Steve Folk was installing a clutch in a big truck when Shorty caught his eye.
It was mid October. Folk was in Kountze, Texas, which had been hit by Hurricane Rita. During hurricane season, Folk, who works for Pike Electric Co., travels cross-country to repair bucket trucks used to fix power lines. Folk and some other workmen had stopped at a Super 8 motel.
No one paid much attention to the 10-pound white American Eskimo wandering the motel's parking lot.
It was easy for them to turn a blind eye: The days had been long and sleep minimal. The pup had fleas, intestinal worms and mange and gained a reputation for eating scraps from garbage cans. His long white hair was overdue for a trim, and he'd been an unwelcomed guest at the motel for so long that no one could remember when he arrived or to whom he belonged. Soon, the pup was nicknamed Shorty. Steve Folk said he looked like a Pike driver with long hair, "like a hippie."
Folk, a hydraulics mechanic, decided he could not leave Shorty behind.
"He hung around me all the time out there," Folk said. "Another fella was going to take him, but his wife wouldn't have him. But if no one took him, he would die."
Folk began to feed the pup cans of Campbell's Chunky Soup he'd brought from home, and he let him into the motel to sleep at night.
When it was time to head home, Folk took a chance and plopped the sick pup on the passenger seat of his Ford F-550 truck and headed 22 hours to Florida. Shorty slept the whole way back to New Port Richey.
Saving abandoned animals was nothing new for Folk and his wife, Maria. They'd rescued other animals, from raccoons to dogs.
The idea that Shorty was abandoned upsets Maria Folk, who happily welcomed the idea of a fourth dog in their home. "Someone said, "There's something wrong with him and we don't want him,' " she said. "That's wrong."
Upon closer inspection, Steve Folk found a bulge on the underside of the animal's body. Shorty needs a costly operation to repair a wall that didn't form between his heart and intestine. The condition is so severe, doctors told the Folks, that Shorty could die if the area experiences pressure.
For Shorty, life in Pasco has had its ups and downs. He didn't know what dog food was, forcing the couple to mix it in with the Campbell's soup he'd grown to love. Shorty clung to Steve, and the other three dogs scared him.
And playing with dogs Baby, Gidget and Sissi could prove to be disastrous if his bulge is touched.
"He wants to play, and we give him toys, but you kind of have to segregate (him from other dogs)," said Maria Folk. "If the kids threw a ball and hit him, he'd die."
Shortly after his arrival, the Folkses found out how severe Shorty's problems were. The family has spent $1,000 on sonograms and visits to the Bayonet Point Animal Clinic.
Now, Shorty must have an $1,800 operation to repair his intestinal wall. The University of Florida, where Shorty's operation will be on Dec. 19, will pay $900 toward the surgery. But the Folkses would have to foot the other half of the bill, and already are facing financial burdens.
Steve Folk is having surgery Dec. 12 for arthritis in his foot, and the couple have guardianship of three of their young grandchildren, Hailey, 3, Jeremiah, 5, and Hannah, 6.
"I didn't realize the cost that would be involved," Steve Folk said.
And the possibility of Shorty not surviving until the day of his surgery frightens Maria Folk.
"You just get so attached," she said. "It just breaks your heart."
Running around their home Thursday afternoon with the couple's other dogs, it's clear that Shorty has found a place to call his own. Pictures of Shorty when he arrived, small and timid, sit on a table in the couple's home. Since then, he's gained weight and doesn't have diseases.
But there's one skill Shorty learned living on the street that he hasn't learned to shake.
"He's a professional at eating out of garbage cans," Steve Folk said. "We have to take the garbage out every night."Maria Folk, 48, and her husband Steve, 49, with granddaughter Hailey Folk, 3, alongside, hold Shorty, an American Eskimo dog Steve found while working in Texas on Hurricane Rita recovery. He brought the mangy, flea-bitten sick puppy home. The family nursed Shorty back to health only to find out Shorty has a bad intestinal problem that could be fatal without surgery. The operation is expensive and while the operating veterinary clinic will cover half, the couple still must find $900 to pay the full bill.