Blind pup and brother find happy new home

Posted: November 25, 2013

Jeffrey and Jermaine found a home Saturday after an outpouring of affection for the 8-month-old brother pit bulls - one nearly blind, the other his guide - brought thousands of adoption offers from around the globe.

People called and wrote from as far away as Ethiopia, and a family in Australia offered to fly here to claim the 35-pound strays.

After winnowing hundreds of formal applications, and then four finalists, the staff of the Operation Ava no-kill shelter allowed the dogs to be adopted by Veronica McKee and her husband, Jonathan Hochman, both 44, of Springfield, Delaware County.

Jeffrey and Jermaine will join the couple's talkative cat, Blabbus, in a home with plenty of room and a park out back.

How will they be treated? "Spoiled rotten," McKee said.

Which seems right, given their hard beginnings.

A few weeks ago, the siblings were found on the streets of West Philadelphia, then moved to the shelter in Northern Liberties.

The staff gave them names - and medical care for the cuts, mange, and malnourishment they suffered. It quickly became clear the dogs were inseparable.

Jeffrey is blind in one eye and can perhaps see shadows in the other. To compensate, according to veterinarians, he leans on Jermaine and follows his brother in unfamiliar territory.

When Chester County SPCA volunteer Kimberly Cary posted Facebook pictures of the pups, they became an Internet sensation. A photo that showed Jermaine and Jeffrey cuddling as they slept drew 3.2 million hits in just two days.

About 10,000 people inquired about adopting the dogs, and several hundred filed formal applications.

"These two dogs are going to make a difference, because they're bringing awareness to other dogs in need," said Claudia Gutierrez, CEO of Operation Ava. "A lot of people said they would come down and see [if another dog] might fit into their home."

On Friday, the dogs jumped, pranced, walked, and licked their way around a small shelter conference room, poking at each other and at McKee and Hochman.

The couple said they had no worries about the dogs' health or Jeffrey's blindness.

"The instant you see them together, any hesitation is gone," Hochman said.

How did Operation Ava decide on this couple?

"Gut," Gutierrez said.

The staff set some general criteria: They wanted the pups to go to a local family, one able to pay the food and vet bills of two growing dogs, including one with special needs. The staff thought the brothers would do best in a home without children.

McKee and Hochman fit that profile.

She's marketing director of SolomonEdwardsGroup L.L.C., a national business-advisory firm, and he's director of information technology for Grosvenor, an international real estate firm. They have no children.

Oddly, one person unaware of the dogs' viral celebrity was Hochman, who had dropped by the shelter hoping to find two sibling puppies.

As he learned about Jeffrey and Jermaine, the staff peppered him with questions, including whether he and his wife would be willing to do media interviews and file online updates so people could find out how the dogs were faring.

The couple said sure. The shelter said congratulations.

For Operation Ava, at Third and Poplar Streets, the last week has been mind-boggling, as calls and e-mails poured in.

The shelter was founded by an animal-loving family - Ira Goldfarb, Gutierrez, and daughters Ava and Lexi, who sought to prevent deaths among the 2.7 million unwanted cats and dogs euthanized each year in the United States. They established a brand of premium treats, Prairie Dog Pet Products, to help dogs eat healthfully and to provide a funding mechanism for the shelter.

"For us, the next step is to keep doing what we're doing," Gutierrez said. "When Jeffrey and Jermaine go home, it's back to the trenches."


jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

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