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Ex-con overcomes odds to care for wife and dog in tough times

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If there's one thing that resonates with you about Harlem resident Jose Lopez, also known as "Big Tony", an ex-con who served 22 years in prison for attempted murder, it's that he loves his pit bull.

Lopez rescued Buster seven years ago from a man who was training the pup to fight. With scars all over his face and body, and the inability to bark, Lopez did what responsible dog owners should do upon bringing Buster home. He brought his new dog to the ASPCA to be neutered and vaccinated, and then had Buster licensed with the city of New York.

Over the years Lopez fell in love and even got married. In January 2012, Lopez's wife suffered a brain aneurysm that left her paralyzed on the right side of her body. Lopez left his job as a superintendent of a condo building in Long Island City to care for his ailing wife.

Little did Lopez know that Buster's health was also failing.

Around the same time that Lopez almost lost his wife, a growth began forming in between Buster's pads. Lopez took his best friend to the ASPCA where the growth was deemed cancerous and amputation was recommended. Surgery was estimated to be thousands of dollars. A sum of money that Lopez simply did not have.

In the hopes that they'd go viral, Lopez created two YouTube videos. One details his plight to care for Buster's cancerous growth, while the other solicits donations to help pay for his dog's surgery. Lopez even stipulates not to send the money to him, but rather directly to the vet.

The videos have received 170 and 50 views respectively in over one years' time.

A board member of Reefuge Animal Rescue, a New York City based non-profit organization, was recently contacted by a woman who lives in Lopez's neighborhood.

And that's where Lopez and Buster's fate changed.

While many of the animals who wind up homeless at the city shelter(s) turn up as strays, there are also a good amount of animals who are turned in with grave medical conditions which have long gone untreated. Reefuge has rescued some that have never had a day of vet care in their life.

With this in mind, the board members of Reefuge were incredibly moved by Lopez's story. Here was a man without the means to drop thousands of dollars on his beloved pet, yet he refuses to give him up, or put him down. Instead, every day for over a year, Lopez religiously changes the dressing on Buster's foot -- while holding out hope that someone will find his story credible and Buster's life worth saving.

Through extensive bloodwork and x-rays, the rescue's vet recently determined that Buster's growth is a soft tissue sarcoma called hemangeopericytoma. The good news is that it hasn't spread to other organs of his body. The bad news is that even if removed, the chance of it returning is high.

Because the pit bull breed is notoriously resilient and because Lopez doesn't want to risk the growth ever coming back, Buster's right hind leg will be removed next week. Dr. Greene at the Center for Veterinary Care in Manhattan will be performing the surgery. Pre-op care, the surgery and post-op care is expected to run up to $4,000.

"I reached out to so many people, media outlets, even Oprah. And out of no where a lady stops me in the street, tells me she might be able to find help," said Lopez. "'Grateful' doesn't even begin to describe how I feel," he added.

Please consider a tax deductible donation to Reefuge Rescue in order to help Jose Lopez get Buster the medical care he needs.

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