It was Christmas Eve when New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Harlyn De Los Santos walked into his Orange County, New York, home with a special delivery.
His wife, Yahaira, and their four children—as well as 30 other family members and friends—were gathered for the holiday.
Emely, 10, and her two brothers, Kevin, 14, and Hector, 8, were upstairs.
“We heard Dad come in because he always does this whistle that tells us he’s here,” Emely said. “So, we ran downstairs and saw this box. Dad opened it and we saw a face.”
The face belonged to an eight-month-old Yorkshire Terrier-mix.
Hector broke down and started to cry.
“This was exactly the Christmas gift that I wanted,” Hector recalls. “I was so happy because I really wanted a dog.”
“My wife and daughter Scarlet were happy, too,” says Officer De Los Santos. “It was an instant love connection for everyone.”
A Long Way From Love
Just two weeks earlier, the young Yorkie-mix was, in many ways, as far as he could possibly have been from the De Los Santos’ loving home.
On December 16, two domestic violence officers from the NYPD’s 45th Precinct dispatched to a Bronx apartment alerted ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Liaison Mike Mugan for help with 17 dogs they discovered at the scene.
“We had a pretty small staff that day, but two of our Community Engagement staff, Bronx Caseworker Mo Khaled and Coordinator Ana Hernandez, were already working in the area, so they re-routed to respond,” says Katherine Good, Foster and Placement Manager, Humane Law Enforcement.
“Conditions were deplorable; you could smell the urine from the hallway,” recalls Ana. “Many of the dogs were covered in urine and feces, and some were wearing shock collars to control their barking. There was also a turtle in a very dirty tank.”
Mo, Ana and Katherine, along with Lisa Kisiel, a Community Engagement Case Manager, removed all 17 dogs and transported them to the ASPCA for medical care. The turtle was taken to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in Manhattan.
“It appeared that the dogs had not been socialized or exposed to much outside of the apartment,” says Ana.
Ownership of the majority of the dogs was surrendered to the ASPCA. At the ASPCA Adoption Center, the Behavior Team worked with the more fearful dogs, while the rest were placed in homes with foster caregivers.
One young Yorkie-mix trembled and hid under his bed or in his crate whenever people entered his kennel, recalls Rachel Maso, Senior Manager of Behavior at the ASPCA Adoption Center.
“With the help of other dogs, he slowly gained confidence and bloomed in a playgroup,” Rachel explains. “Our team worked with him daily to ensure he had good experiences—like access to other dogs and delicious treats—whenever he was around people. With time and treatment, he turned a corner and began to enjoy people, and even learned to walk on a leash.”
That dog would soon come catch the eye of Officer De Los Santos.
Inspired by Animal Rescue
“The first dog I ever rescued was from a domestic violence case,” says Officer De Los Santos, who has been with the NYPD for 14 years. He currently serves as the Community Affairs Liaison for Police Service Area 4, which patrols the housing developments within the 5, 7, 9 and 10 precincts. “I knew about the NYPD Partnership, and that led to discussions about adopting a pet with my family. The Partnership inspired us to adopt.”
Officer De Los Santos was aware of the case and notified the ASPCA that he was interested in adopting the Yorkie-mix when he was available.
On Christmas Eve, he got the call.
“I was heading home but turned around and was back at the ASPCA within the hour,” he says. “I wanted it to be a complete surprise for my family.”
A Sweet Responsibility
The once-fearful young dog was renamed Twix after a vote.
“Each of the kids suggested a name, and then everyone in the house wrote their vote on a piece of paper and placed it in a bag,” explains Officer De Los Santos, who tallied up the votes.
“I like Twix because he looks like the candy bar—chocolate on the outside and caramel on the inside,” says Emely.
“Having a dog definitely benefits the entire family,” says Officer De Los Santos. “Twix shows the kids responsibility—how to take care of another life.”
Emely and her brothers watched videos on how to care for a dog and share many of those responsibilities, including feeding, walking and bathing Twix.
“I like that we have something else to do,” Emely tells us. “We’re not on our electronics all the time.”
While Twix interacts well with the entire family, he’s especially drawn toward Kevin, a high school freshman.
“Kevin was first to play with him, and Twix responded to that,” explains Officer De Los Santos. “Twix is always at his door—they’ve built a special bond.
“I used to think a pet is a pet—not necessarily part of the family,” adds De Los Santos. “But Twix changed my mind. He’s everything we wanted in a pet.”