CLEARWATER — She once ran loose on the streets of New Port Richey, her head swollen to a monstrous basketball size from the infection that raged through her body. A rope, embedded in the flesh of her neck, had created a wide and deep wound.
The pit bull mix was thin, mangy and close to death when she was rescued by some good Samaritans on Dec. 30.
Now she's called Honey, for her sweet nature, and is just waiting to hear three little words: "Honey, you're home."
"She's been nursed back to health and is ready for her new family," said Twila Cole, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Pinellas, a nonprofit shelter in Clearwater that has taken care of the dog since New Year's Eve.
Cole then looked at Honey and quipped, "No more frozen lizards for you."
Honey's ribs no longer show, her wounds have healed and her short golden hair is making a comeback since receiving treatment for the mange that once covered her body, likely a result of her weakened condition.
And how is she doing mentally?
"Great. She's affectionate, playful and loves people," said Cole, who has three pit bulls of her own and adores the breed. "Like all pit bulls, she loves to lick your face."
As if on cue, Honey gave her a few wet kisses.
She said Honey is housebroken, walks nicely on a leash and appears to like other dogs.
On Friday, Honey picked up a stuffed toy lying in the dirt of the play area, brought it over to Cole to throw and then retrieved it.
"Oh, this is what makes it all worthwhile," said Cole. "That's the first time she's played with a toy. She was probably never taught how."
Her original owners have never come forward or been found.
Honey's new family will have to be a bit special themselves.
"They should be familiar with the breed," Cole said, describing the breed as strong-willed, energetic, smart, loyal and protective. "They'd rather sit in your lap than be at your side."
Honey's owners will need to give her plenty of exercise, attention and training. They shouldn't have small children and should be extra vigilant, given her history of past abuse.
Though Honey has shown no sign of aggression, the recent killing of a week-old baby by a pit bull mix in New Port Richey has put pit bulls in the news.
"Pit bulls do have the highest bite record but they also have the ability to attract irresponsible owners and the criminal element," said Barbara Snow, executive director of the shelter.
Many owners prize the breed's tough, fighting dog image and don't want to neuter their males. But unaltered males are the most aggressive and most likely to bite, Snow said.
The dog in the New Port Richey attack was not neutered.
Tethering dogs, letting them roam the neighborhood, leaving them outside all day or alone with a child can also lead to trouble.
"It's education," she said. "We have to teach people how to be responsible dog owners."
In the shelter's play area, Honey picked up the stuffed toy again and took it over to Cole.
Then she raised her paw and shook Cole's hand.
Honey, like all dogs up for adoption at the shelter, has been temperament tested.
"We won't put a dog up for adoption if we believe in any way they could be a threat to humans," Snow said. "Everything we know about Honey says she's adoptable."
Reach Terri Reeves at treeves@ tampabay.rr.com.