Erin Harker grew up with pets all over her house.
“I was notorious for bringing home animals when I was a kid, especially injured ones,” says the Roxborough resident.
So, when her friend’s dog had a litter of nine puppies, Harker couldn’t resist but adopt one.
“I immediately fell in love with one in particular,” she says. “I loved his crazy markings, his big belly and his old-man face.”
A fan of oldies music, Harker named her new pup Fats Domino and welcomed him lovingly into her home.
The two were enjoying their first few weeks together when suddenly the unthinkable happened.
On Oct. 25, while visiting a friend, Harker put Fats in her car as she was getting ready to leave. When she returned to the vehicle, just minutes later, Fats was gone.
“I pretty much went into shock, she says. “My friends and I scoured the area for him, but he was nowhere to be found.”
The search party
Over the course of the next few days, Harker and her friends began a relentless quest to find Fats. They organized search parties, made phone calls, checked the shelters and hung signs.
But it was social media, Harker says, that was the most instrumental in spreading the word.
Posting to Facebook pages and using both Twitter and Instagram, Harker’s posts were shared and passed along. It didn’t take long before Fats’ story went viral in the community.
Yet despite all the support and search efforts, 10 days passed and there was no sign of Fats.
An unforgettable phone call
Then, on Nov. 3, she received a phone call she says she will never forget.
On the other end was a man named Jamal who said he found Fats wandering down Broad Street in North Philadelphia.
Harker says she was hesitant at first. She had received several leads and sightings that never panned out, but Jamal, who had seen Harker’s flyer in a window of a car parked along Broad Street, was adamant the puppy he found was Fats.
Harker and a coworker immediately went to meet Jamal.
“When I saw Fats in his arms, I completely lost it,” she says.
Jamal refused Harker’s promised reward and insisted she get Fats medical treatment.
The puppy, just 4 months old, had lost a significant amount of weight and was visibly ill.
Though Harker and Fats were happy to be reunited, they were not yet out of the water.
A visit to the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center resulted in the news that Fats had contracted the contagious and dangerous Parvovirus.
He would need immediate care with a hefty price tag. Again, Harker took to social media. In less than an hour, more than $2,000 in donations were called to support Fats’ care.
“VSEC had never seen anything like it,” says Harker. “Their phones were ringing off the hook.”
After a brutal two weeks for both owner and pup, Harker is pleased to share that the puppy is recovering at home.
“He’s a miracle puppy,” she says, noting that his rescue would not have been possible without the outpouring of help from friends, neighbors and strangers. “I was completely floored by the amount of community support we received throughout the whole ordeal, and how quickly and passionately people became invested in our story.”
As with many things social media, this process wasn’t all about positivity, though.
Harker says she received some angry messages, emails and comments from people questioning her for leaving the puppy unattended in her vehicle.
“I made a decision at the beginning that I would not respond to negative messages or commentary,” she says. “My focus was to get Fats back, not to start a debate.
“People need to remember that there is another person on the receiving end of their comments, that there is usually more to a story than they will ever know, and that we all make mistakes because no one is perfect.”