Sylvia and her two children had always had four dogs because there used to be Apple. Sylvia found Apple on the road, and it was hard to tell who rescued who, and then Apple died suddenly leaving Sylvia devastated.

Sylvia’s best friend repeatedly dragged her to the County Shelter to find a replacement, but the hole in Sylvia’s heart left by Apple could not be filled.

Then one day last fall, Sylvia got an urgent call. A foster home was needed for Duke. “Send me a picture,” she said. She took one look, and drove out to the County Shelter to pick him up.

It was not love at first sight. Duke, a large brown and white pit mix, had had his own share of woe and offered no opening for Sylvia to connect with him, no eye contact, no tail wag. “It was as if his heart had been broken, too,” she said.

At home, Sylvia showed Duke the basics: food, water, dog door, where to poop and where to sleep. It was cold that night, and Duke would not come in. Sylvia picked the large dog up and carried him in to her bed. He slept next to her all night.

The next morning there was no eye contact, no tail wag, and Sylvia decided to take Duke with her and her shepherd Roxy for a run. After he dragged her all over the neighborhood, she broke out the pieces of hot dogs, cheese, cookies and treats and went to work.

Sylvia taught Duke to heel, sit, stay, come, even come, stop and sit. “He was so awesome!” she said, “It was like he was turning himself inside out to hear someone say, ‘Good dog!’ But I still had this disconnected feeling from him. Like he had loved someone and knew it wasn’t me.”

Duke would sleep at her feet under the desk while she worked. Duke would go wake up the kids with his tail wagging. Sylvia took him to work and heard what a great dog he was. Duke even learned how to obey sign language Sylvia’s daughter learned at school.

Sylvia wanted to keep him, but it wasn’t working for Roxy, or the 4-pound rescued Chihuahua, Chi-Chi, not really. This big male dog was coming out of his shell, and Sylvia felt that it was too much to ask of them. It wasn’t fair.

But Duke had a spark in his eye and his tail wagged. He liked people again. She wrote a letter about her time with Duke, how they had seen each other through a really rough patch, and with a heavy heart she put him on a transfer to Massachusetts, where Duke finally found his forever home.

Now Sylvia and the kids are fostering seven pups born at their house six weeks ago and having a ball. Her 9-year-old son named them all from the Spiderman movie. “The puppies are for my kids,” Sylvia said, “Duke was for me.” Fostering shelter animals bring gifts of life.

FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 411 Wire Road. For more information, email or visit