A Big Dog with an Even Bigger Heart: Maggio’s Story

February 28, 2024

In April 2022, one of the biggest—if not the biggest—dog any ASPCA facility has ever seen walked through the doors of the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City. Having just been rescued from deplorable conditions, Maggio, a 137 lb. Anatolian Shepherd, was quiet, timid and nervous about walking on a leash.

Little did our staff know, Maggio would turn out to be one of the sweetest dogs to ever grace our shelter, earning himself the title of the “Gentle Giant.”

Providing Care

Maggio was one of nearly 30 dogs the ASPCA assisted the New York Police Department (NYPD) in removing from filthy conditions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Dogs of varying breeds were discovered in multiple areas of the building, including the backyard and in cages in the basement, many without access to food or clean water and in crates covered in feces and urine.


After transporting the dogs into our care, our veterinary and behavior experts jumped into action, conducting forensic exams, much-needed medical care and behavioral treatment and enrichment.

“Maggio didn’t have any urgent medical needs, but he did show signs that he wasn’t being cared for properly,” recalls Dr. Melanie Benetato, Director, Shelter Medicine and Clinical Training.

He was underweight and had deep wounds in two of his paw pads.


“They looked like lacerations, but they would heal and then reopen,” explains Dr. Benetato. “We consulted a dermatologist who was suspicious that it was related to underlying allergic skin disease. He also had ear infections and developed inflammation of the skin between his toes, which is all pretty consistent with a dog with allergic skin disease.”

To help treat the allergic skin disease, Maggio was placed on a special diet and given oral medications. To treat his paw inflammation, the team soaked his paws and applied ointment to them. He also had to have his ears cleaned and treated. 

“The more our staff worked with him and got to know his personality, he quickly became a staff favorite,” says Dr. Benetato.


Despite his massive size, Maggio was calm and sweet, making exams run smoothly, with the only exception being that Maggio didn’t like his ears being touched. That’s where our Behavior team stepped in to help.

Sparking Joy at the Adoption Center

Our staff wanted to create positive associations for Maggio when having his ears touched, so any time they touched his ears, he would be given a treat. Maggio soon learned that when he had his ears touched, good things (food) would come.

But his ear sensitivities weren’t the only concerns our Behavior team had for Maggio.

“We were worried at first about walking Maggio outside,” explains Adi Hovav, Senior Manager of Behavior at the Adoption Center. “A dog his size could easily pull his handler over, so we had two people go out with him when we were still getting to know him.”


Due to his size, the Adoption Center had to order special equipment for him including a harness, collar and booties that he would wear due to his skin condition.

But as it turned out, Maggio loved walking outside and sniffing the ground to his heart’s content. By the time his new harness came in, he only needed one handler for walks.

Maggio also soon became the star of playgroups at the Adoption Center.


“Because he was so big, and you could tell the other dogs would get a little intimidated, he would always bow down to make himself a little smaller and they would realize he just wanted to play,” says Adi. “It was such a joy to watch him with other dogs. You’d just stare at him in awe of how big he is but realize he’s still a dog and, like all dogs, he just wanted to hang out with his people and chew on some toys and run around and play with other dogs. Watching him in playgroup was like watching a horse run back and forth, it was just amazing.”

As Maggio settled into the shelter more and more, his love for people and other dogs and his sweet demeanor shone and he became a fan favorite among the staff. So much so that one staff member volunteered to foster him for a short time while our Adoption Center Admissions & Placement Specialists worked on finding him the right home.

Finding Maggio a Place to Call Home

Though Maggio was kind, gentle and did very well in his foster homes, finding an adoptive home for a dog his size in New York City proved challenging.

Teams across the ASPCA pitched in, promoting Maggio wherever they could. He was included in newsletters, blogs, media pitches, social media posts and more. But it was in one of our newsletters that Maggio caught the eye of his adopter.


“I was drawn to Maggio when I saw his featured photo in an ASPCA newsletter,” remembers Kelli M. “At that time, I wasn’t looking to adopt a dog, but he struck me as a big, goofy, sweet guy to whom I could open my heart.”

Having lost her pig of 22 years three years prior, Kelli wasn’t sure she could open her heart to another companion animal. But after seeing Maggio’s photo, she knew he was special.

“Immediately, I applied to adopt him and waited with bated breath for a response. The days seemed like an eternity,” says Kelli.

A few weeks later, Kelli received an email letting her know she could adopt our Gentle Giant.

