Gus: One Year Later

Story by Monika Blackwell

Photo by George Watts

If you met him today, it would be hard to imagine how Gus, a dog who endured so much trauma, could be so calm and downright lovable.

In August of 2018, the young mixed-breed was found in Houston with 28 air gun pellets embedded all over his body. He had a shoe lace tied around his neck and a head swollen three times its normal size, making simple tasks like eating and drinking nearly impossible. He also had a pelvic fracture.

Good Samaritans rescued him and immediately rushed him to a local emergency room.

The rescue organization Houston K-911 agreed to sponsor the dog, and they began to call him Gus. Once he was stable, they transferred him to Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, where he stayed for all of September and part of October 2018. During that time, Gus was seen by multiple services in the Small Animal Hospital, including Emergency and Critical Care, Soft Tissue Surgery, and Rehabilitation.

“Gus was in rough shape when he first came to us—he was the worst case of an embedded object I’d seen in the 30 years I did surgery,” said Dr. Lisa Howe, the VMTH surgeon on Gus’s case. “The people who rescued him did a great job caring for the wound created by the shoestring, but the shoestring was in for so long and was so chronic that the scar tissue had formed a 360-degree constriction around his neck.”

Gus underwent his first surgery on his neck when he arrived at the VMTH and then received laser therapy to reduce his facial swelling. Once the swelling subsided, he received additional procedures for his injuries, including the removal of excess skin.

“It was truly a team approach,” said Howe. “You could tell when he finally started feeling better, and when the swelling in his head started going down, he began playing and acting like a dog again. He was a healing machine, that’s for sure. It took him a while, but he got there.

“There’s only one Gus in this world, I’m convinced. Most dogs would not be able to tolerate what he very calmly tolerated.”

A Second Chance

Marina holding a sign sitting next to Gus
Marina Harrison and Gus

To make things as easy for him as possible, one of the VMTH technicians, Marina Harrison, fostered Gus in her home during his treatments so that he wouldn’t have to go back and forth from College Station to Houston. The pair developed a special bond.

“When he first came to us, Gus was apprehensive of people for obvious reasons, but it was amazing how quickly he became a regular dog,” said Harrison. “I could tell how much Gus loved having a home with a bed and constant attention, and he quickly developed a bond with all of my dogs. It was nice to watch his personality develop and see his transition from distrust to openness.

“It was also really heartwarming to walk through the hospital with Gus and have people whom I didn’t know run up to us,” she said. “He was such a good conduit for connections with people, and it was easy to tell his story simply because people recognized him.”

Throughout his treatments, Gus became an internet sensation, and his followers watched as he was transformed into a healthy, happy dog. The hashtag #GusStrong became a marker of his success.

When it was time for Gus to return to Houston, some of his friends at the VMTH threw a party for him to celebrate the immense progress he had made.

Gus The Ambassador

One year later, Gus is living his best life. Houston K-911 has officially adopted him to serve as an ambassador for other stray dogs. In his new role, Gus is a special guest at schools, juvenile detention centers, and other venues, where he advocates for his fellow canines and the importance of speaking out against animal abuse.

Recently, Gus was also the winner in the shelter dogs category for The American Humane Hero Dog Awards, an annual, nationwide competition that recognizes America’s most heroic dogs.

“I’ve been in rescue for years, and I thought I’d seen everything,” said Barbosa. “Gus’s appearance was shocking, and for everything that he endured, I would have expected a timid and distrusting dog. Gus was almost the exact opposite.

“Very soon after his rescue, he opened up and began to trust and allowed people to help him. It doesn’t matter where we go or what new environment he is in, he acts as though he is perfectly comfortable and at ease. He is truly remarkable.”

Keep up with Gus on his Facebook page, run by Houston K-911:


For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVMBS Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences;; 979-862-4216

Gus: One Year Later

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