A dapper Pomeranian was the man of the hour at North Shore Animal League's Lewyt Humane Awards on Wednesday. Joey, a 10-year-old Pomeranian from Hicksville, clipped on his bow tie and headed off to the ceremony to receive the shelter's notable Scarlett Award for Animal Heroism.
The Port Washington-based shelter honors a shelter pet each year with the award in memory of a heroic cat named Scarlett, who rescued her five kittens from a fire in New York City.
"The story of her courage captured the hearts of people around the world," Joanne Yohannan, the shelter's senior vice president, said before presenting Joey the award born of animal heroism.
So what makes Joey a hero? Despite his upbringing, the canine has become a well-mannered mentor for the shelter's other pups.
Born in a puppy mill, Joey spent the first seven years of his life confined to a cage. According to the shelter, most puppy mill dogs are kept in "terribly inhumane conditions" without proper medical care, food and affection. Most of these puppies are diseased, disfigured, injured and abused. And for Joey, NSAL said in a statement, the story was no different.
In 2012, the shelter brought Joey to Long Island during one of the puppy mill rescue operations it frequently does. It was then discovered that he had heartworm, a disease that would have caused him to be euthanized, NSAL said.
Since Joey has spent most of his life in conditions that would understandably lead a dog to become reserved, his affectionate nature came as a surprise to his foster mother, Peggy O'Connell.
O'Connell fostered Joey with the intention of finding him the perfect home -- which, it turns out, was her own.
Since adopting Joey, eight other foster dogs have found homes after being in her care, and she has the Pomeranian to thank.
"Peggy always takes our challenging cases and helps adapt them to home life," Yohannan said. "Joey is Peggy's No. 1 assistant."
Joey has become a role model to other puppy mill dogs -- sleeping and playing with them and helping them adapt to what it's like to trust a family.
His ability to become a foster role model has landed him the shelter's honoree title for 2015.