Perhaps nothing is more heartwarming than an animal rescue story. But for one unique pitbull, his story differs by far. The rescue team saw something special in him, making him a catch for adoption - and an online sensation.
Meet Van Gogh
Meet Van Gogh, an adorable combination between a pitbull and a boxer. Despite the breed's stereotypical characteristics, this pup was nothing but sweet and friendly. His eyes shone bright, and he had a contagious smile.
His name, as suspected, was inspired by the Dutch artist. Only this furry guy hailed from North Carolina. Unfortunately, despite his successful muse, the friendly canine led a far more troubled path. Here's Van Gogh's inspiring viral story.
A Painful Past
Van Gogh's younger years were anything but ordinary. He wasn't rescued by a family. Instead, he spent most of his life on the streets after being abandoned by a former owner. With nowhere to go and no shelter, the stray pup wandered the streets with the hope someone with a heart would pick him up.
Unfortunately, it was unknown just how long he was out on the streets. Despite his breed being stable enough to be a security dog or protective as such, his personality proved otherwise. The gentle giant was truly made for a loving home - but only time would tell how long it would be until he found one.
Fight or Flight
During the years Van Gogh was stray, his life took a sharp turn for the worst: a dog fighting circuit recruited him, bringing him to the dark underworld. The scenarios he likely faced were unfathomable, something that would later tear at the heartstrings of strangers around the world.
According to Fox News, neighbors, who served as eyewitnesses, claimed they used him as a 'bait dog.' Van Gogh was placed in an environment with nothing but trouble. He was met with unfair scenarios on endless occasions. Unfortunately, this nightmare was a harsh reality that would last for years.
We don't know exactly what happened to Van Gogh in the fighting ring, but it was unimaginable. The world of underground dog-play used innocent pups to fight in return for entertainment. Worst of all, this so-called entertainment was put on at the expense of innocent animals.
Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before the poor pitbull was no longer of use for the ring. He had put up a good fight. And when Van Gogh's time was up, he fell on even harder times after his cruel owners decided to do the same thing his former owners had done...
Back on the Streets
Though we don't know the details, Van Gogh was eventually deemed "useless" for further exchanges. And as the story goes, his unfit owners chucked him back onto the streets where they thought he had belonged. It was a devastating blow for a pup already down on his luck.
When Van Gogh was back out in the cold, with no shelter, he would never be the same. These people had placed him in one of the most difficult situations an animal could ever experience. And when it came to Van Gogh, it was all in the eyes. The eyes that once had a sparkle in them had been dulled. For now, at least.
By 2019, life as Van Gogh knew it was about to change forever. The 4-year-old pooch was barely a grown adult out in the world. But one day, a kind stranger stumbled across him. However, this was no average walk-in-the-park sighting - it was reported that he was in "rough shape." Moreover, he was not found on land.
The poor pitbull was found severely injured, caught hiding in a drain pipe. To the naked eye, it was clear Van Gogh was in desperate need of help. But perhaps more importantly, rescuers noticed something startling that needed immediate action.
Hearing Him Out
Who knows what went on before he was thrown back into the streets? Nonetheless, all that mattered was that the poor pup needed to go to an emergency room - quickly. Considering all the injuries, he needed to have his left ear surgically removed as a result of his neglect.
Luckily, Van Gogh was a trooper. And, just like the real artist, he had to continue managing life with just one ear. Little did the dog know that having his ear amputated was a blessing in disguise. And his life was about to take a major turn - like never before.
Facing the Facts
Was this it? Was this the end of Van Gogh's upsetting upbringing? It was undetermined whether this was his final destination. While dogs are always put up for adoption, the procedure is not always a simple pick-up for happy families. Not to mention, rescue dogs come with a price.
Considering complications, such as injuries and behavioral trauma, a rescue dog might not be what all families are looking for. Unnatural behavior could spark at any moment, leaving families distressed and disappointed. Still, it is vital they are given unconditional love. Was there a future like this for Van Gogh?
