to win -- the dog,' " Mr. Long, 47, said with a laugh. "And we do feel like we won the lottery."
Oscar urgently needed care when he arrived at the Animal Rescue League shelter, where his long, dirty fur was clipped away to reveal the collar grown deeply into his neck. Removing the collar opened a ring of flayed flesh, which ultimately healed but left a scar. The little dog was placed on intravenous, then oral, antibiotics to quell infection.
Oscar was saved just in time, after architect Peter Kreuthmeier -- or, more accurately, Mr. Kreuthmeier's dog, Zeke, and Zeke's curious nose -- found the dog in a vacant lot near Mr. Kreuthmeier's office in the 5100 block of Penn Avenue on Aug. 28, said Dan Rossi, executive director of the Animal Rescue League shelter.
"If animal control didn't get him when they did, he would have died within a few hours," Mr. Rossi said. "We were lucky we got him when we did."
After he had recovered, Oscar was allowed to visit the Longs' home for a trial run that began Monday. And Oscar moved right in, the Longs said.
His first decision was to jump on the couch, which became a favorite place to snuggle with Ryleigh and Noah. In the fenced backyard on the family's acre of property, he spent hours defending his new people from bunnies, squirrels and amazingly, 30 wild turkeys.
After staring at the turkeys for a moment, he ran straight at them, barking, and drove them from the yard, the Longs said.
"He's got a good head on his shoulders, he really does," Mr. Long said.
In the house, Oscar -- who the family thinks is about a year old -- hasn't chewed a single shoe, and has handled housebreaking well, Mrs. Long said. He does, however, run around like a crazy thing and chase his tail after getting back from a trip outside.
"He still has that puppy energy, which is good because we still have a lot of energy," Mrs. Long said, tilting her head at her kids.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published September 22, 2012 4:00 AM