His fur was matted and filthy, but this retirement community fell in love with him

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This is the story of an 87-year-old woman with a generous heart and an abiding love for dogs — all dogs, regardless of their cuddle quotient.

This is also the story of a community that stepped up to help, of a retired kindergarten teacher who uses social media to rescue animals, of a dog groomer who traveled across counties to give back.

Ultimately, though, this is a story of an abandoned dog who hit the jackpot.

Our story begins before this past Christmas, when residents at East Ridge at Cutler Bay, a retirement community in Southwest Miami-Dade, noticed a matted fur ball wandering the premises. Was it a dog? A cat? Something else? The creature was in such a state, dirty and emaciated, that residents weren’t sure of the classification.

“Nobody was having any luck trying to capture it,” recalls Greta Brasington, who has lived at East Ridge for more than two years. “I’d sprinkle food to try to lure him, but if I got too close he’d just run away.”

Another East Ridger, Marjorie Swensson, describes the wandering animal this way: “It was so matted we couldn’t see its eyes. We didn’t know if it was a male or female or what.”

Brasington, a former stained glass artist, persisted with her feeding attempts until one day a neighbor called to ask if her dog was outside. Brasington has a 12-year-old Maltese, but Katie Lady was right there next to her when she got that call. Intrigued, she opened her front door — the same door that sports a “My Pet Rescued Me” sign — and discovered the matted fur ball waiting patiently on her doorstep.

She ushered the animal in and phoned her friend Swensson, who describes herself as “the residential doggie person.” In reality, Swensson is more like a matchmaker. When a resident dies, she tries to find a new home for the surviving pet, and when a dog is abandoned over the back fence of the property, she posts pictures and descriptions on Craigslist and Facebook.

Together the two women bathed the stray in a washroom sink. Then they bathed him again. Still heavily matted, they couldn’t see the brown spots on the dog’s fur.

“The water was filthy,” Swensson recalls. “It was as black as the screen on that TV.”

Adds Brasington, “It was pitiful how skinny he was. Skinny, skinny.”

The pair also took the dog to the vet, who determined it was an unneutered male Shih Tzu, about 5 years old, and most likely had been used for breeding. It didn’t have a chip, however, so Swensson posted pictures online, hoping to find its owner.

In the meantime, Brasington named him Wilson, after the volleyball that becomes the Tom Hanks’ character’s companion in the 2000 film “Cast Away.” Within a week he was answering to his new name. She also worked hard to fatten Wilson up, serving three square meals a day, which meant he ate “pretty much whatever you put in front of him.”

Swensson asked her Facebook friends, many of them involved in animal rescue, if they knew of any groomers who specialized in extremely matted dogs. Wilson’s picture accompanied the plea.

Samantha Strong, a professional dog groomer from Wilton Manors, responded immediately, offering her skills free of charge. She traveled about 85 miles round trip to beautify the dog.

“He had no ticks or fleas, which we thought was amazing,” Brasington says. “But she couldn’t get anywhere near his face. He wouldn’t let her. He just growled and shook.”

Eventually, Brasington’s own groomer managed to trim the tendrils off Wilson’s face.

Not unexpectedly, no one claimed the dog, but Brasington was more than relieved. She was in love. Besides, whoever had cared for him before hadn’t done a very good job of it.

“He didn’t act like he had been around nice people,” Swensson says. “He didn’t know what love was or what a kind touch was.” Now he does. Less than three months later, the abandoned dog that shied away from human contact can’t get enough from his new mistress.

That he would stay with Brasington wasn’t always a given, however. Her three children weren’t enamored of the idea that she should take on more responsibility at her age. Also, she had fostered other abandoned dogs, offering temporary shelter while Swennson found permanent homes for them. She hadn’t kept those.

But Wilson was different. She didn’t want to give him over to another family. “He was special,” she explains. “He was appreciative of everything I did for him. He would come up on my lap and put his head on my shoulder in this special way.”

Wilson now follows Brasington everywhere she goes. He hops on her golf cart when she tools around the retirement community, and he’s become a fixture at East Ridge’s Bark Park. He has adjusted so well that she’s taken to calling him Mr. Wilson. “He likes to strut around so.” In fact, Mr. Wilson is so comfortable in his new surroundings that Brasington is planning to have him neutered “because he’s getting fresh with the ladies.” A vet has offered to do it for free.

Two traits seem to be a forever part of Mr. Wilson’s personality, which is OK by Brasington. She finds them charming.

For one, “he can’t pass up a tree or fence post.”

And he never ever turns down food. “I think he even likes cucumbers.”

1 Fort Lauderdale

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