When the Collins family adopted a 4-month-old English bulldog from a relative who couldn't keep him, they named him Lucky for his fortune to have a new home instead of a return trip to the pet store.

But his luck took a turn for the worse four years later, when the family's youngest child, John, then 8, jumped on the dog while he was sleeping. Lucky snapped at the boy's face, ripping off his eyelid and cutting the corner of his eye.

Before the boy even got home from the hospital, his father, also John, gave the dog to a coworker, though no one blamed the normally gentle pet for the mishap.

"I blamed my brother," said Victoria, the oldest in the dog-loving family, now 15.

Then three weeks ago, they got a call out of the blue from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital. The hospital had Lucky, whom they had identified through a microchip.

"My stomach dropped," said Nichole Collins, who lives with her husband and three children in a compact twin in Rosemont.

That night, a Good Samaritan had found Lucky on the streets of Philadelphia, starving, freezing, covered in cuts and scars, with a BB embedded in his lip, and took him to the hospital. The hospital doesn't ordinarily take strays and advises rescuers to take them to the SPCA.

"He was so sick they probably would have put him down," Collins said.

Here's where Lucky lived up to his name once again.

A doctor saw the emaciated animal and didn't have the heart to turn him away. Collins said a security guard working that night told her he had never seen that happen before.

The hospital report says Lucky's temperature was so low the thermometer couldn't read it. His heart rate and pulse were weak. He had abrasions, scars, fur loss, and was anemic.

After a night on fluids, the dog improved enough for Collins to take him home the next day. She was instructed to feed him just a half-can of food a day, split into four meals so he didn't succumb to "refeeding syndrome," which occurs when a starving animal eats so much it kills him.

Collins took her two daughters with her to bring Lucky home but didn't tell them where they were going until they were in the car. When she did, "Everyone was bawling their eyes out," she said, sitting in her living room with Victoria, a snow-white Pekingese named Mojo, and Lucky, a white-and-brindle bag of bones who was wearing a camouflage sweater to stay warm and a sad-sack look on his face.

Victoria was thrilled.

"I'm getting his name tattooed on my wrist," she said as Lucky snuggled on the sofa next to year, his spindly body sporting a canteloupe-size head.

When the dog got home and saw Collins' husband, he licked him and couldn't get close enough. He also seemed to remember the house, where he had survived previous brushes with disaster, including eating a pound of chocolate, a pile of trash that included a rubber toy snake, and an entire cake.

What happened to Lucky over the last three years remains a mystery to the Collinses, who think the dog was either abandoned or escaped a yard. After giving the dog to the coworker, John Collins was laid off and lost touch with his friend.

They've heard from others that the friend, who also lost his job, gave the dog to relatives.

"I don't think we'll ever know. But if we do, I'd like to stick a giant hoagie under their nose and not let them eat for six months so they know what it's like to starve," Nichole Collins said.

Lucky is slowly recovering, and remains good-natured despite his ordeal, the family said. After three weeks, he's gotten stronger and gained four pounds but is still about half his normal 60-pound weight. He's up to three cans of dog food a day and is always looking for more.

Caring for Lucky hasn't been cheap - his special food alone costs $250 a month, and he has weekly trips to the vet. Collins has solicited donations on a Facebook page and in a local convenience store and a branch of National Penn Bank. They've raised $350 so far.

It was enough to cover last month's bills. Even though money is tight - her husband was out of work for a year, though he's now at ABM Janitorial Services - she said they'll find a way to pay for Lucky's care.

"I have to," she said. "I can't turn my back on him again."

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or Kboccella@phillynews.com.