Sisters Artye and Patricia Avellar giggle as they wrap their arms around Starsky and Hutch. Tails are wagging and tongues are flying from the chocolate Labrador retriever brothers.
“We told them no French kissing,” Patricia gleefully responds.
The human sisters and dog brothers have made a happy new life together out of tragedy.
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The brothers were abandoned last year in their old age. They were in poor health – with filthy coats, infections, rotten teeth and collars digging into their skin – when a volunteer from Labrador Retriever Rescue of Fresno rescued them from a Visalia shelter, where they likely would have been euthanized.
“The story was their owner had died, and no one else in the family wanted to take them in,” said their foster mother, Tricia Blattler, a lab rescue volunteer. “They didn’t even have names on the intake records.”
The lab rescue group decided on Starsky and Hutch, then spent several months rehabilitating them before offering them up for adoption. Among the procedures, costing more than $2,000 in all, was removing a four-pound tumor from Starsky’s left side.
At the end of January, their availability was announced on the nonprofit’s Facebook page. It included photos of their sad and cute dog faces, along with a charming story about how their TV action-hero days are behind them “but we still have spunk and like to let off a good bark now and then when the door bell rings!”
It got lots of likes, shares and comments, but no offers for adoption. In the days, weeks and months that followed, the rescue group shared another Starsky and Hutch post – then another, and another. There were more than a dozen. Each post praised their gentle, loving personalities. The dogs’ stardom grew, but still, no one wanted them.
“As we expected, there was very little interest,” Blattler said. “Some dogs found homes within days or weeks of being posted. These guys were on our website all through the spring and all through the summer.”
Then, nine months after the dogs were put into foster care, came Artye and Patricia. They were the third pair to inquire about adopting the dogs, but the only true match for both parties.
“To me it was like, ‘Oh! Two brothers, two sisters!’” Patricia said. “I felt that’s sort of like a message from God – we have to take ‘em.”
The sisters previously lost dogs to old age, and in February, they lost their mother. It was especially hard for Artye to imagine losing any more loved ones, but Patricia, ready for another pet, was persistent.
“I had to convince her that we’re going to give these guys a good home until they have to hit the rainbow bridge. … I said, ‘Hey, we said goodbye to my mother and held her hand. Why can’t we hold their paws, the same way?’” Patricia said.
The sisters say the dogs chose them. Hutch, the more active of the two, gravitated to Patricia. Starsky, the more mellow, to Artye.
“And Hutch is vocal – like you,” Artye said to her sister with a smile.
“Oh yes,” Patricia responds, pleased. “And Hutch has more energy like me.”
Artye adds with a laugh, “Starsky sits around a lot, like I do.”
The sisters love having older dogs. Starsky and Hutch are trained, well-behaved, lovers of cats and all people – and only require walks, not jogs, Patricia adds.
The sisters say the dogs also improved their relationship with each other. Artye, the longtime caregiver for their mother, moved in with Patricia, who retired from the IRS, after their mom died earlier this year.
The dogs also made them happier.
“These dogs have given me hope. I’m taking an Italian class now!” Patricia said.
It’s believed the dogs are more than 10 years old. Since they were adopted a month ago, Starsky has been to the veterinarian’s office a handful of times. He stopped eating for a short time, and is taking several medications to help.
Blattler calls the sisters “guardian angels.” They just “wanted to give these bonded loving brothers a place to live out whatever time they have left.”
Hutch checks on Starsky before he goes to bed each night. Hutch sleeps in Patricia’s bed, and Starsky sleeps with Artye.
The senior dogs are usually in bed before their owners. The brothers fall asleep by 8 p.m., and wake up at 5:30 a.m.
“I feel I’m getting more from it than the dogs are getting,” Patricia said, “because I love it when he jumps on my bed at night!”
The sisters hope more people consider adopting a senior rescued pet.
“These dogs, I’ve only had them four weeks,” Patricia said, “and they’ve already taken part of my heart.”
How to help
Other central San Joaquin Valley animal groups that take abandoned or stray pets include Central California SPCA, Animal Compassion Team of California, Fresno Bully Rescue and The Cat House on the Kings.