Star is both one of the unluckiest and luckiest dogs in the world. A mixed-female pit bull, in 2012 Star was shot in the head and pronounced dead. She survived, but she spent nine months in recuperation. Eventually, Star recovered from the majority of her health issues, and found her forever home right here in Nebraska with Charlie Cifarelli. This is her story.
Prior to 2012, Star belonged to a homeless man in New York City. On the afternoon of August 13, 2012, her owner collapsed on a sidewalk in Manhattan’s East Village after suffering a seizure. Star remained nearby in a protective stance while passersby alerted nearby police officers. As the officers ordered onlookers to back away, one woman tried to approach Star but got chased off for her efforts. Next, an officer attempted to come close to Star’s owner who remained unmoving on the ground, but Star ran towards the officer.
Believing that Star was a threat, the officer drew his gun and shot Star in the head. While Star lay critically wounded and bleeding, a second officer maced her. Later that day, an NYPD spokesperson reported that Star had died.
The next day a spokesperson for the New York City Animal Care and Control facility reported that Star had survived the shooting. Unfortunately, her chances of survival were considered poor. She had sustained “soft tissue, bone, head trauma, and eye damage.”
Star underwent surgery to remove her left eye and the metal fragments wedged in her skull, before being transferred to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of rescue groups and shelters. An update by People Pets on August 30, 2012, quoted a spokesman for the New York’s Animal Care and Control as saying, “She suffered a significant degree of hearing loss, but her hearing is coming back and the vision in her right eye also seems to be improving.” By the time of the report, Star could also eat on her own, walk, and play with her toys.
Compounding Star’s situation was the fact that ten days after the shooting, her owner had failed to appear to reclaim her ownership. Wikipedia reports that he subsequently moved back to Poland. Shelter officials did not know when Star would be physically healed enough for someone to adopt her. Nor were shelter officials comfortable that anyone would understand well enough the emotional trauma that Star had been through to become her new owner.
This story to me has been the greatest thing that’s ever happened in my life. It made me as a 47-year-old guy at the time believe in miracles.—Charlie Cifarelli
Unknown to Star, her life was about to dramatically change again. This time for the better. While Star continued to heal, Charlie Cifarelli was searching for her. The day of the shooting, this former New Yorker saw a video of the shooting and read news reports about the event. Having worked in the Department of Corrections, and even on death row, Charlie has encountered every situation imaginable. Yet Star’s screams of pain caused him such hurt that he cried inside and became numb. Still feeling shocked over Star’s shooting, and not being the type of person to automatically believe everything he hears, Charlie questioned the reports that she’d died. He called New York Animal Control. After some light banter, he got to the point. He said he had a question about the dog that was shot today. Upon hearing the incredible reports that Star was still alive, he next talked with the doctor at the Manhattan Vet where Star had been taken. “I got told she’s stable. That’s all the info they could give; that’s all I needed. I know the dog is alive and that takes a shape of its own.” Charlie also began a Facebook page for Star, and this page allowed all those concerned to rally together in support of Star.
For months, there were no updates, but Star’s fans and especially Charlie kept pushing for news. When finally a photo was released that showed Star outside, Charlie used it track her down. At first, administrators at the National Greyhound Rescue in Pennsylvania were reluctant to let Charlie see Star. The rescue was giving her the best care. Star’s injuries had been so extensive that recovery had been touch and go. At the time that the group talked with Charlie, besides Star’s hearing still being poor, her equilibrium also remained off. But Charlie kept negotiating, as well as sharing information to the public on Star’s Facebook page, and finally he gained admittance to the adoption program.
