Many people would shy away from taking in a dog who had a major liver issue. But not Tara Harris. Together with her friend Christina Bellardo, Harris worked to save the life of a tiny Maltese named Pistachio, who was born with a liver shunt, and provide a forever home for him. Little did they know that their actions would result in a trip to the Puppy Bowl 2019 for Pistachio, and so much more.
“I think it’s important people see dogs like Pistachio and know they can live really happy lives,” says Harris, a pediatrician and founder of Every Dog Counts Rescue in Indianapolis, Indiana. “All of us have something we’re working on and dogs do, too. If they require special care, they can still have a life like any other dog.”
Pistachio is living a life that might have seemed impossible when he was first born. But he’s proven to be stronger than his health issues, even staring in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XV where he came close to nabbing the MVP title. He’s an outgoing, well-loved family member who enjoys roughhousing with his siblings.
Pistachio is proof that animals are worth saving, even ones in unconventional circumstances—that even sick and abandoned animals can recover and thrive, lighting up the lives of those around them in the process.
Overcoming His Illness
Pistachio only weighed 1.5 pounds when a veterinarian contacted Harris in May 2018, advising her the 2-month-old pup was purchased from a breeder and was seriously ill. His family wanted to relinquish him.
Veterinarians determined Pistachio suffered from a liver shunt, a condition in which there is an abnormal blood vessel in the liver that doesn’t allow the organ to clean contaminants from the body. Harris’ rescue, whose mission is to help dogs with medical needs who might not otherwise get treatment, took on the roughly $4,000 cost of tests and surgery.
Harris, who founded Every Dog Counts Rescue in 2010, says she’d seen at least five dogs come through her organization who had successful liver shunt surgery, so she knew Pistachio’s condition could be treated.
But before that could happen, Pistachio had to bulk up. He needed to weigh at least 2 pounds to be considered safe for surgery. It took from May until August of that same year for little Pistachio to gain the weight.
“He felt better very quickly after surgery,” Harris says. “He wanted to bounce back and play, but we had to restrict his movement for a couple of weeks.”
Finding the Right Forever Home
“I was tempted to keep Pistachio. He is such a cute, happy little guy and everyone wanted him,” Harris says. “But tiny dogs do need a special home and my dogs are big, so I contacted Christina.”
Harris is a pediatrician who works with children who have suffered abuse and knew Christina Bellardo in her role as a prosecutor in child abuse cases in Indianapolis. Bellardo and her husband, Kyle Trammell, were already parents to two other Maltese dogs, Apollo and Aphrodite.
“I knew she loved little fluffy, white dogs and thought she’d be the perfect home,” Harris says.
When Pistachio first went to love with Bellardo, he was still on a lot of medications, some of which had to be administered every six hours.
“We knew it would be a long and hard road for Pistachio, but Tara knew we’d be up to the task,” Bellardo says.
When Pistachio first arrived at the Bellardo residence, he had an immediate effect on her other dogs.
“He was so happy and playful that he got both Apollo and Aphrodite to play—and Apollo has health issues, too,” Bellardo says.
That was when she knew that Pistachio fit into their family perfectly and would become a permanent member.
Today, Pistachio is not only playful with his canine siblings—he’s fearless with dogs of all sorts.
“He has no problem running up to an 80-pound dog and wanting to play,” Bellardo says.
Taking the Field
Last fall, Harris sent in Pistachio’s application to appear in the 2019 Puppy Bowl, an event held every year on Super Bowl Sunday to help promote awareness of rescues. Pistachio was accepted, and Bellardo agreed to take him to New York for the taping.
“They were sending me videos [from the taping],” Harris says. “He hit the ground running and everyone just loved him.”
Pistachio scored touchdowns and was a candidate for MVP. That’s only natural, Bellardo says, because Pistachio is an MVP in the eyes of everyone who meets him.
Pistachio is keeping people smiling in a new role, too. He’s in training to become a therapy dog, continuing to raise awareness about dogs with serious health issues, while brightening the days for patients in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as students in schools.
Overall, Pistachio’s doing really well health-wise, although recently he had his annual liver bloodwork taken and his values were a little high. He is back on medication and his diet is being adjusted.
“We hope that’s all it will take,” Harris says.
But no matter what, Bellardo, Harris and Pistachio’s Puppy Bowl fans know he’s worth fighting for.
“Some dogs do need more surgery,” Harris says. “If that happens, we’re here to continue to support Pistachio in whatever way he needs.”