(MNN.com) -- It might be hard to believe that two of the handsome boxers in the photos above were once shelter or rescue dogs with severe cases of mange and little hope of finding their forever homes.
But Myles, left, and Merlin beat the odds, which is remarkable considering that according to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 million to 8 million pets enter shelters each year, and half of those animals are euthanized.
Here are their stories.
Merlin's path to his family began when Frank and Katie Rannou toyed with the idea of adding a third dog to their family. But plans took a back seat when Grace, their 8-year-old boxer, developed cancer and began a slow decline.
Coping with the loss of a pet proved difficult for the couple. Their boxer Josie had an even tougher time adjusting to life without her constant companion. Once again, they considered adoption and contacted Atlanta Boxer Rescue about a dog named Merlin that had been featured on the group's website for more than a year.
"We were kind of called to Merlin," says Katie Rannou of Smyrna, Georgia. "He was 22 months old and Josie was about 7. That's quite an age gap, so we were anxious to see how that would work."
A rough start The age gap paled in comparison to other challenges Merlin already had overcome. He was deaf, and when Merlin arrived at an Atlanta animal shelter, the large white puppy was malnourished and struggled with severe mange, a treatable skin condition that causes hair loss and itchy sores. Animal control called Atlanta Boxer Rescue after another rescue group gave up on the dog. Leg fractures led to $3,000 in veterinary bills that the nonprofit covered through donations and fund-raisers.
"There was so much stuff going on, and he was such a young dog when we got him," says Dianne DaLee, president of Atlanta Boxer Rescue. "We didn't know his bones were that bad. We just looked at the mange and said, 'It's treatable; this is a young dog that will grow up to live a happy life.' "
The home visit Merlin's foster family had taught him about a dozen hand signals for basic commands, and the Rannous were ready to give Merlin his happy ending — as long as timid Josie could handle an energetic, 75-pound male companion. His next big hurdle would be a home visit. On February 11, Merlin joined his forever family.
"The best way to honor Grace's legacy was to give another dog a wonderful home and lots of love," Rannou notes on her blog. "There are a bunch of hidden treasures in rescues and I wish more would look at this as an option," she said recently.
Settling in with the family Boxers tend to be large, athletic dogs that require plenty of mental and physical stimulation to keep them out of mischief, so the Rannous take their dogs on daily 6-mile walks.
Merlin's muscular build, square head and fine, white coat with dappled spots attract plenty of attention. People walk a wide path or approach to ask questions about the striking boxer. Regarded as loyal and protective, this popular breed also is known to interact well with children. Later this year, Merlin and Josie will help celebrate another human addition to their pack when the Rannous welcome their first child.
"While he would never take the place of Grace, it really helped heal our hearts a little bit," Rannou says. "And he brought out such a playful side in Josie."
Myles finds a home Nichole Hess also chose to honor the life of her boxer, Bailey, by fostering another dog. She was all set to care for a female puppy when Atlanta Boxer Rescue posted photos of a male named Myles. At only 4 months old, his body was covered with sores caused by severe mange and Myles required daily medicated baths.
"It just broke my heart," Hess says. "He was so sickly and so bad off and I knew he was going to need a lot of care. At that time, I couldn't say no. I reached out and said, 'Somebody else take this female who is healthy and will probably get adopted pretty quickly.'"
Meeting her new charge On the day after Thanksgiving, Hess met Myles and worked on his recovery. Doubts began to creep in when she gave Myles his first medicated bath, treating wounds that spread from his muzzle to his paws. But Hess pushed those thoughts aside and focused on caring for the pup, administering pills and hand-feeding Myles until he gained strength.
"I honestly didn't know if he was gong to make it or not," she says. "He was on pain meds and didn't come out of his crate for the first week."
Healing brings a new challenge After two months of treatment and a little coaching from George, Hess' French bulldog, Myles finally was on the mend. Healing brought a new challenge. Atlanta Boxer Rescue had spread the word about Myles and adoption requests began to pour in for the boxer. Hess also had shared his story, driving people to the Atlanta Boxer Rescue site to raise money and awareness for rescued boxers.
"It was a double-edged sword," she says. "I was happy that people were interested, but I had gotten attached and knew it would be hard to let him go."
Foster mom gets second chance Rescue groups help relieve overcrowding in animal shelters by giving pets a better chance at finding forever homes through adoption fairs, foster care and aggressive social media campaigns. Once prospective families are identified, reputable rescue organizations rely on a detailed application process to pair pets and people.
Many find a love connection. Occasionally, things don't work out and the pet returns to a rescue organization. Myles fell into the latter category.
Fortunately, Hess had fallen for the rambunctious pup and wanted to keep him. In addition to the occasional foster dog, her pack now includes George, Myles and a young boxer named Finn who was turned in to animal control shortly after having a litter of puppies.
To keep her pack occupied, Hess relies on frequent walks, obedience classes and interactive puzzle toys. "I've worked hard to get them on the same page," she says. "We do a lot of team-building exercises."
Help pets find a forever home If your team is ready to foster a pet, Hess recommends researching local rescues and talking to other foster families about the experience. Of course, there's always the chance that your foster will turn into a permanent resident. That's not such a bad thing, according to Hess and Rannou.
"You can get a phenomenal dog from a rescue," Rannou says. "We have had three phenomenal experiences. Dogs from rescues show their gratitude every day. Something in them knows you kind of saved them and they pay that back lovingly."
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