Ellie Mitchell was scrolling through Facebook when she came across a photo of a sweet-looking black dog with floppy ears and a face flecked with gray.

“Overlooked for 11 Years,” read the caption on a post accompanying the photo.

“Vanessa is one of those that slipped through the cracks,” the post from Villalobos Rescue Center in New Orleans said.

Mitchell, 45, learned that Vanessa, a senior pit bull, had been dropped off at the dog shelter in August 2012 when she was a puppy. Her owners were moving and didn’t want her anymore.

For more than a decade, Vanessa had spent the majority of her life in a kennel at Villalobos, a pit bull rescue that holds 400 to 500 dogs, with about 50 adopted every month. Vanessa was passed over every time.

Mitchell said she stopped cold on July 14 when she saw Vanessa’s large brown eyes — and her story.

“I saw her sweet little face, and my heart just went out to her,” said Mitchell, a paramedic who lives in Greenwood, Del., about eight miles from the Maryland border. “It made me sad to think to think that she’d lived her whole life without a family.”

Mitchell had a feeling the senior pooch would be a perfect fit with her three other rescue dogs, Emma, Keagan and Maggie. She submitted her application to adopt Vanessa right away.

“I had adopted two dogs from Villalobos in the past, and I knew when I saw Vanessa that I had to get her,” she said. “I wanted her to know the love of a home.”

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Tia Torres, the shelter’s founder, could barely believe it when she received Mitchell’s application about 30 minutes after she’d posted Vanessa’s story on Facebook. She was shocked again when dozens of other adoption offers began to pour in, she said.

“She’s a really sweet dog with no behavioral issues, but through no fault of her own, she just got overlooked,” Torres said. “Not one person has ever noticed her until now.”

Torres’s shelter rose to fame as the subject of the Animal Planet reality series “Pit Bulls & Parolees,” which finished its final season last year showing the lives of formerly incarcerated volunteers and the dogs they help at Villalobos.

Torres remembers the day Vanessa was dropped off at the shelter. It was a sweltering summer afternoon in 2012, and a couple drove the pup to the shelter in the back of an enclosed moving truck, she said.

“They pulled up, rolled the truck door open and left her here like a piece of old furniture,” Torres said. “She appeared to be about 12 weeks old, and she was emaciated. If she’d been left in that hot truck much longer, she would have died.”

Vanessa was vaccinated and treated for dehydration, then she was spayed and put up for adoption on the Villalobos website a few months later, Torres said.

It’s a misconception that puppies always get adopted quickly, she said, explaining that Vanessa had several strikes against her when she came to the shelter.

Feeling lonely, she got a kitten. He became U.K. Cat of the Year.

“Number one, she is a black dog, and black dogs are often overlooked,” Torres said. “She’s also a pit bull, and although the image people have of pit bulls is changing, they still have lower adoption rates.”

Vanessa was also living at a shelter where hundreds of dogs are up for adoption, and Southern shelters are overflowing with pets that were discarded after the pandemic, she said.

“We have a lot of dogs, so she was one of many,” Torres said. “We’ve had other dogs that have grown up with us since they were puppies. All we could do was keep trying and not give up hope that we’d eventually find her a home.”

As Vanessa grew to 35 pounds, shelter staffers took new photos of her and posted them on the shelter’s site, pointing out that she was crate-trained, well-mannered and friendly around other dogs. As time went on and Vanessa’s fur became speckled with gray, rescue center workers continued to post about her, saying senior dogs can make great pets.

Still, there were no takers.

Torres has 75 employees, and she said some of them frequently take dogs temporarily into their homes. About six months ago, she decided to take Vanessa out of the shelter and send her home with a staffer, hoping to give the elderly canine more comfort while still trying to place her for adoption.

“As she was aging, we wanted her to be in a home environment instead of a kennel,” she said. “She’s been doing well, but it wasn’t a permanent solution.”

She lost her dad’s ashes. Strangers dug into 4 tons of trash to find them.

Senior dogs are often the last to be adopted, Torres said, so last month she decided again to post about Vanessa on Facebook.

“We don’t know how Vanessa has been overlooked all these years, but it’s her time to shine now!” Torres wrote. “Please be the one who brings Vanessa into their life before she has to spend another year here.”

After 11 years, people finally started noticing Vanessa.

Since Mitchell was one of the first to contact the shelter and she had adopted dogs from Villalobos before, “we knew she’d be a great person to take her,” Torres said.

Torres told Mitchell the good news, and she said she will send a shelter worker to drive the dog about 18 hours to Mitchell’s new Delaware home in a couple of weeks.

Mitchell said she has always had a soft spot for “old lady pit bull dogs.” She said she learned about Villalobos from a friend nine years ago, then started watching “Pit Bulls & Parolees.” She thought Vanessa would enjoy hanging out in her spacious backyard in rural Delaware, she said.

“My dogs are my family, and after a stressful shift, I love to come home and watch them run around and dig holes while I relax on the patio,” Mitchell said. “I’m looking forward to adding Vanessa to the bunch and spoiling her rotten.”

If Vanessa decides she’d rather be a lap dog or hang out on the sofa, that’s also fine with Mitchell.

“I just want to make her final years the best years she’s ever known,” she said. “Vanessa has definitely earned it.”


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