Shooting survivor wins grant for North Carolina dog rescue (copy)

Drew Pescaro and his dog, Lily, go on a $500 shopping spree on Dec. 12 at Petco in Durham. Pescaro is a survivor of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte in April.

DURHAM — Lily was abandoned before Peak Lab Rescue got her.

Then, the small terrier-schnauzer-labrador-shih tzu mutt was adopted last year on Christmas Day by Drew Pescaro. He wanted a dog to help him with his anxiety. His parents told him to look around at other dogs before making a quick decision on Lily, but he already knew she was the one.

Four months later in April, Pescaro was one of six students shot on UNC-Charlotte’s campus. He was shot in the back and spent 27 days recovering in the hospital. Lily bounced around from home to home, either staying with some of Pescaro’s fraternity brothers or his fiancée, Erin Wilson.

But when Pescaro got out of the hospital and arrived back at his parents’ house in Fuquay-Varina, Lily was waiting on him.

“May 27 was the day that I finally got to see her again for the first time, and I haven’t let go of her since,” he said Dec. 12.

Because of Lily’s impact on him, Pescaro worked to pay the favor back to Peak Lab Rescue. On Dec. 12, that meant a $50,000 check for the Apex rescue group from the Petco foundation.

Lily gave Pescaro a routine each day and someone to talk to that didn’t need to hear the story of the shooting again.

“It sounds crazy, but she’s a good person to talk to,” he said.

His dad, Edward, now says that it was obvious Drew made the right choice with Lily.

“They’re inseparable,” he said. “She has been really great for him.”

Petco’s Holiday Wishes campaign

In August, Pescaro spoke at a news conference in the state legislative building in downtown Raleigh and showed the scars on his abdomen, advocating for a debate on gun-control laws in North Carolina.

Afterward, his fiancée thought it would be nice to reach out to Peak to tell them how much Lily has helped Drew get along.

Sharon Gesser, Peak’s director of development, thought it was such an amazing story that she reached back out to Drew and asked whether he would write in to the Petco foundation Holiday Wishes campaign.

Holiday Wishes is the foundation’s annual campaign that awards exceptional animal welfare organizations across the country with grants that go anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000. Adopters send in their stories of how their pet has brought joy to their life, and the foundation chooses 55 winners.

Karen Meader from the Petco foundation said that the grant campaign is a way to give back to adoption organizations.

“We just want to showcase to the public how important and how meaningful the adoption of a pet can be; and we really want to inspire the community to think adoption first.”

Meader said that they cried when they first read Drew’s story.

“How Lily pulled him through, that meant so much to us,” she said.

Peak Lab Rescue is one of four organizations to win a $50,000 prize, which Gesser said will go a long way for them.

Their group of employees screamed when the amount on the check was revealed.

The group keeps around 80 to 100 dogs in its system at a time, and just had its 7,000th dog adopted.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t get by on slim margins,” Gesser said. The group uses around 900 pounds of dog food every month and had to take in more dogs than usual last year after the hurricanes.

“It’s kind of thankless work,” Gesser said. “But this validates what we do.”

Lily’s shopping spree

Along with the grant to Peak Lab Rescue, Pescaro and Lily got their own gifts. He got a new pair of BOBS shoes — a partner with Petco foundation for the Holiday Wishes campaign — and a $500 shopping spree for his dog.

Pescaro said that she likes bones, so he wanted to get her the biggest one possible to see her try to carry it around. He and Erin also used the spree to buy a Panthers jersey for Lily, fish- and chicken-flavored dog food, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and plenty of toys.

Shooting survivor wins grant for North Carolina dog rescue (copy)

In this Dec. 12, 2019, photo Drew Pescaro, his fianceé Erin Wilson and his dog Lily go on a $500 shopping spree at Petco in Durham, N.C. Pescaro is a survivor of the mass shooting at UNC Charlotte in April. (Trent Brown/The News & Observer via AP)

They even let Lily decide on some of the items, holding out squeaky toys until she picked which one she liked best. Sitting in a new bed in a shopping cart, she either laid her head down on the ones she didn’t want or bit into them if she liked them. She chose a purple one.

Pescaro just finished his first semester back at UNCC since the shooting and said that with the support of his friends and family, it went well. He works for the school’s football team and went to their bowl game in the Bahamas. He became the fundraising chair of his fraternity and even got to play flag football again.

And after the announcement that morning, he got another surprise when Tiffany Franchi from Peak Lab Rescue offered her wedding-planning services to him and his fiancée for free.

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