(This article contains some graphic photos, but they are due to a medical condition, not from abuse, and the dog is not in pain.)
All dogs deserve a chance at love and happiness, no matter what they look like. Some dogs have medical issues that can make their appearance a bit hard to handle at first, but they still have hearts of gold on the inside.
That’s certainly the case for the stray dog Phoenix, who was left with a disfigurement so severe that people couldn’t believe it was real—but thanks to his boundless spirit and a team of dedicated rescuers, he’s inspired thousands on his road to a better life.
In 2020, a stray dog was found in Collinsville, Oklahoma, and rescued by a woman named Carisa Ducharne. She was shocked by the dog’s condition—he was severely disfigured at the face for an unknown reason.
“He was skin and bones,” Carisa told News on 6. “You could see all his ribs and just so inflamed that he couldn’t close his eyes. He had so much swelling and inflammation in his face.”
The dog was named Phoenix, and he was brought to Skiatook Paws & Claws Animal Shelter.
When they shared his story on Facebook, people couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
“We received a ton of criticism for posting Phoenix’s picture,” the shelter wrote. “Many thought we had photoshopped his picture.”
But it was all too real—although the reason behind Phoenix’s condition wasn’t clear. He was cared for by Family Animal Medicine who searched for the cause.
Given how so many dogs are mistreated, it’s easy to assume his disfigurement was due to abuse. While vets didn’t rule that possibility out, they began to suspect that it was actually due to a medical disease.
While investigating his health, the shelter made sure Phoenix felt at home. Despite how he looks, Phoenix was not suffering and enjoyed his new life.
“Phoenix is warm and comfortable; his belly is full, and he is being well cared for,” the vets said. “Even though his appearance may be alarming, the scarring and disfiguration are not indicative of his quality of life.”
The love and support Phoenix has received from the vets and shelter workers completely turned his life around. His story went viral on social media and people were so happy to see that Phoenix got steadily better.
“He’s done nothing but improve every single day,” Carisa told News on 6.
Not only were Phoenix’s spirits high in spite of everything but he’s also inspired others.
“People with autoimmune diseases or burn victims, or just people anywhere having a hard time have reached out saying he’s inspired them,” Carisa said.
“It’s been super inspiring to be part of his story and it might not change the world, but it changes his world.”
Phoenix met with various veterinarians specializing in skin disorders, who worked hard to unravel the mystery of what’s caused the dog’s facial disfigurement.
After exhausting every possibility they concluded that Phoenix had a rare auto-immune disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). The diagnosis meant that they could finally get the disease under control.
But everyone knew that much of his condition would remain permanent. The rescue says that Phoenix’s head muscles would never return, his “cheesy, sharky grin” would always be there, and he needed dog clothes and sunblock to protect his skin.
But despite everything, Phoenix remained upbeat as ever. “He has gained weight. His skin is healing,” the rescue wrote. “He plays and barks. He chases balls and plays tug-o-war. He even sleeps on his own dog couch.”
Phoenix got many adoption requests, but it was hard to send him away because his treatment was ongoing and he needed to be cleared by the vets first.
But everyone was hoping for the best, as Phoenix was doing better than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
Sadly, in June 2020, the Skiatook Paws & Claws Animal Rescue delivered some very sad news. In a heartbreaking Instagram post, they took farewell to Phoneix.
”Last night, at around 5pm, we let Phe go.
His exit was peaceful. He was surrounded by people who adored him and his mom and sisters held him close. Phoenix had found his person in Dr. Gena, and she could not have adored him more if she tried. Her heart was his and his heart was hers. All any dog wants is to find their person, and he was one of the lucky ones who did. He held on as long as he could, not for himself, but for her and her girls. He was exhausted, and let them know it was time to go.”
Thank you to all these rescuers who helped this great dog live his best life! RIP little angel! 🥺😔