I knew in my gut that this particular Saturday was not going to be a good day. On October 21, 2017 we had made arrangements to take the three hour drive down in our truck to my old family home to pick up any items still left there. We left the dogs at home, and asked a friend to go by in the evening to let them out and give them their dinner, as we would not be returning until long past dinner time.
This trip was a necessary errand, and a sad one. You see earlier this year, my father departed from this Earth. He lived alone in the same house our family built back in 1991 when we first moved south from New York. Throughout this year we had made several trips to the house to handle his affairs and belongings, alongside with my two brothers. This Saturday was the last trip to our house we would ever make, as the home no longer belongs to us. After an early evening dinner at my father’s favorite local restaurant, we headed back home with a truck and trailer load full. Now while this part of the story isn’t related to events later that night, it provides the context as to HOW exactly this situation occurred.
At approximately 7pm, as we were about an hour and a half away from home, our friend who was feeding them called, sounding out of breath. All he could say was “all the dogs just attacked Stella”. As my thoughts and breath grinded to a halt, I repeated aloud to my partner what he had just said and equal waves of fear and confusion just came in waves. Our dogs aren’t mean, violent, or even very aggressive. They get grouchy with each other sure, but not enough to just outright attack with the intent to cause harm. Our poor friend was in entirely over his head. He described a scene that was just unbelievable to me. Who are these animals he is describing, because they cannot be my sweet loving dogs. As far as we can deduce from their behaviors and the evidence once we got home (a very very long hour later) it looks as though after eating, one of them instigated a fight probably over going to check out another’s empty bowl. We’ve caught small growls and snarls in the fast, but the behavior was always corrected on the spot. Having an inexperienced person in our home trying to problem solve a very anxious and terrifying situation very likely made it worse. Lack of confidence in your posture and voice will cause distracted dogs to flat out ignore you, and we think that is what happened.
Poor Stella was probably just a little too slow to move out of the way, and became the target of their outburst of aggression.
I cannot even describe the feeling of helplessness I possessed while still on the phone with him, trying to walk him through how to round up all the other dogs and get them back in their crates so that he can assess Stella’s condition. She had wedged herself between our stove and kitchen counter and stayed there until we finally arrived home. Since it had been over an hour since she received her injuries, the blood everywhere was tremendous. The towels immediately came out and it was obvious she had suffered several small puncture wounds over half her body. The worst was the left side of her head and neck. One of the dogs had torn part of her neck open and her ear had been badly damaged as well. We just couldn’t believe this happened in our home, with our fur babies. Off to the ER vet we went; and for future reference, calling ahead and letting them know to be ready in situations like this was very helpful.
The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of waiting, worrying, getting several updates and estimates that constantly changed (they went up every time), crying, then worrying some more. We learned about how dog bites can be particularly nasty, because often when they bite, they also pull. This pulling can create a separation between layers of tissue, muscle, and fat, creating a pocket that can trap fluid and cause infections or other complications. This meant that many of her “small” wounds were actually a bit more concerning, often the wound needs to be opened up more so to repair the damage done underneath. Next we learned that her outer ear canal had been severed from her inner, which would most likely require what they called a “total ear canal ablation”. Basically they were going to leave her ear, remove the ear canal and sew up the opening to her inner ear. She would lose most hearing in that ear this way, but would still have the small amount that could transfer through her skin. The plan was to keep her comfortable and allow her wounds to “present themselves”, so they would no which parts of skin and tissue were going to survive, and which parts would have to be removed. The ER arranged for her to be transferred to the surgeon first thing Monday morning, so that they could get to work making all the necessary surgeries and repairs to our girl.
Upon arriving next door at the specialists’ practice, they assessed that Stella was actually in worse shape than the ER doctors expressed to us. She had lost a lot of blood, so even with the ER giving her plasma, she was still very nutrient deprived on top of all her pain. We were explained all the risks and issues with this type of trauma, and how dangerous shock can be.
She would need surgery to close the larger puncture wounds, to repair the opening in her neck (which thankfully missed all the major veins, arteries and nerves) and the removal of her outer ear canal and also her ear itself. The tissue had incurred too much trauma and just could not survive. She had many swollen areas that were just full of fluid, and several of the smaller wounds had to be left open for drainage. She needed a shunt to drain much of the fluid that had collected in her face and neck areas. Instead of doing the surgery on that Thursday as the vet expected, he was able to do the first procedure on Tuesday, which was the ear removal and part of her neck injury. He suspected that some of the skin around the neck wound was not going to survive either, so that part would have to happen later.
Wednesday morning we got an update call stating how good she had been doing. She was eating (only if they hand fed her because Stella knows how to play up being in need) and going to the bathroom just fine, and seemed to be on the mend.
Around 3pm that afternoon, Stella went out for a potty break and collapsed, she had heart failure. I left work as fast as I could and raced to the vet, muttering under my shaky breath that my phone better not ring before I make it there, because I knew another call so soon would not be good news. My partner had not surprisingly beat me there, I walked in and before I had even opened my mouth he exclaimed “We got her back!” I fell into the chair and into my partner with relief. After a few minutes of CPR, Stella managed to pop right back up and they were able to stabilize her after that. It turned out the heart failure was most likely due to low blood pressure, as she was too weak to replenish her own blood and the plasma was not enough, so they gave her a doggy transfusion. We learned that dogs coming back from that happens about 1% of the time! Even if the CPR works, they usually lose the dogs later that day because the stress on the heart is too great. Not in our girls case! She had that will to live like many of the vet techs had never seen. We were getting text messages from the ICU vet technicians asking us if they could share her story with others. We had ourselves a short-legged miracle dog, who stole hearts instead of breaking them.
A week later on Halloween, Stella got to come home! The worst was over, and she got to rock some neon colored neck bandages for a while longer while they waited for her neck to show us which skin was going to survive and what skin was not. After a couple of bandage changes and a lot of medications, her last major vet visit was scheduled. They were going to remove all of the healed stitches, remove the skin that didn’t survive, and close up the last of her neck wound! No more bulky bandages and no more pills. We were amused to hear the vet say that because she was on the overweight side of the scale, her extra skin actually saved her life! Our girl was not ready to leave us anyway.
This whole incident has been very unlucky, but even still, we were luckier than many. We had amazing veterinarians and technicians with amazing patience and transparency on how this process works. We were blessed that my partner was able to open up a Care Credit card to cover these costs, because unlike people, animal hospitals have to refuse treatment unless they receive payment. Our ER bill was just under $2,000 and our surgeon was around $10,000. Those are very scary and daunting numbers, but my partner and I are a team and we will sacrifice what we have to. Our dogs are our children currently, as we don’t have any human kids yet.
We still have a LOT of work to do, currently our mission is correcting some of the behaviors that could have caused this incident. Our vets comforted us by explaining that sometimes, these things just happen. Dogs are animals still, domesticated or not, and they can be triggered into instincts you would never normally see. This has not and will not deter us from wanting more animals, it has become our happiness to help and teach and train animals.
We’re going to take this tragic story and learn from it. We’re going to teach from it.
The surgeons’ office personnel asked us to bring Stella back this holiday season to meet Santy Paws. I may hire a photographer 🙂