A car hit Spirit and left him for dead. Then his rescuers made him a social media celebrity, and hundreds rallied to save him. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

The photos of Spirit showed up on Facebook in spring 2016 with a “graphic content” warning. Blood matted the lanky Labrador’s blonde fur. One outstretched paw was mangled, his face and ear appeared sliced and shredded, and his eyes — deep-set and dark — looked downward.

We featured Spirit that year in a story about hardcore dog rescuers — those people in our neighborhoods whose lives revolve around saving lost-cause canines.

As folks from organizations such as East Dallas-based Dallas Dog RRR recalled their days in dog perdition — highway-adjacent swaths of dumping grounds riddled with sick, dying and grossly at-risk animals — and they talked of bites and sleepless nights and homing five or more dogs in varying states of distress, we wondered why they do it.

While I waited in front of a Lake Highlands townhome to meet one of the fosters, the answer bounded up to me on three legs, hugged me human style and licked my cheek. Hit by a car and left to die alone in a roadside ditch, Spirit’s survival chances were slim. But long shots are sort of a specialty for Dallas Dog RRR rescuers. A GoFundMe page raised some $16,000 to treat the dog’s massive injuries, which required three surgeries including an amputation.

At the time, Lake Highlands resident Sarah Cooper was fostering Spirit, who since was adopted into permanent home. But Spirit belonged in some ways to everyone he ever met and beyond. His journey has attracted almost 3,000 Facebook followers who have kept up with him over the years. It was on this Spirit-dedicated page Saving Spirit that we saw the news — Spirit died over the weekend.

Spirit grew old, “very old,” according to one of the posts. In the past few weeks, his veterinarian and owners made the difficult decision to put Spirit down gently, as he reportedly had developed a large mass in his throat and skull. “Not something that is fixable and it is causing him a little bit of distress,” the page admin posted.

As the Saving Spirit administrator noted, “he was spoiled, and he was so loved by so many.”

Spirit also helped bring attention to Dallas Dog RRR and other organizations that invest resources in our city’s many stray and mistreated animals. Learn more about the group that rescued Spirit here.