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Abused dog's 'Spirit' lives on as owners open their hearts to a new pup

Liz Evans Scolforo

A York County couple who opened their hearts and home to a maimed puppy nearly 13 years ago have done it again, but this time they're the ones in need of healing.

Dan and June Simmons of East Manchester Township took home their new Angel three days before Christmas from the York County SPCA.

Angel, formerly known as Willa, center, is shown in her new East Manchester Township home with owners Dan and June Simmons on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

"This is truly the most loving home possible," SPCA Executive Director Melissa Smith said. "This family is caring and warm and responsible, but moreover, they are among the kindest people I've met. Any animal lucky enough to live with them not only becomes an instant member of their family, but also will never have any worries in its life."

Angel is the white pit bull pup formerly known as Willa, daughter of Bugz, a 1½-year-old white male pit bull badly beaten by his former owner in York City. Bugz and Angel were relinquished to the SPCA after a video of the beating went viral on Facebook, prompting authorities and a mob of angry people to congregate at Bugz's former home on East South Street.

Dan Simmons, 56, said Angel has already started training classes at the SPCA and quickly settled into her new home.

In April 2003, the Simmonses adopted a tan pit bull mix from the York County SPCA and named him Spirit. He was just 5 months old in March 2003 when a young boy found him running stray in York City.

Angel, formerly known as Willa, plays outside of  her new East Manchester Township home with her owners Dan and June Simmons on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Ears mutilated: Someone had hacked off his ears in what appeared to have been a do-it-yourself operation, Smith said at the time. She theorized someone had intended to use Spirit for illegal dog fighting because such dogs sometimes have their ears closely cropped so other dogs can't bite them.

Despite the violence committed on Spirit, he was gentle, easy to train and wanted to please, Dan Simmons said.

"For the abuse that he took at such an early age, he never had any aggression at all," he said, adding pit bulls get a bad rap. "They are the sweetest dogs and just want to give you so much love and affection."

Cows in a field near the Simmons home would even lick Spirit's head when he trotted up to greet them.

"He was a wonderful dog — the best dog we ever owned," Dan Simmons said. "He was great with children and with other animals. He just wanted to play all the time."

June and Dan Simmons appeared in The York Dispatch April 20, 2003, after adopting Spirit from the York County SPCA. Spirit was found wandering in York City after someone hacked off his ears. He died in October from cancer. The Simmonses have now adopted Angel, a pit bull puppy seized during an SPCA investigation into the beating of her father, Bugz. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Heartbroken: On Oct. 4, the Simmonses noticed Spirit seemed listless. He collapsed later that day and they rushed him to the Animal Emergency Clinic. That's when they learned he was ridden with cancer and was suffering, despite putting on a stoic front for them, Dan Simmons said.

"My wife has been crying every day since he passed away. She said, 'No more dogs,'" Dan Simmons said. Then the couple saw news reports about the Bugz case, and how the SPCA was looking for an immediate home for Bugz's daughter.

"When my wife saw the beating, she said, 'Maybe we should try to adopt her,'" Dan Simmons said, at which point he reached out to the SPCA without telling June.

When he took June to the SPCA's luminary festival Dec. 19 — an annual fundraising event honoring pets both dead and alive — they visited with Angel for about 40 minutes.

"My wife fell in love with her," he said, and June later said she hoped the pup would go to a good home.

"I said, 'Well, if you want it to happen, that home is ours,'" Dan Simmons said. "She started crying and said yes."

Angel is happy, playful and beginning to become spoiled, he reported. She and the couple's all-white cat, Izzy, are getting to know each other; the pup is still learning not to play too rough, lest Izzy bat her in the head with a paw.

Spirit's spirit: June has noticed that Angel does some things the same way Spirit did, according to Dan Simmons.

"She ripped open some of her Christmas gifts the way Spirit used to, and she curls up in the same spot Spirit did ... on our reclining love seat," he said. "And if she's chewing on one of her toys, she holds it between her paws ... the way he used to."

Dan Simmons said he hopes Angel, like Spirit before her, will be his running partner.

Smith said it's heartwarming when previous adopters return to the SPCA to adopt again, and it's not uncommon.

A home for Bugz: Now the staff is focusing on finding Bugz a forever home.

Bugz, the pit bull beaten on video, makes his public debut

An anticipated foster-home situation didn't work out for him through no fault of his own, and he remains at the shelter, ready to be adopted, Smith said.

"We've had a couple families meet with him, but we haven't quite made the right match yet," she said.

Those interested in adopting Bugz can call the York County SPCA at (717) 764-6109 or visit its website for more information.

Smith said Bugz's forever home likely will have no cats or young children, simply out of an abundance of caution, because staffers don't want to put him in a situation where he could fail to integrate into family life. He knows basic commands and is very friendly, although he can be skittish about certain men, Smith said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at

Bugz is at the York County SPCA, waiting to be adopted.