Local Rescue Dog Ethan Brightens Lives in Many Ways
Writer / Grace Schaefer
You wouldn’t think, just by meeting Ethan, that he’s known suffering. He’s happy to see you, and he will do whatever it takes to spread a little cheer to anyone he meets. He doesn’t even do it with words. Ethan is a rescue dog – a presa canario, to be specific.
Ethan’s story began in January 2021, when he was found abandoned outside of a Kentucky Humane Society (KHS) campus. “He had obviously been kept in a small, confined space where he couldn’t get up, and he was actively dying,” says Jeff Callaway, who met Ethan the day he was found. He weighed only 38 pounds when he was found, though he should’ve weighed 90.
Callaway, a four-year employee of the KHS at the time and a lifelong animal lover who had always had rescue dogs, reflects on that day. “It was kind of hard to explain, but when I saw him, I just kind of knew he was my dog,” he says.
Even though the veterinary staff estimated that Ethan had less than a 10% chance to live, Callaway was not deterred. “I just wanted to do whatever I could for him,” he says. “I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the weekend, but it was obvious he’d never been shown any love at all in his life, and so however long he had, I wanted to make sure that he knew that he was cared for.”
On his first night, Ethan was taken to an animal hospital due to seizures. “He was not only physically in bad shape, but mentally,” Callaway says. “You could put some food in front of him and he could smell that it was there, but he didn’t have that cognitive ability to put his mouth where his nose was smelling the food. So it took quite a bit of staying with him and working one on one.”
After a few days, Ethan returned to the KHS. “That was the first night when he got up and started walking on his own,” Callaway recalls. “I came in the next day and there he was, standing up and walking around. He licked me in the face, and they said that was the first time he had given anyone a lick or a kiss. I just knew he was mine.”
Callaway began coming to the KHS during nights to change Ethan’s bandages and take him for walks. He played games with him to keep his mind stimulated. “That went on for a couple weeks, and then we were going to have a bad snowstorm and no one was certain whether we were going to be able to get in the next day or not,” Callaway says. “He was well enough to come home and spend the night, so that night he came to my house, and he’s been there ever since.”
At first, he would spend the nights with the Callaway family, then go back to the KHS during the day. Early on, Ethan only observed the other animals around him, but over time he grew more comfortable, even beginning to bark. “It was particularly cool to see him kind of coming out of his shell again, and kind of realizing that there are some nice people in the world and that he’s in a place where he’s going to be loved and cared for,” Callaway says.
Ethan’s recovery, though tied to the lives of the Callaway family, had a far greater impact as well. Ethan became a rallying point for the local community and beyond, in the period of isolation brought on by the early days of the pandemic. “It was just a terrible time,” Callaway says. “I think part of it is people saw Ethan’s story and they thought, ‘This is another terrible, terrible thing. This dog’s not going to make it, and who could do something like this to a dog?’ And every day he just kept getting just a little bit better, and a little bit better, so his story became a source of happiness for so many people during the pandemic. He had this will to live, when everything else was looking the other direction, and I think people turned to that and saw, wow, this little dog is fighting to live.”
Ethan’s story inspired others who were suffering. If he could do it, so could they. So can you.
On March 10, 2021, Ethan was officially adopted into the Callaway family, but his impact and achievement didn’t end there. Today, Ethan has his own social media page, so fans can keep up with their favorite inspirational dog. When he can’t spend the workday with Callaway, he spends time comforting animals in the KHS vet area. Among his many accomplishments, Ethan has been named Compassion Ambassador by the Kentucky Derby Festival, and has been inducted into the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association Hall of Fame. He has thrown out first pitches, and he’s received proclamations from the Metro government. In 2022 he won the American Humane Hero Dog Award for the Shelter Dogs category, and the American Humane National Hero Dog of the Year.
Alongside Callaway, Ethan advocates for a tightening of anti-torture, anti-abandonment law in Kentucky. With such an involvement in legislation, he has even sat in the gallery of the house and the senate to watch proceedings.
Just recently, Ethan and Callaway received a WLKY Bell Award, marking the first time an animal will be recognized.
However, these big achievements don’t alter the little, daily impacts. “He has this connection with people, and it’s a different personal connection with every single person,” Callaway says. Seeing the positive impact Ethan has on an individual level has the greatest effect on Callaway.
“It’s overwhelming to me to see this positive impact, and the amount of attention that this one little dog can bring to shelters and to abused animals,” he says. “His message is always about love and support, and we try to always end those messages with, ‘Please do something kind for someone today.’ So no matter where we go, we just want to show that, no matter where you’ve been and what you’ve been through, just show some love and support for one another, and you never know what the other person is going through. [Ethan] has every right to be not nice, and unkind to people and animals, but he’s just not that way.”
Even though the KHS shelter is no longer Ethan’s home, it’s still an important place for other rescue dogs. “If you have any way to support your local shelter, whether that is by donations or volunteering, please do that,” Callaway says.
Ask your local shelter what their needs are. “Unfortunately, there are still animals that are still mistreated in our communities, and anything we can do to try to help those animals out, we want to try to do,” Callaway says. “Just be kind to folks. You never know what their story is and what they’ve gone through, and sometimes a little bit of kindness can be exactly what they needed that day.”
So, remember Ethan’s example. No matter what you’re going through, there’s always an opportunity to make someone else’s day a little bit better, giving them a glimpse of a better world, one smile and one nice word at a time.
“Please do something kind for someone today.”
Visit kyhumane.org to learn more about rescue dogs.