Happily Furever After
Luckily, a selfless woman was about to change everything. Jaclyn Gartner was the founder and president of a shelter in Bethel, Connecticut, called Happily Furever After. She founded the shelter in 2020 and has had major successes from her good deeds. But perhaps what is most striking about the shelter is the story behind it.
It was founded after she lost her pitbull mix, Tyler. The purpose of the shelter was, of course, to help all dogs that needed rescuing. However, she devoted her time to helping pitbulls specifically. As predicted, she kept a special place in her heart for this type of breed. But it was Van Gogh that changed everything.
Pup at First Sight
When Gartner came across Van Gogh, she felt an instant attachment like never before. She had not felt this connected to any other pitbull - and this was the first time she felt the same love for a dog since Tyler. Something sparked, and she knew she had to do something about it.
In an interview with Fox Digital News, Gartner explained, "I saw him, and I was instantly in love. He just had the biggest smile and I thought, 'I love this guy. I need him. I need this dog." There was nothing that could top this moment for Gartner, so she put in her best efforts to see how she could help.
Gartner has always been an animal lover and mainly became involved with volunteering with different rescue organizations. While it was in her nature to help all rescue animals, she had a goal to focus on dogs that were overlooked or misunderstood. At the end of the day, it's what's on the inside that counts.
She knew she already loved Van Gogh before she had any sort of interaction with him. Considering her future within the animal rescue, the pup was the perfect starting point - exactly what she was looking for. Gartner deemed herself a professional, so she knew she could look past his traumatic past.
According to The Washington Post, Gartner said, "He'd had an absolutely horrific life, and yet he looked happy, and I was told he got along well with people… Van Gogh was resilient, even after all he'd even through… I had to rescue him." She had a gut instinct she had to follow, ignoring any consequences.
Considering the dog's history of 'owners,' this would likely result in expected trust issues. Nevertheless, he continued to have confidence in anyone who picked him up. Thankfully, the next person who did saved his life. Gartner soon realized she could not adopt the dog herself - but she didn't give up on finding him a home.
So, Gartner took matters into her own hands and acquired Van Gogh as one of their rescue dogs. A non-profit organization called Pilot N Paws offered to fly out the pitbull to meet with Gartner. But how would the transfer go? After all, the canine had already been through so much. How would he handle this next chapter?
Not to mention, there was a greater mission at play here. They were looking to find Van Gogh a forever home. Unfortunately, pictures say 1000 words, and the dog's noticeable injuries scared off potential adoptees. They had to find a way to capture the hearts of potential owners. But how?
Reunited & It Feels So Good
With the stakes higher than ever, Pilots N Paws flew Van Gogh out to Connecticut on a private plane as he came face to face with Gartner. "The moment he got off the plane, he was so friendly with everybody. He was rubbing up against everyone, falling into their laps. He was just the sweetest dog," Gartner recalled.
Things were off to a good start. Right? Well, while Gartner and the crew were able to experience this heartwarming exchange, Van Gogh had a lot to prove to families seeking the perfect pet. But after 4 months of searching, they had no luck. No one wanted to adopt him. But Gartner didn't let this go. They were going to get creative.
Gartner turned to the social platform Facebook, the perfect place for creating pages and spreading awareness through likes, shares, and word of mouth. So, posting a Facebook image with some promising text couldn't hurt. More importantly, people needed to know Van Gogh was different, and special, some might say.
People adopt dogs all the time, especially through social media. However, Van Gogh differed from other dogs, and not just because he had one ear. This just proved he was a champion. Gartner needed to let people know his inspiring story. She thought he would be adopted in no time - but would he?
More Than Meets the Eye
While Facebook was not as much of a success as Gartner hoped, she tried another strategy. She took him to multiple pet adoption functions, but he "wasn't presented well at events." Other dogs had impressive fur, and maybe a friendlier appearance - and sadly, it left Van Gogh on the sidelines.
