Frail Dog Swam for Miles to Reunite With Rescuers

September 26, 2018 Updated: September 30, 2018

Duchess the dog was in a bad place when she was first discovered in 1999. She lived with her canine family in a hole under an abandoned house in the Bronx. The pup was frail, frightened, and infested with fleas and ticks, but Zulma Cruz was there to look after her.

Cruz, along with Paul and Doreen Eiseman, founded the New York animal rescue non-profit Loving Touch. Since meeting Duchess, they’ve cared for hundreds of animals. Still, they’ve never met another with a story quite like hers.

Duchess by a dirty puddle
Duchess circa 1999 in the Bronx—the puddle was her only source of water. (Courtesy of Doreen Eiseman)

At that time, Cruz served a different rescue. She tried convincing them to take Duchess and her family in, but rather than wanting dogs that needed tons of care, the organization preferred canines that could find homes easily. They told Cruz if she wanted to bring Duchess or dogs like her, she’d have to pay for them herself.

Cruz spoke to the Eisemans, who were volunteering there at the time, and the three of them decided to branch off. Thus, Loving Touch was born!

Runaway Duchess

With Duchess in their care, the number one priority for Loving Touch became finding the pup a home. The Eisemans knew of an event called Broadway Barks, which pairs Broadway actors with local shelters to promote dogs up for adoption.

Duchess on stage at the 2nd Broadway Barks
Duchess on stage with actress Mary Tyler Moore at the second Broadway Barks event. (Courtesy of Doreen Eiseman)

At the event, soap opera star Catherine Hickland fell in love with Duchess and told Cruz she’d find her a home.

Hickland’s friend’s grandma in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was willing to take Duchess in. Later that day, Loving Touch got curious about how Duchess was doing, so they called her new owner, receiving the news that the dog had gone missing.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Cruz and Paul drove out to Connecticut to get her.

Upon arrival, they put up posters looking for Duchess and called Hickland to let her know what was happening. Luckily Hickland had connections to local TV and radio stations—she got the word out and soon people all over town were keeping an eye out for the pup.

Duchess in Connecticut
Duchess on the day she arrived in Connecticut, just before she ran away. (Courtesy of Doreen Eiseman)

“We were driving all over lookin’ for her and we were meeting people,” Paul said. “People were saying ‘Oh yeah yeah. We saw that dog! It was over there!’”

They received a call from Doreen in New York. She reported a Duchess sighting down by the Long Island Sound.

Sure enough, the animal was there. Cruz got out of the car and called out to her. Hearing her voice, Duchess ran right over and jumped into the vehicle.

They later found out that she had tried to swim across the sound to get back to New York. A local couple rode out on their boat and had to pull Duchess in and bring her to shore.

Learning this, Paul and Cruz decided Duchess should come back to New York. Paul’s mother and brother were more than willing to let her stay with them, and Duchess found her permanent home in 2000.

Beloved Mascot

The canine was exceptionally kind to every animal that came in, and served as a mentor to many.

She soon became the face of Loving Touch, representing them in events and on their website where she’s called their “Beloved Mascot.”

Duchess circa 2002.
Duchess in 2002, after becoming Loving Touch’s mascot. (Courtesy of Doreen Eiseman)

Duchess passed away in 2004, but considering that she was 11 when she was brought in and her poor living conditions before then, it’s incredible that she lived that long.

Her influence on Loving Touch is felt to this day.

“Everything we do, in one way or another, seems to revolve around Duchess,” Paul said. “When we rescue animals, we’re not looking necessarily for the fluffy little poodle that somebody’s gonna get, we’re looking for the dogs … that really need to get off the street.”

“That focus came from Duchess. It was the reason we started the group, it’s the reason we do everything!”