It Turns Out This 'Death Row' Dog Had a Family

This is the poignant moment when a Detroit family was finally reunited with their long lost dog. Trina Knibbs

You never know what kind of story a shelter dog has.

Maybe that’s because the eyes look so much the same — a little emptiness, a lot of weariness and an undeniable sadness.

As founder of Detroit Youth & Dog Rescue, Mike Diesel has looked into a lot of doggie eyes. He’s visited countless shelters looking to give dogs one last chance at a home.

And Justice was about as last-chance as any dog could get.

Diesel says she landed in the shelter after trying to bite an animal control officer, and later nipping at someone’s fingers.

For many shelters, regardless of how scared or protective or startled a dog might be, crimes of biting carry a death sentence.

But back in July 2016, Diesel took a chance on Justice — and got her out of there just moments before that sentence was to be delivered.

Mike Diesel with a dog named Justice at shelter
A post from July 2016, when 'Justice' was pulled from the kill shelter. Mike Diesel/Detroit Youth & Dog Rescue

From there, Justice went to the lap of love with a woman who could at least temporarily foster her.

The dog, Diesel tells MNN, was “sweet as pie.”

But eventually, Justice had to be boarded at a local kennel. For the next 11 months, she would wait there in hopes of finding a real home, while Diesel paid thousands to keep her hopes alive.

Dog being held in man's arms
Mike Diesel kept the dog's hopes alive by boarding her for around 11 months. Trina Knibbs /Detroit Youth & Dog Rescue

And then, a year after springing her from death row, he got the message that he wasn’t actually waiting for.

“I think you have our dog,” the message read.

It was from a local family who had seen Justice’s picture on Facebook.

“They sent pictures of Justice ... tons of pictures of her and their children all laying and rolling together and all in love,” Diesel says.

Children hugging dog
One of the pictures the family sent, hoping to prove that Justice was in fact, Patches. Mike Diesel/Detroit Youth & Dog Rescue

They claimed the dog’s name was actually Patches. And that about a year ago, their landlord had illegally entered their home — and Patches bit him.

Animal control officers were summoned. Patches ended up disappearing into the public shelter system, with calls from the family falling on deaf ears.

Having lost track of Patches completely, the heartbroken family finally gave up on ever seeing her again — that is until someone in the family spotted that picture.

If the pictures didn’t fully convince Diesel, there was the meeting he set up the next day between Justice and the family.

He only needed to see the dog’s reaction to them, as they walked up the driveway.

Dog stands behind fence as kennel approaches
Is it...?. Trina Knibbs
Dog jumps up at fence
Could it be...?. Trina Knibbs
Dog hugged by family

“Every single human there was in tears of joy,” Diesel says.

Yes, that’s Patches, no longer a shelter dog without a story. But a dog with a history and a family. And the kind of love that took the long way home.

Dog hugged by family
Patches had spent a year apart from her family, in a kennel, under another name. Mike Diesel/Detroit Youth & Dog Rescue