MUNCIE, Ind. – On Feb. 13, a 6-week-old puppy was thrown in a Muncie trash Toter and left to freeze and starve to death.
Local veterinary officials estimated the dog had about two hours of life left before Michael Upchurch, who was working his trash route for the Muncie Sanitary District, happened to hear the puppy's cries, pulled his frozen, 3-pound body out of the trash bag and rushed him to safety.
Two hundred thirty-two days – and about 20 pounds – later, that puppy, who has since been renamed Garby, is happy and thriving in his new home, where he has developed an unbreakable bond with his rescuer.
"This sounds weird, I know it does, but I think he realizes that he had a second chance, you know?" Upchurch told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1a339SS) this week from the backyard of his home on North Mulberry Street in Muncie. "And he's taking full advantage of it."
Over the past seven-plus months, Garby has become a local celebrity of sorts. His Facebook page has more than 4,500 likes; he was the unofficial master of ceremonies of Muncie's St. Patrick's Day Parade; and his story has been told by countless national media outlets, such as USA Today, CNN, Huffington Post and Women's World magazine.
"It's been an adventure," Upchurch said. "We met so many nice people from all over the world. It's been an eye-opener."
Upchurch said he was wanting another dog at home to accompany his 10-year-old husky, Nevy, but it "wasn't really in the cards."
That all changed that cold February day.
After pulling Garby from the trash Toter, Upchurch immediately placed him under the warmth of the heater in his trash truck before rushing to the Muncie Sanitary District offices, where he poured warm water on the puppy.
At that very moment, the dog showed his gratitude for his rescuer.
"When I got him into the sink, and started to warm him up – or try to warm him up the best I could – he kissed me on my cheek," Upchurch recalled.
Garby was placed into the hands of animal care officials at Westview Animal Clinic, where he was found to be suffering from starvation and from low blood sugar. The puppy's previous owner had told police and animal control officials she thought the dog had parvovirus, a highly contagious and often deadly virus strand found in canines.
The dog discovered Feb. 13 also wasn't the first puppy the woman had admitted to throwing away, according to Phil Peckinpaugh, director of the Muncie Animal Shelter. That woman has since been convicted of animal cruelty and sentenced to 180 days in jail and 50 hours of community service to be served at the Muncie Animal Shelter.
"When the puppies stopped moving because their blood sugar was so low because they were starving, she made the decision that they were dead and threw them in the trash," Peckinpaugh said. "You should never throw a puppy in the trash can – dead or alive, obviously."
After receiving treatment at the vet, Garby went home with Upchurch, who was able to give his wife, Shelley, an early Valentine's Day gift.
By the next day, Upchurch declared Garby was already "head of the household."
The first thing one notices about Garby when paying him a visit is undoubtedly the Shih Tzu-mix's endless amounts of energy.
One of his favorite activities – other than wrestling around with Nevy, who is about four times his size – is running laps around the backyard.
"He's very energetic," Upchurch said. "That's the most playful dog I've ever seen in my life. That's all he wants to do, from get-up time to the time we go to bed, he's wanting to play. He's wanting to play when you're putting him to bed, even. He don't wanna quit."
Garby's like many other 9-month-old dogs. He'll jump, speak his mind and leave the occasional accident on the floor in the house.
He'll also jump on the bed in the mornings and wake Upchurch and his wife, barking at the couple or nibbling on their ears until they get up.
"He's something else," Upchurch said. "He's got an attitude, you see. When he gets what he wants, he's OK. But when he doesn't – look out."
But best of all, Upchurch said, is the bond developed between his 3-year-old granddaughter, Ela, and Garby.
"They just play," Upchurch said with a smile. "And he loves her, it's unbelievable. He won't leave her side when she's over."
The bond between man and his best friend certainly remains strong for Upchurch and Garby.
"He's helped me out, too," Upchurch said. "Man, I wouldn't know what to do without that little fella now. I'd be lost."
Peckinpaugh said the roller coaster of emotions that go with rescuing a pet are often emotionally taxing.
"Garby's a perfect example, because he was taken from this horrible situation where he could've died – and, in all likelihood he would have had it not been for Mike – but now he's in this happy, wonderful home living a great life like all dogs should," Peckinpaugh said. "It absolutely is emotionally burdensome all of the time."
The emotions, however, are worth it for both Upchurch and his "cool little dog."
"I think he knew he was hurting, and when I got him in there and he kissed me on my cheek, it was like, 'Woo – I've got to have this little fella,"' Upchurch said. "And we've been buddies ever since."
This is an AP Member Exchange story shared by The Star Press.