Just when Gartner needed Van Gogh to show his charming persona, his shyness got in the way of doing so. The rescue team knew what kind of energy he possessed - but all anyone saw was a scarred and problematic pitbull. Families that walked by could only see danger and nothing else.
Turning to TikTok
One social platform to another, Gartner explained to The Washington Post, "I'd seen TikTok videos of other dogs creating paintings, so why not Van Gogh, he had the ear for it?" So, the dog would end up living up to its name. It was an idea that sparked out of nowhere - but held major potential.
Gartner got the props and got to work. There was nothing left to lose. After multiple attempts at displaying Van Gogh as a winning dog, people continued to disregard him. She decided to try one last thing to make him shine. But would it work?
A Sticky Situation
There was something about his name that caused a lightbulb moment for Gartner. Despite Van Gogh entering Jaclyn's life as a reminder of her time with Tyler, Gartner saw potential in his name. So, she decided to let him... paint. However, this wasn't the average portrait or paintbrush exchange.
When Gartner had been introducing Van Gogh to families, she noticed his profound love for peanut butter. This sparked an idea that would show just how gentle Van Gogh was, hoping that people would look past his appearance. So, she grabbed a couple of canvases, Ziploc bags, paint, a jar of peanut butter and got to work.
In an interview video with Inside Edition, Gartner explained her magical idea. She grabbed a few colors and dotted paint around a canvas. Then, the canvas was placed inside a ziploc bag. Once closed, she brushed over a thin layer of peanut butter to attract the dog. Van Gogh would lick over the bag, creating unintentional masterpieces.
Much to her amazement, he was a true artist. It was a hidden talent. But then again, his name begged to differ. Finally, they had an answer to solve their problems, or so it seemed. "He had a fast and creative tongue," Gartner recalled. And a week later, Van Gogh had licked his way to his very first gallery show at an adoption center.
Catching Public Attention
As they collected his abstract pieces of work, they proudly displayed them, planning to commission the art to potential adoptees. Not only was this a fun activity to lighten up Van Gogh's spirits, but it was also a cause of action where they could raise awareness and finally find him a home.
To their surprise, the paintings were a success! People who attended the art galleries wanted to purchase his remarkable work. He had licked for hours on end, it would be a shame to put that hard work to waste! It was pure genius. And for Gartner, Van Gogh was on to something big.
Van Gogh had stunned spectators, aligning the same success as the real artist himself. One painting in particular that sparked major attention was his yellow and blue configuration called 'starry night.' This really stood out from the others due to the blooming colors. People couldn't believe a canine had constructed this.
Now that people were finally noticing the poor pup, Gartner hoped the competition would heat up. How could no one adopt him? He was an incredible pup with a special talent. Plus, his inspiring backstory was something any owner should be proud of. Things were looking up - but unfortunately, the suspense got the best of their expectations.
A Sweet Surprise
Not only was this event planned to help find the one-eared pooch a home, but it would also open a pet portfolio to animal lovers and pet seekers. They were taking action one canvas at a time, saving dogs all across the nation - and all thanks to a jar of peanut butter. Who would've thought?
Still, this wasn't exactly a chore for Van Gogh. He was by no means put through dog labor. In fact, Gartner expressed his love for the activity, "for him, it is enrichment and a treat, he enjoys doing it." No dogs were harmed in the making. We just hope he kept a few savings for himself! Maybe a fresh jar of peanut butter?
Turn for the Worst
While these peanut butter paintings were selling like they were going out of style, Gartner had obvious reasons to think her idea would be a huge success. Unfortunately, she thought too soon, and things didn't go quite as planned. The hype that occurred at the beginning didn't last long.
Gartner couldn't believe things had turned around so quickly. She admitted, "I felt really disappointed. I felt so embarrassed that I didn't want to post about it online because I felt like a failure." It was all happening in the heat of the moment that she overlooked any reason as to why this wouldn't work out.
