Rescue Dog So Emaciated That He Was 'Literally a Skeleton' Finds Home with a Vet Who Helped Him (Exclusive)

One Tail at a Time rescue in Chicago helped Sugar Snap get emergency medical care at Premier Veterinary Group, where he met his future owner, Becky Ritchie

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap in June 2024 (left) and Sugar Snap the dog shortly after his rescue in February 2024

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap in June 2024 (left) and Sugar Snap the dog shortly after his rescue in February 2024
  • Chicago-based rescue One Tail at a Time rescued Sugar Snap the dog after the emaciated pup was dropped off at Chicago Animal Care and Control

  • The rescue brought the dog to Premier Veterinary Group for emergency care and a 20-day hospitalization — an Embark DNA test helped with treatment

  • A vet who helped care for Sugar Snap fostered the dog after he got out of the hospital and ultimately adopted the canine

Sugar Snap was "a skeleton" of a dog until a veterinarian healed his body and his heart.

One Tail at a Time (OTAT) rescued the young dog in February after Good Samaritans found the emaciated canine on the side of a road and brought him to Chicago Animal Care and Control. Sugar Snap arrived at OTAT "in dire need of emergency care," according to the Chicago-based organization's Instagram post about Sugar Snap's rescue.

The rescuers noted that Sugar Snap looked like a larger dog but only weighed 19 pounds. He was so weak he couldn't walk or even lift his head; OTAT knew it needed help taking on a case like this.

"They're their own organization, and they have their own veterinarians, but for cases that need hospitalization, we will see a lot of pets that they're in charge of," Becky Ritchie, an emergency room veterinarian for Premier Veterinary Group, tells PEOPLE.

When Sugar Snap arrived from OTAT at Premier Veterinary Group, Ritchie was there, and she remembers him being "super emaciated."

"He was just literally a skeleton. I don't think I've ever felt a dog that was just bones. It felt painful just to move him around and he could barely lift his head or stand up," she adds.

While Sugar Snap was in critical condition, OTAT and Premier Veterinary Group were confident the dog could pull through with the proper care. The rescue began fundraising for Sugar Snap's treatment, which they knew would be costly because the pup required multiple days of hospitalization.

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap during his hospitalization

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap during his hospitalization

Ultimately, OTAT raised enough to cover Sugar Snap's medical bill, which totaled over $40,000 — the highest hospital bill in the organization's history.

"And that's with the discount we give them," Ritchie notes.

That hospital bill covered 20 days of hospitalization and treatment, which is what it took for Sugar Snap to become strong enough to move into a foster home.

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"Initially, he was doing pretty well. And then, a couple of days into his stay, he did take a turn. He got really sick. He got infections and was battling sepsis. He needed blood transfusions, plasma transfusions, feeding tubes, and all sorts of medications," Ritchie says of what led to Sugar Snap's extended stay at the vet hospital.

Along with medications and transfusions, an Embark Dog DNA test helped with Sugar Snap's treatment. Knowing the different breeds in Sugar Snap's makeup helped rescuers determine the dog's target weight.

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap the dog shortly after his rescue in February 2024

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap the dog shortly after his rescue in February 2024

"The predicted weight for Sugar Snap was so helpful," Kim Thomas at OTAT shared in a statement to PEOPLE. "When he came in at 19 lb, vets could only really guess what he was supposed to weigh. We didn't even know if he was a puppy or an adult because his teeth were in such bad shape, likely due to malnourishment. He's still working on physical therapy and gaining weight and muscle, but he's looking like he'll be on track for the Embark-predicted 62 lb! Having information on such a mystery of a dog was so extremely insightful."

Between her expertise and information from the DNA test, Ritchie believes Sugar Snap is around a year old. She has had plenty of time to observe the dog because Sugar Snap moved in with Ritchie as a foster pup once his hospitalization ended.

The vet says she was considering adopting a dog to add to her family —which includes her partner, a cat, and a canine — before meeting Sugar Snap. But when she decided to foster the puppy after becoming "very invested in his care," she wasn't sure if he would become a permanent pet.

"Realistically, it was always in the back of our minds of, 'We're fostering him, but are we going to keep him?'" Ritchie says.

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap in his new home

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap in his new home

Initially, when Sugar Snap arrived at her house, Ritchie focused just on helping the dog heal.

"He still needed pretty intensive care at that point. I was literally carrying him outside," Ritchie remembers.

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Despite being weak and dependent on Ritchie for so much, Sugar Snap still managed to charm his foster parent.

"Despite his condition, he'd really look at you. He seemed like such a sweet dog. He was a cutie right from the start," the vet says.

As Ritchie and her partner, who is also an emergency room vet, helped Sugar Snap build back muscle and regain the ability to walk, they fell in love with the dog and realized this was the new pet they were searching for.

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap the dog

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap the dog

Today, Sugar Snap is an official member of Ritchie's family and is getting stronger every day.

"He is up to 52 pounds, and he came at 19 pounds, so he gained 33 pounds," Ritchie says, adding the pup has "a couple more pounds to gain" but is "looking good" overall.

Now that Sugar Snap has more energy, he is going on more adventures. He regularly comes into work with Ritchie at Premier Veterinary Group, where the staff is always eager to see one of their favorite past patients doing well. At home, Sugar Snap enjoys reveling in his newfound puppy energy and trying to get Ritchie's senior dog to play.

<p>Courtesy of Becky Ritchie</p> Sugar Snap

Courtesy of Becky Ritchie

Sugar Snap

Ritchie is uncertain how Sugar Snap ended up in the dangerous, emaciated state rescuers found him in earlier this year, but she fears neglect was involved.

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"How does a dog with a good appetite get to the level of sickness he was in, especially because all the tests that we did, we never really found anything to indicate that there would be a reason that he couldn't have held onto his weight or that he was wasting away," Ritchie says. "So it does make you wonder, was there human involvement, and was this more of a neglect situation to get him to that point?"

Luckily, that is all in the past. Sugar Snap now has a healthy, love-filled life to look forward to.

"He literally like a different dog. It is crazy. I look back at those photos from February, and I'm like, 'If it weren't for just his fur pattern, I'd be like, that's not him,'" Sugar Snap's mom says.

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