When Michele Schaffer-Stevens first met Aladdin, he wasn’t a superhero.
He wasn’t a guy who would change the lives of everyone who met him.
He was a broken pit bull clinging to life. He was skinny. He was emaciated.
He had broken teeth, a broken tail, open wounds all over and badly injured legs.
Since she had a lot of experience dealing with malnourished dogs, Schaffer-Stevens got a call after he was delivered to the Camden County Animal Shelter. She was plenty busy at the time, but she couldn’t say no.
She was there for Aladdin. At the time, she had no idea Aladdin would be there for so many during his amazing life.
“I had dealt with quite a lot of emaciated dogs, so they called me,” said Schaffer-Stevens, who lives in Haddonfield. “When I got him, he was a disaster zone. He weighed 18 pounds. I was afraid to pick him up. He was missing 12 teeth. We would go out (in Wildwood) and people would look at me like I did it to him. I would have to tell people ‘we didn’t starve him, we got him like this.’ He was in such bad shape, but he had a light in his eyes.
“He wanted to live.”
Aladdin’s work was never done; He wouldn’t have it any other way
Aladdin had an incredible life. In nine years, he helped so many. And whenever he was needed, mom would take him to work. Work was being a therapy dog for people who needed cheering up.
He routinely went to hospitals to cheer up sick children.
After the Pulse Nightclub shooting, his mom took him to Orlando where he spent time with people who were impacted by the shooting that left 50 dead and 53 more injured.
He was a Ronald McDonald House Ambassador dog, and he visited schools doing a humane educational, anti-bullying program through State Farm Insurance.
He worked with the Philadelphia Police, fundraising for the Fallen Officers Fund and attending the events they do with children with special needs.
He was an ambassador dog for Tito’s Vodka for Dog People Campaign.
He also worked with Veterans and PACT for Animals.
He was a model and ambassador for Show Your Soft Side, a nationwide animal abuse campaign.
And he’s been the spokesdog for Lilo’s Promise, a South Jersey based rescue that specializes in dealing with pit bulls.
Aladdin had quite the resume.
Aladdin: The family dog
And he was the perfect family dog, and loved being around his mom, dad Nicky, human brothers Cody, Ty and Conner, and dog siblings Bully, Maui, Stella and Stitch.
Aladdin was simply a dog that would step up when someone needed cheering up, and mom made sure he was always able to do his job.
But when she met him, he was a dog that needed help.
“I had no idea that (Aladdin) would do the things he did,” Schaffer-Stevens said. “I didn’t think he was going to live. I took him down the Shore and he couldn’t even stand up.”
Ironic, because for the rest of his life, Aladdin stood up for people who needed it.
Aladdin: Part superhero, part therapy dog
Aladdin passed away earlier this month and his death has caused a lot of tears, not only by his family, but all those he helped. Aladdin was a rock star and everyone in the rescue community is feeling the loss.
“He was hurt by monsters, and he was full of life and forgiveness,” said Lucy Noland, animal advocate and former Fox 29 anchor who became friends with Aladdin through animal rescue events. “I remember meeting him at a restaurant in Philadelphia, it was an event for (Philadoptables, a nonprofit that raises money for ACCT Philadelphia), and I just saw him sitting there. He was a rock star. But he was so loving.”
Wherever he went, Aladdin turned heads.
Aladdin knew his celebrity status meant good food. His favorites were crab cakes from Jimmy’s Famous Seafood in Baltimore, but he was happy with chicken fingers or whatever goodies were floating around at the various events he attended.
He didn’t know he was a superstar. He just knew sometimes people needed a hug. Sometimes people needed to smile. And he would use everything he had to get people to cheer up.
“When we were in Orlando, he just knew that people needed love and he went up to people to help them,” Schaffer-Stevens said. “We worked during the day, and at night we went to fundraisers with Tito’s to raise money for the victims. He was there to work, he really wanted to just help.”