We have to applaud Gartner for her positivity, strength, and motivation to not give up on the precious pup. As a result of her disappointment, she returned to Facebook in an effort to sell the remaining of the peanut butter masterpieces. After leaving her computer for a while, she logged back online and couldn't believe her eyes.
Gartner feared it was the end for Van Gogh - that he would be in a rescue shelter forever. However, in a matter of minutes, she saw the entire collection had sold out online! This was a huge turning point. She blinked twice to make sure she wasn't dreaming, it was truly a sight to be seen.
140 & Counting
After all this time, though she couldn't pinpoint what it was, people were finally starting to acknowledge the rescue pup. Users from all over the world started to reach out, as far as New Zealand. Not to mention, this was a milestone moment as Van Gogh has also completed his 140th painting - all while his work had been shared in 25 states!
Finally, Van Gogh was getting the spotlight he deserved. It was all Gartner ever wanted. She commented, "It's a beautiful thing because thing because (people) are not only supporting the rescue, but they are supporting the dog." While they raised over $3,000, someone gave a priceless offer on the last day of sales...
As Gartner began to pack and ship paintings off to customers, a family offered to foster Van Gogh. She couldn't believe it. Of course, she had to make sure this wasn't a set-up, she couldn't afford to put Van Gogh in the wrong hands after all their hard work. But there was no catch: Van Gogh finally had a family waiting for him.
It was undescribable. After sleepless nights and countless jars of peanut butter, she felt a sense of relief. She persevered and fought for Van Gogh, and thankfully, the outcome proved hard work produces results. So, Van Gogh ended up spending several months with the foster family. Though it wouldn't last long.
Back to Square One
The family, unfortunately, had to give him back to the rescue center. A family member needed major surgery, and Van Gogh was too much of a priority. It was a devastating turn of events for the hopeful pup. Thankfully, Gartner recalled one specific rescuer from her contacts. Would they be able to step up to the plate?
When Gartner originally rescued Gogh, a woman named Jessica Starowitz approached her with interest in the one-eared pitbull. She missed the opportunity in June after adopting a senior cat from the rescue center instead. But she seemed like the perfect fit. After all, between 2001 and 2022, she opened her home to a variety of rescue animals.
The Perfect Fit
Gartner decided to reach out to Starowitz once again, hoping that not only would her home be available but also that she had not lost interest. After all, Van Gogh had been plastered all over social media in the rescue sector, who knows if Starowitz saw all the chaos take place?
Not only did she say yes, but it was an "immediate yes." Starowitz was one of the very few that saw the true Van Gogh. She didn't see his scars or the fact that he was missing an entire ear out of violence - she saw a soul in need that needed to be loved. She gushed, "this big moos of a dog I absolutely fell in love with."
So Much Love
Starowitz continued to gush over her new best friend, "You can tell there is no evil or anger in those eyes after what he's been through." Prior to her immediate answer, Gartner jokingly messaged Starowitz, "Would it be too soon for me to ask if you'd consider adopting him?"
But this was nothing out of the ordinary for the serial rescuer. Starowitz, without a doubt, knew she could provide Van Gogh with the T.L.C. he deserved. She called him her "big foster failure." While Starowitz was used to part-time fostering, this one quickly turned into a forever home. Oops!
Just Getting Started
Today, Van Gogh is still in safe Starowitz hands - currently working on his "manners" and taking walks every day, being trained to feel safe around other dogs. Training aside, Starowitz explained his fame could be used "to promote rescue dogs and the dogs that might not look 100% perfect or have had a past… There is so much love in those animals."
Starowitz and Gartner are now working to encourage others to support rescue shelters as much as possible, as any resources are a big help. So what does the future hold? Well, dog lovers can buy Van Gogh's Valentine's Day-themed magnets and more art to come in March. In conclusion, looks don't matter, but peanut butter does!