On a chilly January morning in Louisville, Kentucky, supporters of the Kentucky Humane Society (KHS) were dropping off donations and found a starving dog, cold and barely alive lying on a towel in the parking lot.

From that moment on, Ethan—whose name means enduring and long-lived in Hebrew—fought alongside humane society veterinarians and staff devoted to his recovery. Not only did Ethan regain his strength and vitality, he then went on to inspire people around the world in need of hope and love. If he could survive, so could they!

His daily fight for survival

To this day, no one knows what happened to Ethan, how he ended up in this condition. Perhaps he was left in a crate without food or water for weeks and his owner couldn’t return. 

“When we first found him, we didn’t think he was alive,” says KHS veterinarian Dr. Emily Bewley. “But once we realized that he was still breathing and had a heartbeat, we dropped everything and got right to work putting in IVs, and warming and rehydrating him.”

Dr. Bewley says Ethan was extremely dehydrated and his temperature was so low that it didn’t register on the thermometer. His fur was filthy from feces and urine, and he had ulcers on his joints from lying motionless for a prolonged period of time.

A dog Ethan’s size should weigh about 100 pounds, but the day he was dropped off he weighed just 38 pounds. Dr. Bewley said he had the lowest possible body condition score, which uses a nine-point scale to measure an animal’s health.

“He was the thinnest you can be and still be alive,” says Dr. Bewley. “I initially didn’t think that he was going to pull through. A lot of it depends on an animal’s will to survive. But I was not optimistic. I would have given him like a 10% or 20% chance to survive at that point because of the severity of his condition.”

Treatment was touch-and-go at first. Ethan experienced neurological issues that caused him to lose control of his head and leg movements. Dr. Bewley worried that he had brain damage or organ failure, which could’ve been fatal. So, Ethan was transferred to an emergency animal hospital. 

But defying their worst fears, Ethan kept getting stronger. Two days after they found him, Ethan wagged his tail for the first time. And four days later, he gave the staff an even bigger surprise.

“Once he was released from the ER that night, one of my technicians and I were at work, and we saw Ethan get up and walk by himself,” states Dr. Bewley. Ethan put on 20 pounds in the first week of his treatment, and another 10 pounds the following week. After two more weeks of IVs, blood tests and physical therapy, Ethan was strong enough for overnight foster care with one of the humane society’s employees

*Photo by Jennifer Schoenegge Photography

Ethan’s remarkable connection to Jeff

Jeff Callaway, KHS facility director, was at work the day Ethan was dropped off, and he jumped at the opportunity to take Ethan home as a foster. “The first time I saw him, I had no idea how he was still alive—he looked even worse in person than you see in the photos. But there was something about him. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to do everything I can for this dog.’”

Even before Jeff was the first person Ethan licked, he knew in his heart that Ethan was his dog, but he also knew that it had to be the right fit for Ethan. Jeff, his wife Dana, and their family, already had three great Danes and two pit bull mixes at home that needed to accept Ethan into the pack. “I began to bring in my dogs to meet Ethan,” explains Jeff. 

Ethan immediately got along with Jeff’s other dogs. The first time he met Ivy, Jeff’s 170- pound Great Dane, Ethan greeted her with kisses to her face. Freya, who is the queen of the pack, gave her seal of approval by sitting on Ethan, which is her way of saying you’re part of the family. 

“Then when he was strong enough, I took Ethan home at night and brought him back to work each day for monitoring, blood work and to treat his sores,” explains Jeff.

It wasn’t long until Ethan reached another milestone—he barked for the first time, inviting the dogs to play with him. “He has a great relationship with all the other animals,” notes Jeff. “To go through what he went through and come out on the other side with such a beautiful personality, it’s just pretty incredible.”

Jeff says it’s great to see how far Ethan has come in his recovery. “Not just physically, but his mind needed time to heal, too. And on a day-to-day basis, you could see his cognition returning.”

An internet sensation

Ethan’s journey captured the hearts of the people living all over the world. The Kentucky Humane Society’s social media pages were plastered with updates about Ethan’s day-to-day life. Each post received hundreds of reactions, sometimes thousands. People.com also wrote a story about Ethan, which spread the love even farther.

Amazingly, Jeff has received cards, letters and emails from people living as far away as Australia, the Philippines, India and Canada with words of encouragement for Ethan. “I also received letters from people who were experiencing tragic things in their own lives,” he shares. “Ethan inspired them to turn things around in their lives and fight. It’s just heartbreaking. One person was addicted to drugs, another was suffering from depression and someone else was facing cancer. One woman who wrote to me expressed that she’d lost her husband and two children in a car crash. And as a result, she’d lost the will to live until a friend shared Ethan’s story. I still receive texts from her.”

Ethan’s story also inspired Jeff to launch a podcast called “Ethan Almighty.” In the podcast, he brings awareness to the issue of animal neglect.

The love came pouring in

As word got out about Ethan, the donations flowed in. “In response to Ethan’s story, we received $200,000 in additional funds to support all the animals in our care,” says Alisa Gray, vice president of outreach for KHS. “These funds will help us take care of the animals that need us. We also created Ethan-themed merchandise because people were asking for it and sending us portraits of Ethan they’d created. We sold $100,000 in Ethan-themed merchandise over two months, which you can still purchase from our website. This outpouring of support was the best thing for our organization.”

Ethan also serves as the face of the humane society’s 27th Annual Waggin’ Trail Walk for the Animals Virtual event, which takes place June 4 to 6. The event is sponsored by VCA, which also supports the humane society’s TLC Fund to treat animals like Ethan who require care that’s above and beyond regular veterinary care. 

“Join the virtual walk and you’ll get an Ethan T-shirt,” says Alisa. “Support of this event provides funds for the Kentucky Humane Society to continue serving vulnerable animals as we have since 1884. We have seven facilities, including a farm for horses, and facilitate more than 5,500 adoptions a year for homeless dogs, cats and horses.”

Making it Facebook official

On March 10, staff, the community and the media came to celebrate and document Ethan’s official adoption into Jeff’s family—complete with a Facebook Live video. 

“My family fell in love with Ethan the first time they saw him, just like I did,” Jeff concludes. “It’s at the point where there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for him, and we couldn’t imagine him not being in our lives. He’s just that special.” 

You can follow the inspirational Ethan on Instagram @ethanalmighty, find him on Facebook as EthanAlmighty or check out his website www.ethanalmighty.com.

“Ethan will serve as the face of the humane society’s 27th Annual Waggin’ Trail Walk for the Animals Virtual event, which is sponsored by VCA Animal Hospitals.”