10/07/2010 at 05:35 PM EDT
The scars on Oogy's face tell a horrific story. The 7-year-old Dogo Argentino is missing an ear and his misshaped head is held together with scar tissue. At just 4 months old Oogy was used as bait in a dog-fighting ring. It's believed that the puppy was kicked, beaten and starved before being left for dead in a cage.
Spend five minutes with him today, however, and Oogy's boisterous personality and loving licks wash that painful-looking exterior away.
"Here's a dog that went through the most awful experience, and he just came out with his dignity intact and found love on the other side," his owner Larry Levin, 63, tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I think that that should offer encouragement to people."
Via a slew of surgeries, the staff at the Ardmore Animal Hospital
outside Philadelphia helped the sweet-natured pup survive and find his way into the home of Levin, who has penned the new book Oogy
, which profiles the dog's amazing journey back from the brink of death.
The day in 2002 when Levin, an attorney, and his then 12-year-old twin boys first met Oogy was one of the saddest – and, ultimately, happiest – of their lives. The trio had made the difficult decision to euthanize their beloved cat, Buzzy, who was terminally ill. As the black and white feline drifted away from the Levin family at the animal hospital, a small puppy eager for a walk wiggled his way in.
Tugging on a leash held by a hospital staffer, the pooch was full of licks and love despite the wounds on his face that he had suffered as a bait dog, an animal that is starved or injured and thrown into a dog-fighting ring to lure vicious attackers.
"Oogy had been lying in his cage completely unattended – that is, without food, water, medicine, any care at all – for five to seven days before he was found [by police]," Levin says. "Nobody knows how he survived. It's absolutely a miracle. I believe that on some level he wanted to survive."
Once Levin learned what the resilient little pup had been through and that he was homeless, he knew there was only one thing to do: take him home. Levin couldn't have known how much the dog – whom they later named Oogy, an affectionate twist on "ugly" – would give back to his sons and wife.
"There's something deeper about this dog that just strikes people," says Levin. At first, neighbors were fearful of Oogy, whose muscular breed is often mistaken for the pit bull, because they assumed he was a former fighting dog.
"One woman [in our neighborhood] said, 'Your dog scared me so much I stopped jogging by your property,' " Levin recalls. "Then she met him and by the end of her meeting she was on her knees kissing his face."
Sons Dan and Noah, who are now freshmen in college, bonded with the dog on a different level since all three of them shared a unique bond: they were adopted. "Oogy's known as the third twin in our house," their dad says. "They're inseparable."
That Oogy was able to recover from his tragic past deeply inspired Levin and his family ("He doesn't have a mean bone in his body," Levin says), and he hopes that the dog's story will inspire others.
"Early on I said to Danny and Noah, 'You have to realize that the worst thing that ever happened to this dog is the best thing that ever happened to him,'" he says. "What we've learned is you can't avoid bad things happening, you can't let them define who you are. You have to wait and see what's going to come out at the other end." See more survivors on PEOPLEPets.com:German Shepherd Lost His Ears in a Fighting Ring, But Is Full of LoveHeroic Dog Saves Owner From Boyfriend's Knife Attack