ORANGEBURG COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Bronte's future looked pretty bleak when he was born in South Carolina last fall.
"What we found was very upsetting," Healing Species president and founder Cheri Brown Thompson said. Her rescue group was called to a pick up Bronte and his family during an animal cruelty investigation.
"They were very sick," she said. "Really, really sick. He was covered in fleas. Mostly he was just covered in dirt. I mean, he was filthy. He was shivering. He had no shelter. He had been eating rocks and dirt and sticks."
"I think part of the saddest was that -- his emotional state," she said. "Even at 6 or 7 weeks old, he did not know how to play. He was very sad. He would give you no eye contact. he would only look straight ahead."
Worse yet, Bronte was not a typical puppy. He didn't know how to act like one.
"He just did not know how to be a puppy. We had to literally teach him how to be a puppy."
"It took time for Bronte to realize, 'Hey, I'm a dog. I can have fun. I'm a puppy. I get to play,'" Thompson said. "We would put toys in his playpen and he did not know what to do with them. He would just look at them. We became worried. We were thinking there was something wrong with him."
"He had just checked out," Thompson said. "It was heartbreaking."
But eventually love pulled Bronte's true character out.
"It just took time. It took tender loving care and patience for him to bloom into the personality that he was meant to be."
Then Healing Species got a phone call from Animal Planet, looking for rescue puppies to star in Puppy Bowl XI.
"We were so excited to hear from Animal Planet," she said. "We knew this would be a great opportunity to try to get our message and our vision and our mission out to the public."
Bronte made the cut for Team Ruff and he and Thompson went to New York City to tape Puppy Bowl XI.
Unfortunately, his on-field performance relegated him to the second string. Thompson said Bronte was more interested in eating than playing with the other puppies. And as puppies normally do, once he was done eating, he left a mess on the field and took a nap.
"He had a great time," Thompson said.
Bronte's story doesn't end there. He has a happy home with a family in Charleston.
"Bronte is living a grand life," Thompson said. "Our hopes are that he will go on to become a Healing Species Classroom Compassion Curriculum Dog and propel his legacy of paying it forward."
In addition to helping dogs of last resort, Healing Species teaches school kids about compassion and kindness throughout South Carolina and five other states. Through a special program at Lee Correctional Institution, it also places dogs who are considered unadoptable with inmates, who help socialize them and prepare them for adoption.
"We believe that the way society treats our most voiceless and most vulnerable is very reflective of the culture in this society," she said.
"Every one of these dogs, if you get to know their spirit and get to know their souls, they're just as precious, just as loving," Thompson said. "There is something special about Bronte."
Puppy Bowl XI airs on Animal Planet Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.
For more information about Healing Species, click here.