Meeting His New Best Friend

“At our introduction, Maggio lopped into the room flying his curled majestic tail high, played for a few minutes, and then sat on my lap as if long acquainted,” Kelli tells us. “Since childhood, we have always had larger dogs, and I’ve always wanted a dog of his stature; Maggio is a dream come true.”

Kelli made the decision to adopt Maggio that same day in January 2023, roughly nine months after he walked through our doors.

“When Maggio got adopted, the whole building cheered for him and ran to say goodbye to him,” Adi recalls. “We were so happy he found his person and a picture went around on our internal group chat of him just sitting on his adopter looking happy as a clam.”


Kelli packed up the car with her new furry friend and set off for home in Massachusetts.

Settling Into New Digs

When Kelli brought Maggio home, she didn’t know what to expect.

“It suddenly felt smaller as he entered my home for the first time,” Kelli tells us. “His head is naturally higher than the kitchen counter and the windows. He stands taller than the dining room table, dwarfing it. He drools a lot, gracing the walls and ceiling in an imitation of Jackson Pollock.”


There was also a learning curve with Maggio’s medical conditions, learning how to apply ointment and being rigid with his medications. Kelli quickly caught on though, and Maggio’s health holds steady and continues to improve.

Having been home for over a year now, Maggio and Kelli are settled in and have learned loads about one another.

“Maggio is kind to every creature he meets, he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” says Kelli. “At the dog park, if other dogs bark at him, the hurt that crosses his face is soul-crushing, and with his head low, he peacefully walks to the gate to leave. Maggio also displays an awareness and sensitivity of the very young and old, whether with two or four legs. During his long walks along the river, he likes to pause, sitting next to his dad on a bench to watch the seagulls. Maggio also amusingly avoids puddles and isn’t fond of the ocean but loves running in the sand and hanging his head between the seats in the car on the drive there.”

“My favorite quirk of Maggio’s is what we call ‘chicken leg,’” Kelli adds. “When mildly anxious or not getting his immediate desires met, Maggio while standing, contorts his body and repeatedly moves one back leg as if to scratch the rear of a front leg, but he holds it far out to the side, aimlessly waving it in the air. Whenever he performs this motion, we stop what we are doing and do the same thing, which prompts him to start wagging his tail. He has a great sense of humor and moves to be near the source of laughter.”

Maggio is also a quick learner. This year, Kelli’s mother’s dog taught Maggio how to unwrap presents!

But our Gentle Giant still has sweet tendencies that remain from his time with us. He still sleeps with both his toys and his blanket that he used at the Adoption Center. He is also still the same playful pup and is seemingly unaware of just how big he is.

“I wouldn’t trade him for anything,” says Kelli. “He has brought love, connection and adventure back into our lives.”

The ASPCA’s 10-Year Partnership with the NYPD


Today, Maggio and thousands of other dogs are snuggling up in warm, safe and comfortable homes thanks to our partnership with the NYPD.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of that partnership, and we are proud to be celebrating 10 years of giving vulnerable animals in New York City the second chances they deserve.

While the NYPD enforces animal cruelty laws and responds to the 311 and 911 calls of animal cruelty and subsequent criminal investigations, we provide forensic support, medical care, behavior assessment, housing and placement, operational support and legal and investigative support to help the investigation. We also provide training to police officers.

“Over the last decade together, we have helped over 5,000 animals, due in no short part to the training we provide the police department,” explains David Little, Senior Director, Law Enforcement Liaison. “To date, we have instructed over 28,000 members of the police department in animal cruelty investigation. It gives them the ability to not only respond to cases, but to recognize animal crimes or suspected animal cruelty.”

"The NYPD's groundbreaking and lifesaving partnership with the ASPCA has had an unprecedented, positive effect on thousands of animal cruelty victims throughout New York City's five boroughs," says Adrian Ashby, Lieutenant Commander, NYPD Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad. "This collaboration showcases the power of working together to create an environment where animals receive the protection and second chances they deserve."

For cases that are not pursued criminally, but where the ASPCA identifies a pet parent in need of assistance, our Community Engagement team can provide resources to help owners maintain a safe and healthy environment for their pets.

“It's important to see dogs like Maggio coming out of these situations and going on to have great outcomes and better futures and families because when you see some of the conditions they came from, you could see that their futures were not going to be as bright as they are now,” says David. “It also helps foster relationships between the NYPD, the community and the ASPCA, because we’re all in this together.”