For spring break this year, college students Kiara Jacoby and Tori Zaccaria decided to go to a hurricane-ravaged Texas town just south of Houston to help an 87-year-old woman repair her badly damaged home.
On their last day there, a dog showed up.
The light tan pit bull mix wandered onto the property with no collar or identifying information. His hair dirty, he appeared to have small bites or scrapes. At first, he ran when students tried to pet him. But after they fed him peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, he gave them kisses and sat on their laps. And when one accidentally got spackle on his fur, they named him “Spackle.”
At the end of the day, when the Arcadia University students were ready to pack up and prepare to fly home to Pennsylvania, it became clear Spackle had no home. He lay beside them, refusing to leave.
“We have to do something,” Jacoby, 20, a sophomore from Perkasie, said to Zaccaria.
“We’re not leaving him there,” Zaccaria, 21, a senior from East Brunswick, N.J., agreed.
Over the next couple of weeks, there were touch-and-go moments, with Spackle winding up at a kill shelter and given only 24 hours to live.
But Jacoby and Zaccaria, making dozens of phone calls from the other side of the country and raising hundreds on GoFundMe, were able to save Spackle’s life.
What’s more, they paid $175 to have the dog shipped to Pennsylvania by the van service “No Stress, Pet Express.”
And that’s how the affectionate dog with the floppy right ear went from a life of nomadic wandering through a southwest Texas community to a sun-splashed lawn outside Arcadia’s administration building, known as the Castle, where students last Friday were holding a bake sale to help pay off his debts.
“Honored to be in the presence,” one staff member said, as he passed the frolicking canine.
“Can I pet him?” a student asked before making a donation.
For now, Spackle is living with Jacoby’s family in Bucks County, but he’s also been anointed the official mascot of Arcadia’s community and civic engagement center, organizer of the spring-break trip.
“A lot of times folks bring back T-shirts from their trips,” said Cindy Rubino, center director. “They brought back a dog.”
Twenty-one people went on the Arcadia trip from March 11 to 17, including 18 students. It’s called alternative spring break, and every year, Arcadia students go somewhere to help those in need. Last year, it was helping a rural community in Iberia, La. Two years ago, they built houses in Tijuana, Mexico.
This year, they chose Dickinson, a town of about 20,000 in Galveston County, still recovering from Harvey, which flooded nearly all the town in August. Jacoby and Zaccaria were among a group of students tasked with helping a woman rebuild, paint, and spackle her walls and construct a small raised potted garden.
Rubino saw a lot of stray animals as she commuted among job sites where Arcadia students worked. Many dogs and cats were displaced by the hurricane. But none took to students the way Spackle did.
“It was like he found us,” Jacoby said.
Students asked neighbors if anyone knew Spackle. Then they called around to find a shelter that would not euthanize him. But those shelters were full or too far away.
The students resorted to the Galveston County Animal Resource Center. When the center came to retrieve Spackle, Jacoby and Zaccaria cried. They asked the group to call them if Spackle wasn’t going to be offered for adoption. A day before he was to be euthanized, Jacoby, back in Pennsylvania, got the call.
Heartbroken but determined, Jacoby and Zaccaria holed up in a campus building for five hours, calling and emailing in search of a solution. Finally, the Galveston Island Humane Society offered to help. It had no room and noted Spackle wasn’t likely to be adopted because he was a pit bull and had a skin condition, Jacoby said. But it offered to send the dog to an animal hospital if the students paid. It cost $30 a night to board the dog, plus funds for neutering and vaccinations, Jacoby said.
Workers at the humane society were impressed with the students’ determination. Often people want to help, but not quite as often do they follow through, said Vanessa Coggins, administrative manager.
“They are going above and beyond, for sure, for this dog. It’s awesome,” she said. “They really went the extra mile.”
The students knew they needed a long-term solution — Spackle is about 2 years old — and began looking to bring Spackle to Pennsylvania. The dog arrived almost two weeks ago.
“When I saw him get off the van, all this work was worth it,” Jacoby said. “Like my heart exploded.”
Jacoby, an international studies and theater major, hopes her family will keep Spackle until she graduates and can house him herself. Her family previously adopted a stray dog from Alabama after the two Shelties they had for 16 years died within three months. They also have a cat that Jacoby found.
Zaccaria and Jacoby have always been animal lovers. Zaccaria, a health-care administration major, has two dogs at home. Jacoby has volunteered at the local animal rescue shelter since she was in middle school.
“We know she has a lot of passion for animals,” said her father, Emil Jacoby, owner of the former Emil’s Restaurant in Perkasie.
By Wednesday, the students had raised $855 through GoFundMe and more at the bake sale. They ultimately hope to bring in more money than they need for Spackle’s bills — for which they don’t yet have a total tally — so they can help other dogs in Texas.
While the hurricane certainly added to the number of strays, the state had an abundance before that, Coggins said. Workers were so glad to see Spackle, whom they found particularly sweet, get a nice home, she said.
“I wished we could have saved so many more,” Zaccaria said.