Petco provides holiday happiness for rescue groups

The heartwarming story of a pit bull rescued from a life of torment as a bait dog earned the Pet Rescue Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., a $100,000 grant from the Petco Foundation and Ellen DeGeneres and her natural pet food company Halo.

The rescue group was chosen from among 4,500 submissions and awarded a check during the "Ellen" show on Dec. 23. Thirty-three other animal welfare groups split $500,000 as part of the Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign.

The Pet Rescue Center was chosen as the grand prize recipient for a story about Sammy, a male pit bull rescued from life as a bait dog. When Sammy arrived at the center, he had massive scars and fresh wounds covering his body, including a four inch laceration on the bottom of his chin and significant damage to his ears. Once healed, and while waiting for a new home, Sammy had the chance to pay it forward to another needy puppy who was found bleeding in a shopping center parking lot and in desperate need of a blood transfusion. Sammy's blood type was a match and he proved to be the perfect patient throughout the entire process, earning him a spot in the center's hall of fame for memorable rescues.

Sammy’s will to live and help others was soon noticed by a couple who were touched by his story and came to meet him. Although hesitant due to misconceptions about his breed, the couple was amazed by his demeanor and happy-go-lucky attitude, and they decided to adopt him. Sammy now lives with his new Wheaton Terrier brother and a family that loves him dearly, according to the Petco Foundation.

Winners in the annual contest were chosen based on the quality of the organization's overall work and the impact of their top success story. The stories of heroism and compassion include animals with special needs that have become therapy animals for kids with the same condition, paralyzed animals rescued by people with similar mobility challenges, a cat mother nursing a one-day-old puppy as one of her own and countless severely injured animals whose will to live inspired those around them and communities rallying together to save lives.