It was surreal. I would go through several doors, a long corridor and a steel door along with a gate. The lights were dim. It was quiet with classical music being played. Instead of dogs that bark you could hear a pin drop. As I entered her large 20 x 20 room, a rush of emotions entered me. I was finally here. I had made it to see the dog whom I have written about, talked about, and was even on the radio in the U.K. talking about.—Charlie Cifarelli
Star was soon to become one very lucky dog. On December 12, 2012, Charlie finally met Star for the first time. He described the moment to Gothamist: “The words came out of me ‘Hey, Star Girl, it’s me, Charlie.’ She sat for me and gave me that look with a wide smile, her trademark look. The lights were turned on for me and I literally hugged her for what seemed like an eternity. I hugged her for me and the whole world and realized how fortunate I was to be able to have this time with her. She has such a smooth coat and she is actually a little shy at first. I talked to her and I hugged her over and over again.”
In an interview with me, Charlie also added this detail: he had brought treats with him in a pocket of his coat, and she ate through his blazer to get to them. National Greyhound Rescue took photos of Charlie’s visit with Star.
True to his word, he didn’t reveal Star’s whereabouts. (Apparently, it was felt that Star was at risk due to the circumstances of her injuries.) But Charlie did get the word out through various media outlets that Star was okay. He also begin to pursue adoption. To meet requirements, he had to build a kennel and put up a fence. Finally, in April 2013, Star went to her forever home with Charlie.
A year later, when Charlie was asked by Gothamist if Star has any lingering trauma from her ordeal, he declared Star to be happy. Except for one thing. If Charlie lies on the floor, Star gets anxious because of what happened to her original owner. “It took me a few months to realize the issue with that. I get off the couch one night watching TV. My back got a little soft, and I wanted to lay on the flat floor, and I could see she was checking me out with her nose. She was fired up seeing if I was okay.”
Beyond this, Charlie describes Star as unbelievable. “You pet her, and the first thing she does is she rolls on her back. There’s an event that was probably a year ago, and I took her to the dog adoption days, and the volunteers started hugging her or petting her, and the next thing I know, she’s on her back and she’s getting hugs.”
I’ve now had Star for three years. Star is one of the nicest dogs I’ve ever met. When I first got her, I couldn’t touch her face because of the gunshot. She literally came back from the dead.—Charlie Cifarelli
Since adopting Star, the two have created a formidable team. New York City television station PIX11 selected the story of Star as one of its top ten stories of 2014. Star’s story had been on television, radio, and the internet. The station reported that there was interest in a documentary being produced of Star’s story.
According to a Wikipedia article about Star, which Charlie recommended to me as covering the basics accurately, “Star’s struggle garnered international attention and acclaim, raising dialogues regarding attitudes towards pit bulls, shootings of dogs by law enforcement, as well as the role of police departments in creating and revising their policies on how to assess the situations and behaviors of officers confronted by aggressive or non-aggressive dogs before employing lethal force.” One police force, in Rochester, New York, apparently uses the video of Star’s shooting in its training curriculum.
In August 2015, a nonprofit organization called The STAR Project (named after Star herself, but also an acronym for Saving Those At Risk) was co-founded by Charlie and Jenn Sanchez. Its purpose is “to bring change to the lives of animals who are at risk for unnecessary euthanasia, have suffered abuse and neglect, deemed special needs, or are rapidly deteriorating in the shelter”. It also works to dispel the Pit Bull stereotype.
According to The STAR Project, Star regularly attends animal adoption events here in Nebraska on behalf of shelter dogs, as well as fundraisers for other causes. She likes to attend the “END Alzheimer’s Walk sporting her purple tutu”. Star also continues to make friends with her “signature smile and large, floppy ears” and can often be found “at a local Starbucks enjoying some whipped cream”. In addition, countless dogs have been rescued in her honor.
Should you wish to meet Star in person, or hear her story straight from her owner, the two will be guests at LAA’s Wine & Howl. Anyone wishing to help pit bulls directly can take advantage of LAA’s special offer to get a pit bull fixed for a reduced price. Until June, the cost is only $25. As the average spay/neuter can cost between $100 to $200, depending on the breed and the vet, the savings to an owner is obviously substantial. Also, please help LAA reach as many dogs as possible by sharing the Mighty/Tiny Project link and by donating to help cover costs. Let’s all work together to help the cause of pit bulls.