Sunny and Cher – and So Many Others – Capture the Hearts of Animal Services

It had been a busy week, and San Diego County Animal Control Lt. Kalani Hudson was just hours from her weekend on Nov. 19 when a puppy whose ears had been sliced off arrived at the Central Shelter.

A woman had found the Labrador-Sheppard mix by a Dumpster in Mission Valley. Only about 4 weeks old, the pup’s wounds were raw and painful, his stomach bloated from parasites, Hudson said.

But when offered food, he wolfed it with such gusto he hardly flinched as shelter staff inspected his gaping sores.

“No matter how many years you’ve done this job…this was just one of those that gets to you,” said Hudson. She headed into her weekend troubled by the dog’s suffering and the knowledge that someone had hurt him intentionally.

The story of “Sunny,” who was later joined by earless sister “Cher,” has captivated the public and the media. Both dogs have recovered well, and hundreds of people have applied to adopt them.

But Hudson and other DAS employees have a more complicated way of looking at it. While they are celebrating the dogs’ bright outlook – for which they deserve credit – their daily mission to treat and find homes for thousands of equally dear animals, with their own unique stories, remains a challenge.

Still, Hudson said she was deeply moved by the dogs whose ears were probably cut off with a pair of scissors or a serrated knife, possibly in Tijuana. She said when she first met Cher at the Central Shelter on Dec. 7, she assumed Sunny had returned for a visit from his foster home.

“I turned around and said, ‘Sunny’s here,’” Hudson recalled.

She said she was “dumbfounded” when she learned it was a second dog, with the same awful injuries.

A Good Samaritan found Cher on the streets of Tijuana and took her to a veterinarian. After Cher’s wounds were treated, a veterinary assistant brought the puppy from Mexico to the County shelter.

Sunny and Cher appear to be from the same litter, and someone may have cut off their ears to try to pass them off for sale as pit bulls, Hudson said.

 By coincidence, on the same day, on different sides of the border, the siblings underwent surgery to help their wounds heal correctly, Hudson said.

The “Spirit Fund” paid for Sunny’s procedure, DAS Medical Operations Manager David Johnson said.

Built solely on private donations, including many from County employees, the Spirit Fund helps about four to six animals a month who can benefit from specialized veterinary care, Johnson said.

Johnson and Hudson both watched on Dec. 14 as Sunny and Cher reunited at the Central Shelter. About a dozen local media outlets were there too.

Sunny, the bigger puppy , growled at first and tackled his sister. But the good-natured Cher trotted after her brother, unfazed. Soon, both were tugging at colorful doggie toys, seemingly playing to the cameras.

Johnson said it’s no surprise so many people have applied to take the dogs home.

“The animals with a unique or sad story, they’re almost guaranteed a home,” he said. “But I have right now hundreds of dogs and cats with just as unique stories.”

Hudson agreed.

“Some of the most heart-wrenching, or some of the sweetest or saddest stories never make it to the news,” she said.