The burley Park Rapids cop that went on the animal rescue call Nov. 30 almost lost his lunch at the sight of Angel.

Matted, starving, in a cage full of feces and urine, the little dog was the skiniest, most bedraggled creature the officer had ever seen. Her fur was yellowed from the bodily fluids she was left to die in.

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The family couldn't believe she was still hanging on. Why won't the darned thing die, they asked police?

"Supposedly they were taking care of the dog for a family member and the dog had cancer and was supposed to die," Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers said. "So they just wanted to speed it up a little bit."

When she got to Headwaters Animal Shelter, late Friday, Angel was so thirsty she lapped up the soapy water from the drain she was standing above during an initial shower to clean her up.

No one is sure how long she was in the cage, tucked under the basement stairs of the home, covered by a dark blanket that kept the light out and the smell in.

"It had been there quite some time," Eilers said. "They weren't going to feed it because it was dying."

But this is a good news story since it's Christmastime.

Charges of animal cruelty are pending against the family that had her.

She's been evaluated by the Ark Animal Hospital, which renders much free care to the shelter. Her checkup revealed mammary tumors that must be removed, and obvious health problems caused by malnutrition and abuse.

Dr. Mia Long will perform the surgery to remove as many tumors as possible, but the prognosis remains grim.

Angel, the name the animal shelter gave her, may only have a few months to live.

She spent the weekend in isolation at the animal shelter.

"I came in to check on her Saturday and Sunday," said Headwaters receptionist Rachelle Kern, owner of six other dogs.

She fell in love.

By Monday night, Kern bundled up her tiny treasure and brought her home.

"I decided I would take her home and give her a chance at whatever life she has left," Kern said.

Angel blended with the houseful of kids and dogs as if she'd always wanted a place like Kerns' to live.

The two-pound Maltese cross started gaining weight, but likely will never regain the weight she should be, eight pounds. Her eyes started shining. A wastebasket of fur was gently brushed from her still-matted, skeletal frame.

"My 160-pound Newfoundland adopted her," Kern said. "He thinks that is his girlfriend."

By Wednesday she was well enough to take to a professional pampering.

"She was so sweet I almost cried," said Angie Walther, owner of Angie's Groom 'n Board.

Walther's business is located next door to the animal shelter, just so she can donate care to animals like Angel.

Angel spent a long morning there, getting brushed, trimmed, shampooed and hugged. She responded well to each phase of the doggie makeover, especially the hugs.

She emerged with a little sweater, painted toenails, a Christmas bow on her head and hopefully a newfound love of humans.

After surgery and recovery, Angel will return to the Kerns.

"I'm going to keep her until she... it's her time to go," Kern said. "As soon as we get the clearance from the police she is my dog and I will have her for however long she has left."

Angel is estimated to be around eight years old, maybe 10.

"I'm hoping she has at least a couple years left," Kern said.

Headwaters director Rochelle Hemp said Angel isn't the first or the last abused pet the shelter will see, or spend a small fortune rehabilitating.

Angel was lucky to have been confiscated after school officials alerted police when a child spilled the beans about the dying dog to a teacher.

Even luckier, Angel appears to bear no ill will toward the two-legged race that tried to hasten her demise.

Maybe she knew it was Christmas and she was due a holiday miracle.

"We want to show her that not all people are bad," Kern said. "She's going to be a spoiled rotten house dog."