Journey the Alaskan Malamute is probably big enough to pull Santa's sleigh. But days before Christmas, he needs a miracle to carry him through the holiday season.
The lost, possibly abandoned pup was running scared in some Kentucky fields last week when shelter volunteers caught up with him.
Rescuers found what should have been a plush, fluffy dog severely malnourished, his fur matted and infected with sores, lice and two types of mange. He'd likely been alone for an extended period of time and was so frightened of leashes that shelter workers had to tranquilize him to catch him.
"If you see something like that running loose it's pretty scary," said Tammie Variano, foster coordinator for the Illinois Alaskan Malamute Rescue Association.
But the Malamute melted their hearts. Every time a volunteer talked to him or presented him a treat, he thumped his tail and gave them his most grateful eyes. They named him Journey and called on volunteers for medical attention.
Northern Lights Sled Dog Rescue in Indianapolis took the call and transported him to Indiana. Journey was so petrified of leashes they had to transfer him between cars in his crate.
Still he was grateful, Variano said. "I can't say one of us didn't shed a tear," she said.
Mount Prospect-based IAMRA then took over, bringing him to Yorkville Animal Hospital, where he has a four- to six-week recovery ahead. One type of mange is contagious, Variano said, and the other hit him via his immune system. There's a risk of parasites and a secondary infection from everything he went through.
The lice is licked, though, and he follows the techs around the yard, craving companionship.
"It's his spirit," she said. "He's got a Christmas spirit. He's going to be our Malamute of miracles."
Journey's miracle needs to be a generous one. Six weeks of medical attention means big bills, and the IAMRA's long-term goal is to find a loving foster home.
Malamutes need attention, Variano said, and the little balls of puppy fur that people fall in love with grow up to be big dogs that require a lot of exercise and time. The IAMRA is overloaded with rescues.
Journey is a special needs case that will require a lot of work, she said.
"But somebody has to love him. They don't come into your life without a reason."
"It's going to be a long haul for him. He's not out of the woods yet," Variano said.