A barely-alive dog captured the hearts of her rescuers when she still wagged her tail at them after being almost starved to death - and now she's living her best life.

Gracie, a 15-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, weighed just 7.3kg when she was found by an RSPCA inspector living in a darkened cage in a house.

A washing machine was precariously balanced on top of her cage and she was so thin her hips, ribs and shoulders were visible through her skin.

Her claws were overgrown, she had an infection in her left eye and she collapsed as she tried to walk.

Shockingly, her owner told animal rescue officer Marie Stevens that he kept Gracie in the cage because his wife was ill and the dog was ‘annoying’.

But despite how ill she was, she managed to wag her tail when Marie took her to the vets.

And now she's the picture of health three years on after being fostered by Heather and Paul Carter.

Heather said: "She wasn’t nervous at all when we saw her at the vets.

"She came staggering out to see us, she could barely walk but she came out and licked me and then she waddled over to Paul for fuss.

"I was worried that perhaps she wouldn’t like men but she’s always been close to Paul, if she’s ever scared of anything, she will run to Paul’s side for reassurance.

"She’s just the friendliest dog and she appreciates everything you give her, her tail does not stop wagging.

"We’re giving her the best life and she’s such a happy dog now."

Gracie was rescued by Marie from a property in Hampshire in January this year.

It was initially feared she was going to have to be put down and Heather says she even 'expected her to die.'

Heather said: "We fell in love with her from the moment we saw her.

"We expected her to die, if I’m honest, and we vowed to care for her for as long as she had left.

"Now we’re just thrilled she made a full recovery.

"She was so weak on her legs when she arrived with us that she had to be lifted onto the sofa so that she could sit with us.

"She’d roll over for tummy tickles but there was no tummy there to tickle - she was all bones.

“She didn't understand the concept of stairs, she’d clearly never seen a cat in her life before.

"When she heard the neighbours talking in the next door's garden, it confused her so much.

"I think she’d barely been let out of that cage as for an older dog, we were so surprised to find that all these experiences were brand new to her."

Gracie's previous owner was banned from keeping animals for 12 months, issued a 12 month community order and fined £120.

But Marie says she wishes he'd instead reached out for help so Gracie wouldn't have 'spent most of her life' ignored and being starved.

She said: "Gracie's previous owner certainly had a lot on his plate tending to his sick wife, however all Gracie needed was food.

"The simple and basic act of feeding a dog which would have taken him seconds each day to do.

"If he no longer wanted Gracie he could have easily reached out for help.

"Instead poor Gracie spent most of her life caged in darkness, ignored and slowly being starved.

"I'm so honoured to be part of the fantastic team that helped Gracie, and to see her amazing recovery. She is pure joy.

"All she has is love for everyone she meets.

"She makes me smile every time I see her."

The RSPCA say animal neglect and abandonment is at three-year high this year because of the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

Supporters can buy an Omaze ticket for the chance to win an incredible house and help raise funds for the charity.

By Izzy Hawksworth