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A 'Tail' of Hope and Survival

by Richelle Gruber

When I looked into the puppy's eyes that Saturday, I had no idea he would turn out to be not only a miracle, but a hero.

I only saw the sadness, pain and confusion in his eyes. He had been running stray, hit by a car, and lain injured on the road until a kind citizen called an Animal Services officer to pick him up.

The kind animal shelter staff could not do much more than make him comfortable, as pain-free as possible, and pray that his family would come to claim him very soon.

But injured animals come to the shelter every day. There simply isn't enough money or homes to care for them all, and often their owners simply do not come for them.

This puppy's eyes said he knew that. He appreciated the kindness shown to him, but he seemed to know he was not going home.

I looked into those deep brown eyes and an overwhelming sadness laid its heavy hand on my shoulder. I knew from many years of shelter work and fostering that I simply could not save all the needy animals out there.

But as I was about to tear myself away, my heart breaking in two, the pup thumped his tail twice on the blanket where he lay, and I saw a very brief flash of hope in his eyes. He had just asked me for help.

I knew then I could not refuse. However, I had no idea then that he would return the favor by saving the life of my friend.

That weekend my boyfriend Doug and I could not stop thinking about the 9-month-old Border Collie/Spaniel mix and the look in his eyes. I worried about the time and money required to rehabilitate the injured pup. But on Monday morning, back at work, Doug emailed me: "Go get him. We will figure out the rest later. It will work out!"

A couple of phone calls later an amazing shelter staff had the puppy en route to Wilson Veterinary Hospital, where Dr. Eric Bostrum and Dr. Jim Wilson examined him.

The puppy had three fractures in his pelvis, four in the left hind leg, and torn ligaments in his right front leg, all of which were 10-12 days old, suggesting he may have lain badly injured on the road for several days before he was found.

It was not easy to repair such long-established injuries, but the vets somehow managed it without resorting to amputation. Amazingly, after 3 hours of surgery, the puppy came away with a large pin, two wires and many stitches, but with all his limbs still intact.

Next morning the pup was standing, wagging his tail and eager for breakfast. Two days later, he began to set his thin, shaved leg on the ground as he playfully pawed at the clinic cats. He cocked his head and yelped at them as if to say, "What kind of animal are you? Do you want to play?" This was the look a puppy should have in his eyes; a look of hope.

That afternoon, Andrea, a 17-year-old high school student who loves animals and works at the veterinary hospital, called me.

"Richelle," she said excitedly, "I want to help him! I want to help foster the puppy. My mom said it is okay. Can I?"

Wow, I thought, this was the easiest foster dog I had even taken on. Doug was right, things were working out.

Next day, sporting a new collar painted with the words 'I love Andrea' (I painted it, but only at the puppy's request!), an ID tag with three phone numbers, and a much improved leg, the puppy headed home with her for the night.

For the next few days Andrea brought the puppy, now named Ace, to work with her. On the fourth day she noticed a lump at the top of his incision site; the pin had migrated slightly. The following day, Dr. Wilson anesthetized Ace and adjusted the pin. That evening, Ace could have stayed at the hospital, but he whimpered and whined so much that Andrea decided to take him home. After a pain-killing injection, Ace left with Andrea, with instructions to keep quiet for the night.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

Andrea left work and headed south on Highway 89. It was dark and raining heavily. Somehow, she lost control of her small, compact car as she was approaching the ramp overpass leading to I-15. The car careened off the overpass and flipped and rolled down an embankment. Andrea was thrown from the car and landed, badly injured, at the bottom of the incline.

It is not clear whether Ace was thrown out or not, but judging from the mangled remains of the car, it's unlikely he could have stayed inside.

Andrea lay unconscious, so the small pup had to think for himself and muster up all his courage for the second time in two weeks. Despite the new injuries he had sustained in the crash, he struggled back up the steep embankment and reached the road, where two men heading north on Highway 89 nearly hit him as he was running against the traffic.

The men, Dave and Max, pulled to the side of the road, got out and chased the frantic Ace for 300 yards as he darted in and out of traffic, before finally collapsing.

They tried to pick him up, but he cried out in pain and snapped. The pup was clearly badly injured, so Max turned to get something from the car to help him lift the dog.

That was when he spotted a man running up the hill toward him. The man, Jared, had been following Andrea, had witnessed the crash, and wanted to know if Max had found the driver. Together, Max and Jared ran down the hill to search for Andrea, leaving Dave at Ace's side, dialing the numbers on his ID tag.

They found Andrea lying face down, and phoned for help. While paramedics loaded Andrea into an ambulance, a Utah Highway Patrol Officer took Ace in his patrol car, along with Dave and Max, to Lakeview Animal Hospital.

Several weeks later Andrea and Ace are both recovering after a brave battle for life. Andrea, who sustained life-threatening injuries after the crash, is now doing well in the rehabilitation area of the hospital.

Ace was unable to walk for more than a week after he collapsed on the road. His back was broken, his lungs were bruised and he had internal bleeding, in addition to his existing pelvic and leg injuries.

And yet despite his appalling injuries, Ace had somehow summoned up the strength to climb to the top of the hill and run frantically, alerting Dave and Max that something had gone terribly wrong. If the pup had given up and lain injured at the scene, or run in any other direction, Andrea may not have been rescued soon enough to save her life. She might not be alive today if Dave, Max, Jared, and one very brave puppy, had not taken the drastic actions they did.

Ace is slowly recovering, but again his eyes are sad. Perhaps he misses Andrea. His eyes are different this time though: they have hope.

This one-time "throw away" stray, who once had no hope inside himself at all, has given Andrea's family the greatest hope of all, the hope that their daughter will recover.

All animals are heroes for the unconditional love they give and the extraordinary things they do for their people every day.

Whether they are lucky enough to have a home or not, they all deserve a chance to make a miracle happen. Please adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue organization, or support your local animal welfare organizations by donating to help homeless pets.

2003 Animal News Center, Inc.

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