WHO: Playful Patches, a shelter mutt from the Austin Animal Center.

WHAT: After more than five years—1,913 days, to be precise—in the shelter system, Patches was finally adopted by her longtime foster parent, Forrest Washburn, on April 1.

WHY IT’S SO GREAT: On January 5, 2016, an 80-pound stray mutt arrived at the Austin Animal Center. Shelter staff estimated that the dog was about six years old. They named her Patches after the brindle spots around her eyes, as well as the hairless patches she had from a skin condition. Despite charming the staff and volunteers with her wide smile and spunky personality, the pit bull mix lingered in the shelter system for the next five years. Last week, she was finally adopted by her longtime foster dad, Forrest Washburn. In a tear-jerking Facebook post, Patches gazes adoringly at Washburn, 64, a cowboy hat–clad retiree whose home has been open to the dog since January 2018. 

dog patches and new owner
Sarah Throop

Why did he take so long to make the commitment? As Sarah Throop, the photographer and shelter volunteer who took the photo, writes, “I think Forrest may have always thought that Patches was deserving of something more than he could offer her (something perhaps all of us feel every once in a while). But, as I watched them drive away in his pick-up truck last night . . . it was clear that she is exactly where she should be.”

Some long-stay shelter dogs suffer from serious behavioral problems. That isn’t the case with Patches, Throop says. Though she has a skin condition and needs to be the only dog in a home, those issues should not have kept her in the system for so long. 

“She wasn’t one of those dogs that it should have taken five years for her to find a home,” Throop says. “I mean, she wasn’t perfect by any means . . . but generally speaking, in shelter land, those things on their own are not barriers to adoption. They might keep a dog in the shelter for a while, but not for five years.”

Patches was a celebrity around AAC. Throop describes her as kind, yet demanding—in an endearing way. The pup reportedly has one of the best “sit” responses in the world, and she’ll do anything for a treat. Contrary to the stereotype of pit bull mixes as violent, she’s gentle, calm, great with children, and, of course, enjoys back scratches and “good-girl” pets. She’s a natural in front of the camera, and over the years, Throop caught the canine in action at many events. Her time in the shelter system wasn’t all bad: in 2017, Patches snacked on frozen treats and French fries while greeting potential adopters at Amy’s Ice Cream. In 2018, she was crowned queen of AAC’s senior dog prom.

Patches found her first long-term foster home in November 2016. After an eight-month stay there, she was placed in another home, but was again returned to the shelter in December 2017. Only a few weeks later, Washburn agreed to foster her. Patches was Washburn’s first foster pet, though he had owned dogs in the past. He’d recently met another adoptable dog after seeing a post on Nextdoor, but it wasn’t a fit.

“I kind of forgot about it for a while,” he says. “Then one day Kayla [Murray, a shelter volunteer] called me up and said Patches needed an emergency home and would I take her for a while, so I did.”

The duo spent the next three years together. Patches rode in the front seat of Washburn’s white Toyota Tacoma and sunbathed in his backyard. During the winter freeze in February, Washburn’s power was out all week. He and Patches spent a few days snuggled under blankets before a friend offered to house Washburn until his power returned—but he could not take Patches. 

Patches stayed with another AAC volunteer for a few days, but that volunteer sent Washburn a photo of Patches looking forlornly out a window; she was waiting for him. Murray and Throop say the dog knew from the beginning that Washburn was her forever person, but he finally decided to adopt her on April 1. 

“Mostly [I felt] that I wouldn’t have to go through worrying about whether someone was going to actually adopt her or not,” he says. “Every time someone wanted to meet her, I always felt a little bit sad, and she picked up on that and she would feel sad too.”

Now that Patches has found her home, she can continue showing off her sits and enjoy a plethora of pats from her forever best friend. Hopefully there will also be a happy ending for Rusty, the Waco dog who recently went viral after he was returned to a shelter by his adopters. (He’s now enjoying life at a rescue in Temple.) Throop says these stories are a reminder that when it comes to placing long-stay shelter dogs, persistence can pay off.

“I think it definitely shows that for the long-stays that end up in the shelter system, there are still homes out there for those dogs,” Throop says.