JEFFERSON, La. When Athena's owner surrendered her to the Jefferson SPCA last week, the pit bull was so weak and emaciated, she couldn't lift her head.
'There was no way I thought we'd be here today and she'd be alive when I first saw her,' said Robin Beaulieu, director of the Jefferson SPCA. 'I promised. I said, 'If you just fight, we'll be there with you.'
Athena weighed just 25 pounds, less than half her healthy body weight. She was anemic and dehydrated. She was riddled with heart worms and hookworms, and had an infection in her uterus.
'It really is just neglect, not taking care of your animal, not giving the proper food, proper medications,' said Dr. Joe Vaccaro, who is caring for her at the Metairie Small Animal Hospital. 'I did not think that this dog would pull through, but she's tough.
A week later, Athena is walking and recovering from one of the worst neglect cases animal rescuers have ever seen.
Rescuers gave her the name of the warrior princess Athena, in honor of the pit bull's strength and resilience.
'She just wants to be loved,' said Beaulieu. 'This is a creature that was literally dying for a little love and attention.'
Joana Castay is helping to show Athena what it's like to be loved. The ICU tech is charged with Athena's care. And within a day of the canine's arrival, Castay decided to take Athena beyond Metairie Small Animal Hospital and into her home, as a foster parent.
'She just kind of looked at me and it touched my heart,' said Castay. 'I decided, 'Hey she needs a lot of extra care. I'll open up my home to her.''
Beaulieu says 85 percent of abuse cases she sees involve pit bulls.
'There are a lot of backyard breeders, there are a lot of unspayed, unneutered, just owners who have trouble caring for them,' she said.
Love a Pit Foundation helps rehabilitate battered pits like Athena, and finds them good homes. Founders say cruelty against pits is a major problem in the metro area.
'We see a lot of bait dogs, which are dogs that get muzzled and get thrown into a fighting ring and they have no way of defending themselves,' said Lauren Brocato, Love a Pit co-founder. 'They are overbred and people breed them to make money off of them and they can't sell them so they just leave them on the streets.'
As for Athena, she is gaining a pound a day but still has a long way to go.
Doctors say it will take about four months before Athena is healthy enough to be adopted.
It will take about three months to rid her of severe heart worms, which could have a lasting effect on her heart. Doctors will have to wait until she reaches a healthy weight to spay her.
In the meantime, Athena's foster mom says the pit bull is teaching her a lesson in how far a little love can go.
'To see that in her eyes, how grateful she is, to be loved, that's a special thing,' said Castay.
Athena's case is under investigation.
Athena's medical bills will be thousands of dollars. To donate, click here.
Any extra funds will be used for the Jefferson SPCA's fund for heart worm treatments.