Of all the shelter dogs boarding a small plane last month, one passenger was painfully reluctant to begin his journey to freedom.
That’s because the pilot happened to be a man.
No one’s sure what happened to Henley before he was found as a stray in North Carolina. But one thing was obvious: Henley couldn’t handle being anywhere near men.
The dog was half-starved and covered in parasites when he arrived at the Wilson, North Carolina shelter. The rope found deeply embedded in his neck suggested he had chewed his way to freedom. But his freedom was fleeting. At the shelter, the 4-year-old terrier mix was slated for euthanasia.
Just days before he was to be put down, staffers with Rescue Dogs Rock NYC intervened and arranged to have Henley flown to a foster family in New York.
But first, Henley had to learn that kindness can also come from the hands of men. Paul Steklenski, founder of Flying Fur Animal Rescue, was tasked with getting Henley on the plane.
As soon as he approached Henley, the dog began cowering and trembling uncontrollably. His terror was so pronounced, Steklenski had to remain out of sight while a volunteer — a woman — coaxed the dog into a crate.
It’s not unheard of for a dog to be uncomfortable around a member of a particular sex. In fact, some dogs, who have been through trauma at the hands of men, can bark and lunge at them.
But Henley only showed raw terror.
“It was the most difficult transport experience I’ve ever had,” Steklenski tells The Dodo. “To have a dog, a pup, so abused, so tortured, that you couldn’t comfort him before the flight — it’s the absolute worst feeling anyone in transport will know.”
At last, Henley joined seven other dogs on that flight who would soon find their way to foster families.
But before Henley left the airport tarmac on his way to a new life, he paused — and looked back at Steklenski.
Almost as if to say thank you.
It’s an image that, even weeks later, still haunts Steklenski.
“Henley hit me hard,” Steklenski says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about him. To be abused, scared and hours always from death, it just wasn’t fair.”
So earlier this month, the pilot paid his former passenger a visit at his foster home.
To his surprise, Henley remembered him. Even more surprising? Henley had nothing but love for his pilot. His man.
“Now he looks amazing,” Steklenski notes. “He’s got a great foster home. He’s wearing sweaters, has a big back yard. It’s just awesome. He is the very core of why I do what I do.”
Now, Henley’s looking for a new family. Think you can give him a forever home? Visit Henley’s adoption profile here.
And if you would like to support Flying Fur Animal Rescue in its mission to move countless dogs from shelters to happy endings, consider making a donation here.