ST. PETERSBURG — Whistling as he hopped off his golf cart, maintenance man Roger Anderson noticed some rustling in the bushes. It stopped. He stopped.
A little gray puppy staggered out onto the sidewalk on huge paws.
"Hey, little guy …" Anderson started to say. "Oh, no."
The puppy was barely alive. With sad-looking eyes, it looked up at 60-year-old Anderson, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer who used to do search-and-rescue missions. The puppy's wiry tail gave a pathetic, half-hearted wag.
"Uh oh," Anderson said. "Now you've done it."
The lushly landscaped retirement community of Westminster Shores, near the south tip of Pinellas County, has seen its share of cute stray or exotic animals wander through its grounds.
This little guy was not cute at all.
Hairless, scabby and covered in fleas, the 4-month-old male puppy smelled terrible. His saggy, sallow skin hung on a frame of ribs and spine, and his paws and legs were freakishly puffy from some kind of infection.
Anderson wrapped the puppy in some towels and drove back toward the community's administrative offices, cradling the dog in one arm while driving the cart with another. He radioed his supervisor, John Enders, and told him:
"I'm on my way in … I have an issue with an animal."
Enders saw the puppy and gasped.
The men kept the puppy in a shaded area and tied a string around his neck so he wouldn't wander off. They gave him water and he drank nearly a gallon.
They called over Jeff Weatherhead, the executive director of the Westminster Shores.
"We had no idea where this poor thing came from," Weatherhead said. "We'd heard of coyotes in the area, so we were wondering if maybe something happened to his mom. Or if he came from one of the bad areas of town where people keep pit bulls outside."
Either way, Weatherhead didn't want to let the puppy fall to danger again. He called some shelters, who said they'd take the puppy but couldn't promise that he wouldn't be euthanized, given his health problems.
That wasn't good enough.
A receptionist for Westminster knew a vet at the Animal Hospital of Pinellas Point and called her. Dr. Barbara Antz-Hanson agreed to take in the puppy and nurse him back to health. She treated the pit bull-Shar Pei mix for ringworm, various skin conditions and malnutrition.
"To be honest, he's a long shot," Antz-Hanson said a few days after the puppy was found on April 20. "With consistent care, he'll probably be fine. But he'll always have some kind of skin issues."
After several days, Antz-Hanson turned the puppy back over to Westminster Shores, along with a medication routine and a long list of needs. Several staff members and residents agreed to share the costs.
"Thank goodness they have a soft heart," she said.
Eyedrops every two to four hours. Antibiotic pills and liquids morning and night. A medicated bath every day.
And that's in addition to house-training, disciplining and all the other things a new puppy requires.
The Westminster Shores staff keeps a schedule of who plays with or walks the puppy when. Weatherhead is just thrilled the orphan is morphing into a happy, normal puppy. He wags his tail and jumps up to hug assisted living facility residents who adore him. He wrestles and chomps on sticks he finds on the ground. He loves a warm lap where he can curl up and fall asleep.
His fur is slowly starting to come in, though he is still mostly covered in wrinkled, rough skin. He's no longer as bony and has the playful expression of a curious puppy — a face that makes Anderson happy after remembering the pathetic one he saw amble out of the bushes.
Weatherhead takes the puppy home every night, but he has dogs and kids of his own and can't keep him.
He's hoping someone will come forward and adopt the puppy, as much as the residents would hate to see him go.
The puppy has become a mascot of sorts for the retirement community, a symbol of luck and survival for the staff and residents.
They named him Chance.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.