When Trooper Sean Cullen, of Cinnaminson, was fatally injured after he was struck by a vehicle at the scene of a car fire on Interstate 295, Aladdin did his best to cheer up officers who were the fallen officer’s friends.
“Someone called and asked me to bring Laddy over, because everyone was so sad because they love Trooper Cullen,” Shaffer-Stevens said. “I was nervous, I knocked on the barrack’s door. They invited us in. He went to every person in the barrack and sat with them. He would cheer the first person up and then move on. He didn’t know why they were sad, but he knew they needed a Laddy hug or cheering up. That’s what he liked to do.”
Aladdin was part therapy dog, part superhero. He loved both jobs.
“What made Laddy so special was that although he carried the visible scars of abuse throughout his life, those scars never touched his heart,” said Sande Riesett, president at Show Your Soft Side. “He taught us all how to forgive and how to love, and will be deeply missed by everyone whose paths he crossed, as well as thousands more who just loved him from afar.
“We used to joke that more people came to our events to meet Laddy than they did our Softies and the outpouring of love and sympathy we’ve seen since his passing just confirms that.”
Through Show Your Soft Side, which features dogs and cats in portraits with Softees, famous tough guys and girls who show it’s macho to love animals, Aladdin made a lot of friends.
He was friends with musicians such as Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses and a lot of professional athletes. One of his besties was Ronnie Stanley, the offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Staley’s foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for rescue dogs and individuals in need, and he had a great bond with Aladdin. They had similar goals, Aladdin to improve the lives of people, Staley’s to improve the lives of pets, so it’s little surprise they clicked.
“Laddy was one of a kid, a special soul,” Stanley said. “He was an amazing advocate for rescue, for his breed and brought so much joy to everyone who met him. It was devastating hearing of his passing and our hearts are broken for Michele and her family. We promise to carry on the legacy of love and will forever hold him in our hearts.”
Aladdin: The sweet pit bull breaking stereotypes
But Aladdin did more than just help people.
Dogs, especially pit bulls, were aided by his sweetness.
So much so that State Farm used him as a poster child for how sweet the breed can be.
“Aladdin was also the first pit bull in history to be on stage at an insurance conference,” said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist with State Farm. “He joined State Farm on stage at the 2019 Property Insurance Report Conference during a presentation about dog breed restrictions and responsible pet ownership. It created quite a buzz but Aladdin didn’t notice because he was too busy networking, aka, sitting on laps.”
When Lilo’s Promise agreed to take on Aladdin, they knew it was going to be costly.
Once a dog goes to the rescue, they handle his medical bills, and Aladdin had a lot of needs. They did that long before they knew what kind of ambassador he would become. But they’re very thankful their boy turned out to be so popular.
“He was a great, pit bulls are a phenomenal breed,” said Jennifer Conners, cofounder of the rescue. “In my experience, dogs are dogs and every dog is different. You can’t judge a dog by its breed. So much misinformation out there. He helped educate people. He was everybody’s friend. People loved him. I think he changed a lot of minds and a lot of hearts. People fell in love.
“He did his job on earth and he’s somewhere doing great things. I believe his legacy will live on. He’s a legend. He deserves everything he got. He was loved as much as he gave love.”
The world lost a great dog, but nobody misses him as much as his family.
They were there when he did the amazing things as a therapy dog. They were there when he was swimming in North Wildwood. And they were there when he was just Laddy, the great pet.
“It’s hard to find words to describe him,” Schaffer-Stevens said. “Lucy Noland said he was broken by a human being who beat him and starved him, but all he had was love to give back to people. That sums him up.
“There were days it was cold and he was stiff and couldn’t walk, but I would ask him ‘want to go to work?’ He would bunnyhop. He loved working.
“He was a one in a million dog. He was my hero.”
To buy Aladdin’s book, visit https://www.facebook.com/aladdinnation Or to make a donation in his honor, visit www.livelikeroo.org