1. News

Khalessi, the abused pit bull who 'stole the hearts' of thousands, dies in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — It's easy to marvel at how Khalessi ever survived.

When the 2-year-old pit bull was picked up by two dog rescuers last year, she was missing half her face and had no snout. Her front canine teeth hung out of her mouth like small tusks. Her back legs dragged behind her when she walked.

She was given a name similar to that of the Game of Thrones character who carries the title "Khaleesi" for a reason. They're both survivors, underdogs.

But after living through her extensive injuries and garnering fame as a poster child against animal abuse last year, Khalessi died on Thursday morning. Her owner, Stephanie Paquin of St. Petersburg, wrote on Facebook it was time to end the pup's suffering. She was just about 3 years old.

"Khalessi told me she was ready and I could see she was tired," Stephanie wrote. "This morning at 8:43 Khalessi left this world and left a huge hole in my heart."

Paquin first met the dog on Aug. 8, 2015. As soon as she saw Khalessi, she knew she had to take her home. Paquin, along with her husband Michael Fleury, run a rescue group called Passion 4 Pits out of St. Petersburg. The group places dogs with foster families.

When they adopted Khalessi, Paquin and Fleury were actually stopping at the Orlando shelter to rescue another dog, said Lisa Otto, who volunteers for Passion 4 Pits. A veterinarian tech showed them the struggling dog, who at that time could only breathe out of its mouth and needed several surgeries.

"It wasn't even a question," Otto said. "Stephanie said, 'Yes, we will take her.'"

Otto said the owners weren't up to speaking on Thursday and spoke on their behalf.

It didn't take long for the less-than-20-pound pit bull to start capturing hearts online. The couple posted a photo of the dog in their truck to the Passion 4 Pits Facebook page when they were heading back to St. Petersburg from Orlando.

"She just went viral from there," Otto said.

It wasn't long before Khalessi had a Facebook page of her own, which Otto helps run.

Her face would eventually wind up on stickers with the words, "I stand with Khalessi against animal cruelty."

Her owners don't know exactly what happened to her. She was first found dumped on someone's lawn in Orlando. The couple guesses she was used as a "bait dog" in dog fighting. They can only assume another dog bit off her nose.

But despite her horrid abuse, the dog wasn't aggressive.

"The abuse that she received prior to coming to the rescue, it was almost like it was out of her mind from the day (they) brought her home," Otto said. "She was the most loving and forgiving dog ever. She loved people, loved the attention."

When people approached, her tail wagged. She longed for belly rubs. She was a "goofball" and a "diva," Otto said.

More than 60,000 people have followed her journey on her Facebook page. But thousands more have seen her photo shared or read about her on the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed.

"She just stole the hearts of hundreds of thousands," Otto said. "No matter what she had been through, she just wanted to show the love she had to give."

Contact Sara DiNatale at or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.