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When Maplewood police officer Markese Benjamin found an abandoned dog near an apartment building in the dead of winter, it was bone thin and covered in sores. The mastiff was so weak that Benjamin had to lift it into his squad car.

Eighteen months later, that dog, now named Mufasa, is regaining its health and has found a new home. This week, Mufasa, his new owner and the animal aid workers who nursed him back to health met with the officer who found him.

"Hey buddy!" Benjamin said as he greeted Mufasa on the front lawn of the police station with a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ears. The dog was just 40 pounds when he was found but now weighs twice that.

"I am happy to see him," Benjamin said.

The animal aid groups that helped Mufasa recover also are helping an abused dog found tied to a tree in St. Paul three weeks ago with his muzzle tied shut and his belly covered with maggots.

Blaine-based nonprofit Rescued Pets Are Wonderful (RPAW) provided care for both dogs, including blood transfusions for Mufasa and treatment to remove the maggots from the other dog's belly. Fun Fur Pets, a doggy day care and training business in La Crosse, Wis., took in both dogs to work on their socialization, behavior and training.

The dog found abandoned on July 30 in St. Paul, now named Riptide, appeared with Mufasa on Wednesday, his tail wagging as he played with Fun Fur Pets staffers. One of his legs had to be amputated, but workers said he was doing well.

'Something special'

When Benjamin first laid eyes on Mufasa in February 2019, he thought the dog was beyond help. Liz Gigler, a veterinary tech and director of RPAW, said Mufasa required IV fluids, a feeding tube, three blood transfusions and a host of medications — "just really slow, meticulous care."

Gigler said Mufasa was probably confined in a small crate. He had no muscle tone and his haunches were covered in sores from confinement and sitting in his own waste. Those scars are still visible on his hind legs.

After months of care, Mufasa spent time socializing and training with Eve Molzhon, owner of Fun Fur Pets. She takes in about a dozen stray and abused animals at a time and rehabilitates them.

"I make a living off of caring for people's pets," she said. "This is my way of giving back to pets who need to find a home."

Molzhon said Mufasa at first behaved like a big puppy, jumping on people and putting everything in his mouth. "He had no leash manners. He had never been for a walk or been outside," she said.

Sue Felt, who already owns a mastiff, adopted Mufasa this summer and said he was adapting well to the family and their home in Tomah, Wis. He likes to sleepcurled up next to her legs.

"He is amazing. He is something special," she said.

Riptide is recovering from his physical wounds quicker than Mufasa, Gigler said. It's clear Riptide was tied up for weeks, possibly at another location, before he was discovered tied to a tree near 4th and Clarence streets on St. Paul's East Side.

Gigler had to research how to remove Riptide's maggot infestation, which involved wrapping the dog's belly in plastic, pumping in an anesthetic gas to sedate the insects and then hosing them off with water. The dog's muzzle, ground to the bone from a ziptie, is now healing. He was transferred this week to Fun Fur Pets for socialization and training.

St. Paul Animal Control is continuing to investigate who left Riptide for dead. The Humane Society of the United States is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who has information leading to an arrest.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037