Smiles of rescued Detroit dog, new owner light up web

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The picture says it all.

Soon after Waterford Township musician Dan Tillery adopted a 2-year-old dog he named Diggy, the pair couldn’t help but beam in a selfie snapped on the floor Monday.

Those matching smiles — Diggy’s from ear to ear — are sparking many more, as well. In the 24 hours since it’s gone viral, the heartwarming photo has generated more than 21,000 reactions on Facebook and even interview requests from ABC News as well as other media outlets.

“I thought it would get some attention, but I didn’t know it would really cheer this many people up,” Tillery said Tuesday. “It’s pretty extreme.”

The cheerful image caps an incredible journey for Diggy, who once faced an uncertain future.

He was likely on the streets before being acquired by Detroit Animal Control. That’s where Kristina Rinaldi, executive director at Detroit Dog Rescue, encountered him in early March when her nonprofit arrived to gather a dozen canines as part of an ongoing transfer effort with the city.

Though their van already was full, Rinaldi said spotting the pooch “in a tiny cage just kind of hanging with his head down” compelled her to make room. “He had a sparkle in his eye that he needed to get out. ... I definitely did not want to see him euthanized.”

The dog was so enthused, “as soon as I got him out of his cage, he just started wiggling,” Rinaldi said.

That spirit led to his first name, Sir Wiggleton, and also guided him through spaying, vetting and treatments for parasites as well as a skin infection. But over the next two months, potential adopters overlooked him for others, Rinaldi said.

Heartened by the dog’s frenzied frolic, Rinaldi last week shared a photo on the DDR Facebook page touting him as an “American Bulldog/pit bull mix that loves the water and is just a big goofball.”

The shot of the smiling pooch who had “been waiting so patiently for his forever home” instantly moved Tillery. The 30-year-old musician and his longtime girlfriend, Megan, both adore dogs but had recently moved into a new home without one.

“It was like, ‘We need this guy. He looks like he has a lot of personality,’ ” Tillery said.

Their first meeting was quickly arranged. The two bonded immediately and Tillery pledged to keep the pooch.

A day later, Diggy — dubbed after a nickname among Tillery’s friends — has adjusted blissfully. “He’s having fun. He’s just been running around,” his owner said. “Every time I bring him outside, he plays with a stick. He’s playing with a rope right now. He seems happy. … He’s just what I was looking for. ”

As the duo bond on the couch and throughout their home, news of the joyful union has melted hearts across the Internet.

“Your pictures are making a lot of people happy!!” one user wrote on the DDR Facebook page. “We can see and feel the love!! Best of life to you.....”

Another posted: “I wish all the ones on “death row” could have the same happy ending and a smile on their face just like this fortunate angel in this photo!”

Meanwhile, Tillery is prepping for a full future with Diggy, his “big face-licker”: lakeside thrills, treks to the Upper Peninsula, and more. “Anywhere I go I’d love to be around him. Who knows what he’ll get into? Just get him used to being free.”

Rinaldi, whose group tends to animals abandoned, shot or worse, calls the story “an ideal ending we hope for every dog. We’re just so excited. People are seeing the positive outcomes of rescuing.”