Nikki and her favorite stuffed animal are resting in a warm, dry home after spending months in the elements.
The German shepherd’s road to recovery started in early May when pictures of the pup circulated among rescues in the Metro Detroit area.
“I got some private messages and pictures of this dog carrying her stuffed toy, and it was raining in downtown Detroit. It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking,” Gail Montgomery, the cofounder of Almost Home Animal Rescue League, tells PEOPLE about seeing Nikki for the first time.
The photos Montgomery received showed Nikki alone in the rain, clutching a plush toy in her mouth. Montgomery channeled her emotional response to the German shepherd’s picture into action.
She reached out to her contacts at South Lyon Murphy Lost Animal Recovery for help finding the dog and getting her off the street. Montgomery’s “queen of catch” came through and was able to pick up Nikki with her stuffed animal in tow.
Montgomery later learned that Nikki had been on her own for months, likely due to the death of her owner. The canine was living off the generosity of neighbors and scrounging for scraps.
“We took her to an emergency hospital, and they treated her. Unfortunately, she’s got heartworm disease and other internal problems. They found plastic bags, twigs, and bones in her stomach,” Montgomery says of Nikki’s first vet visit.
After seeing the vet, Nikki was placed in a foster home by Almost Home — a foster-based, no-kill animal rescue league — where she continues her treatment.
“She was just totally stressed out,” Montgomery says of Nikki’s pre-rescue days. “Her body wasn’t really functioning properly because she was on the roads for so long.”
Now on a healthy diet of chicken and rice and a steady dose of TLC from her foster family, Nikki is healing physically and emotionally, revealing more of her personality daily.
“She doesn’t even need her stuffy anymore. She’s constantly hugging her foster parents,” Montgomery says, adding, “She still kind of sleeps on it, but she’s not obsessed with it like she was in Detroit when she was walking around.”
Since moving in with her foster family, Nikki has gone to the spa and is generally “living the life.”
“They’re giving her so much incredible love,” Montgomery says, and with Nikki, “the nicer you are to her, the more affectionate and kinder she gets.”
The Almost Home cofounder, who started the nonprofit with her daughter, wants Nikki’s story to inspire animal lovers to think of the pets not getting headlines that still need help.
“I think that this is really a wake-up call for people. I think people see this, and it makes people realize that dogs are out there. Nikki’s not the only dog that’s wandering around Detroit. She just happened to have her stuffy with her, and it was raining. It was a perfect storm,” Montgomery says. To learn more about Almost Home and how to help their efforts, visit the Michigan rescue’s website.