Adam Gibson only had to call out his pup's name once, quietly, as he walked into the small park in front of the Charleston Animal Society.
"Bronx," Gibson said Thursday as he and his fiancee, Michelle Walker, entered the fenced-in area.
The red Staffordshire terrier mix ran from across the park, nearly knocking over Gibson as he jumped on him, wagging his powerful tail and licking his face.
"I’ve had animals before, but that boy right there, he’s our heart," Gibson said of the big dog. "When I got him from the shelter in Atlanta, I thought I was rescuing him because he was on an 'urgent' list at a kill shelter, but it turned out he rescued me."
In the four months since Gibson and Walker, both 42, gave up the dog to the animal society so they could enter One80 Place, a homeless shelter, and get back on their feet, Gibson frequently checked on his pup, but Bronx had no way of knowing they would one day be reunited.
"I told them when I rescued him that I would take care of him and I wouldn’t leave him and nobody would ever hurt him again because he was abused," Gibson said. "That’s what made making the decision of leaving my dog, or being separated from him, that much harder. I had made a commitment to him and myself that I was going to take care of him."
Gibson and Walker, who adopted Bronx in December 2016 in Atlanta, had jobs and a home when they moved to Charleston in the fall.
But days after they arrived, their roommates said they felt threatened by the dog. The couple chose the dog over the house.
"That was a no-brainer," Gibson said.
With limited options, they moved into the woods off Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley, where the pair and their dog shared an eight-person tent. It wasn't the first time in their five-year relationship that Gibson and Walker were homeless.
They had no car, and the nearest bus stop or store was a 40-minute walk. Soon, they lost their jobs.
"We were blessed even at that point in time," Gibson said. "We made it work. I would go without to make sure Bronx had dog food."
They learned to rely on themselves, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas at their wooded encampment, and even braving it out during the near-record snowfall in early January.
"It just got to a point where it was too cold," Walker said. "The experience just threw us for a loop and after that it was like, all right, we've got to do something. We were running out of food. We were running out of resources."
But they weren't ready to give up Bronx, so on Jan. 16, One80 Place reached out to Charleston Animal Society and the two agencies partnered to help. Although Gibson was hesitant, he gave the animal society temporary custody of Bronx.
The pup spent almost four months at Feline Freedom Sanctuary, an outdoor facility run by CAS. He lived in his own indoor-outdoor pen among hundreds of feral cats, and staff there grew to love Bronx through their daily interactions with him, officials said.
Gibson called often to check on his pet's health, often asking the folks at the sanctuary to send him a photo.
Meanwhile, he and Walker worked to improve their situation, but it wasn't easy. Three weeks after he moved into the shelter, Gibson was hit by a car on Meeting Street, breaking both of his legs and spending days in the hospital and weeks in a wheelchair.
Now, both he and Walker are about to start new jobs in the food and beverage industry. On Friday, they'll move into a house in North Charleston, where Bronx will have a fenced yard to frolic in.
"It was a rough time," Walker said, "but it's better now."
Instead of living in a tent and wondering about their next meal, they look forward to barbecuing ribs to share with Bronx, then snuggling together with him on the couch to watch movies.
“It’s going to be a totally different scene for us," Gibson said.