No Price for Love

By on August 3, 2009 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The HSUS’ advocacy work is complemented by an amazing scope of hands-on activities to help animals. On top of our disaster response capacity and five animal care centers, we also operate the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Field Services program, which brings no-cost veterinary services to rural communities throughout the country and the world, often in locales where regular veterinary care is not available. At the same time, the future veterinarians and veterinary technicians who participate receive important training. 

This summer, Field Services is hosting several clinics throughout the Northwest on tribal reservations. Students from across the countryfrom Cornell to Colorado Stateand around the world will sleep on community center floors, work 16 hour days, and learn the mechanics of veterinary medicine.  Some students come back year after year, and some of the clinic’s supervising veterinarians are program veterans, who say they’ve returned to help train the next generation and give back to a program they loved and are grateful for.

At a recent clinic in Keller, Wash., a story about a dog named Teddy Bear stood out, and I've asked Holly Hazard, our Chief Innovations Officer, to give us an account.

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Dr. Su with Teddy Bear

The first things I noticed were his eyes. This was surprising, because the veterinarian on duty was describing and pointing to the large patch of shaved skin on the dog’s rear flank, where his leg used to be. But his eyes were irresistible—a soft elegant brown, with flecks of gold around the edge.

His name was Teddy Bear and, reflecting on Teddy’s story, clinic veterinarian Dr. Morgan Peterman, told me, “This is why I do this work.”

Teddy, who looked like an Irish setter-Doberman mix, had arrived at the HSVMA clinic the previous day. His hair was matted and encrusted with feces and his rear right leg was mangled. He was clearly in pain.  His family said he’d been hit by a car several days before and they’d been unable to afford treatment.  They’d brought him and their two other dogs to the clinic, seeking help.

The veterinarians quickly whisked Teddy away to examine him, while the staff at intake talked with the family, who showed  the truck bed where Teddy and the other dogs had been living for several days, in more than 100-degree temperatures. The truck bed itself was covered in feces and smelled so bad it made my eyes water.  A five-pound bag of potatoes sat in the truck—all the family had to feed the dogs, we discovered.  The family was homeless until the end of the month. Once they got paid they could get a place again, they said.

Teddy Bear’s family was distraught over the dog, whom they clearly loved.  They said they’d tried to get help a few days earlier, taking him to a vet—they knew they couldn’t afford to pay for treatment and just wanted to put him out of his misery, but found they couldn’t even afford the euthanasia fee.

So, Teddy had been relegated to the truck bed, with a fractured leg, in his own feces, eating potatoes, being driven from place to place for days. But then his family saw a flyer for the Field Services clinic. They used all the money they had to buy a tank of gas to get him there.

Teddy’s brothers would get a complete examination, shots and neutering, but Teddy’s day was more complicated.  The lead veterinarian, Dr. Eric Davis, head of HSVMA Field services and certainly the dean of field veterinary medicine, was inclined to recommend euthanasia.  Teddy’s leg was in pieces and he exhibited some other problems.  But Teddy was alert and seemed determined to live.  His family was persistent.  They wanted him to live even though they knew they couldn’t take care of him. 

Dr. Davis decided to amputate the leg.  The veterinary technicians began the prep work, cleaning the area and removing maggots eating at a large wound on his side, presumably also from the accident.

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Teddy Bear seemed determined to live.

They anesthetized him, shaved his hip and moved him to surgery, where Dr. Davis operated for two hours.  The family stayed at the clinic all day and came back the next.  The students took up a collection and bought 50 pounds of dog food for the family’s other dogs.

Veterinarian Lilly Su—a former Field Services student volunteer who has returned to the program as a highly skilled surgeon—was assigned to ease Teddy through his recovery and she slept next to his cage every night.  She crafted a homemade toy out of two Styrofoam cups, some tape and some peanut butter, which Teddy happily played with, only stopping to wag his tail as students came by to greet or check on him. He loved the attention.  He loved going out in the grass and lying with his head in someone’s lap.  He was learning to walk on three legs, still a bit wobbly but determined. 

I arrived the day after Teddy’s surgery and was amazed by his progress. I noticed some abrasions on Teddy’s lips.  Apparently after the accident, I was told, every time Teddy tried to stand he would tip over and scratch his lips on the ground.  But the cuts were getting better every day, and he wasn’t tipping over any more. Remarkably, his coat, which only the day before had been a knotty mess, was a shining, bright red color. His wounds were healing. Teddy’s family couldn’t afford to keep him, but they hoped that with just a little more TLC, he’d be adopted into a loving home where he’d be looked after.

After the HSVMA team completed the day’s last surgery, they packed up the hospital, loaded the truck, and headed to the next town for the next day. Teddy left with them to receive additional care. It turns out he received a home, too. After helping to bring him back to life, Dr. Su couldn’t resist adopting him.

Teddy Bear is a reminder to us that even people without means love their animals.  The impediments are often access and cost to veterinary services.  We took great pride in being able to provide these free services—and to touch the lives of people and animals in need.

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