Nine months ago, the brown-and-white pit bull named Hamlet was a cowering, terrified pup, afraid of everything he saw, including people and other dogs.
Today, he's a happy, confident, outgoing dog with a new name, Bubby, and a new family.
His transformation is a testimony to his own resilience, but also to the loving hands he passed through on his way to his forever family.
The unnamed pup, about 8 months old, was running loose in the Masten Park area in early April when he was picked up by animal control officers.
When Suzanne Laba of North Buffalo, a longtime volunteer with the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, first saw Hamlet, who had been named by the volunteers, he was cowering in an isolation kennel. Possibly for the first time in his life, he had a steady supply of food and water and a warm place to sleep, but he shook with fear when anyone approached him or touched him.
Laba agreed to bring him home to foster with her own two dogs, Cheyenne, a German shepherd, and Pevo, a shepherd mix, both rescues from the shelter. "The first time he saw my dogs, he ran into my garage and hid," says Laba. "I don't think he knew how to act."
But Hamlet was a quick study. "My dogs taught him how to be a dog," she says. "When they would sit for something, he would sit, too. When they would go to greet somebody, he would go and greet, too. It was great to watch. When I walked him with my dogs, he walked like a king, he was proud of himself. When I walked him alone, he was very afraid, he didn't want to go down the street. I said to my dogs, 'You guys, you have no idea what a great thing you are doing!' "
Laba brought in visitors to meet Hamlet. "He was not aggressive, just unused to people and very afraid of everybody, and worse with males than females," she says. She asked visitors to turn their backs to Hamlet so he could approach at his own pace. "My father spent a lot of time with him when I was at work, so Hamlet started to become a little more used to a man," she says.
As Hamlet began to improve socially, Laba began to think about finding a forever home for him. She knew that her friend and fellow Air Force Reserve member Adam Cornell had just lost his dog, a 14-year-old chow.
One day at the Niagara Falls Air Base, she said, "Adam, I have a dog you might want to look at." She says, "I told him that Hamlet was afraid, and was going to need some work and some love. Adam has a lot of patience and a kind nature, so I thought it might work."
Hamlet's first encounter with Cornell, outside Laba's house, wasn't too promising. Cornell says, "I met him outside, and he didn't want anything to do with me, and at first he wouldn't even take a treat from me. I eventually got him to take a treat."
Still, there was something about Hamlet's quiet, calm nature that appealed to Cornell. "Adam said, 'That's OK, I'll work with him,' " says Laba.
The next step was for Hamlet to spend some time with Cornell. Laba packed up his things for the visit. "When I gave him the dog bed Hamlet slept on, it felt like I was giving away my child! But I knew Adam would take great care of him."
Hamlet was still a bit standoffish, but soon he began to bond with Cornell and his family. The growing relationship helped Cornell make up his mind -- he called Laba and said, "I don't want to give him back." She says, "I was ecstatic."
Cornell filled out the paperwork and the adoption was approved. Along with his new home, Hamlet got a new name. "My grandfather, who used to call me Bubby, passed away before I went to Iraq," says Cornell. So now he calls his dog what his grandfather called him. "It just felt right," he says.
With treats, gentle care and constant companionship, Bubby bonded with Cornell. "He's my best friend, my buddy," says Cornell. "He follows me all over the place. He comes up and wants me to pet him, he seeks constant attention. Before, I couldn't have given him enough dog treats to get him to come over to me."
Bubby, whose light brown eyes have an almost human look, also enjoys Cornell's girlfriend's children and loves staying with Cornell's parents. Cornell could be deployed in the spring, but plenty of family members would be happy to care for Bubby in his absence. "He has a pretty strong bond with my mom and my dad," says Cornell. "When I'm going to be away longer than eight hours, they watch him. He's got his own blanket at their house, he'll hop up on the couch with my mom. My dad comes home from work and has to kick him off the bed."
Laba loves hearing updates on her former foster. "I see Adam at the base every month and he brings me pictures and we always talk about him. Hamlet goes with Adam everywhere, rides in his truck with him everywhere, and Adam's family adores him too," she says. "Nothing makes me happier than when these dogs get adopted.
"He blossomed with me, and he has actually blossomed way more with Adam."
The City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, at 380 N. Oak St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. It is open until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and closed on Sunday.