Rags to Riches Dogs

Hinton, WV

The animal control officer called Summers County Humane Society for help. An owner had relinquished a mixed breed mother dog, part cattle dog and part hound, and her eight puppies.

According to the former owner, a snake had bitten one of the puppies. Just eight weeks old, her jaw was swollen. When the humane society looked at the little puppy, which they later named “Mary Lou,” the volunteers knew immediately that it was not a snake bite.

Tri County Vet services confirmed their suspicions. The vet believed that a cow had most likely kicked the puppy accidentally and her jaw had been shattered. She was unable to use it at all, and she could not retract her tongue. As a result, the tongue had dried out.

MLP Box 3Very thin, Mary Lou also had a hard, swollen gland the size of a walnut on her neck. Worse, the very capable vet at Tri County felt the injuries were too extensive for her to treat.

But that wasn’t Mary Lou’s biggest problem, not by a long shot. Summers County Humane Society grappled with the severity of the puppy’s injuries. As the smallest county in West Virginia, their funding was tight. The question always came down to this: Where can we do the most good?

Should they spend the money on one dog? Or, do they use the same amount of money to help multiple dogs? It was a question no one wanted to answer.

SCHS had excellent relationships with neighboring rescues in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. So Beth Vuolo, a SCHS volunteer, reached out to Trish McDonald of Happy Dog Rescue in Pennsylvania. Beth asked Trish one question about Mary Lou. “What would you do?” It turns out, a lot! Happy Dog Rescue volunteered to fundraise for Mary Lou. In fact, Summers County’s entire network pitched in!

Rescues, shelters, and drivers (volunteers who drive dogs and cats to no-kill shelters and rescues) circulated Mary Lou’s poster and her plight. As Beth and Trish were brainstorming more ways to get help for this eight-week old puppy, The Mosby Foundation’s name popped up.

Beth had worked with us to get food donations over the years, so she applied for assistance. We took one look at Mary Lou and said yes! With her injury already 3-4 days old, SCHS took Mary Lou to Virginia Tech Veterinary School. “It was her best possible chance for a normal life,” volunteer Cheryl Miller told us. Cheryl also became Mary Lou’s foster.

Virginia Tech took CT scans of the little puppy’s jaw and found that both sides of it were broken. The right side wasn’t displaced but the left side was. The surgical plan was to wire Mary Lou’s jaw together and insert a feeding tube.

MLP Box 2However, the surgery was more complicated than expected. Each time the wires were placed and tightened, the bone simply shredded. With the initial plan a wash, it was time for plan B.

The surgeons then bonded the teeth between the upper and lower jaws. That meant Mary Lou’s mouth was partially open. They also packed a huge hole in the back of her jaw with bone matter to encourage bone growth. Mary Lou’s mouth was open enough that she could lap water. And if she needed to vomit, she would not aspirate. A feeding tube was also inserted in her neck.

The vets said that the swollen gland was due to infection and trauma. Thankfully, antibiotics took care of that. What was more remarkable than the complicated surgery and swollen gland, was Mary Lou herself.

In eight weeks of life, this little puppy had been through the mill. And yet, in spite of it all, she remained upbeat and happy.

“It was obvious she wanted to live,” Cheryl told us. And she should know. Cheryl has fostered over 300 puppies!

Cheryl embraced the challenge of getting Mary Lou back on her feet. Her jaw was very fragile so she had to take extra precaution to protect the dog from damaging the surgical repair.

One of her biggest challenges was feeding Mary Lou. How do you feed a puppy that also wears a protective collar without compromising the surgical repair? Answer: you get creative.

MLP Box 6-2When Cheryl was home alone, it was hardest. With no one to hold her, she put the pup in a milk crate to feed her, and it worked!

But the best time? When she was sleeping.

Five to six times each day, Mary Lou was fed a special canned food that was recommended for canines and felines after surgery. Cheryl measured everything out precisely, including the pup’s medications.

It was all blended with water and injected through Mary Lou’s feeding tube, which Cheryl called her ”chicken liver smoothie.”

The result? Mary Lou gained 10 ounces in the first few days with Cheryl’s tube feeding! In spite of the collar and her jaw, she continued to be a happy puppy. Cheryl’s daughter knitted Mary Lou a scarf to go around her neck. This hid the feeding tube and she looked even more adorable.

Eventually, the feeding tube came out and that huge hole in her neck closed up by itself. The bonding on her teeth came off a bit later, but she isn’t out of the woods yet. Mary Lou still can’t run free or play with other dogs because the jaw is still vulnerable. It will be at least six more weeks before she’ll be completely healed.

In the meantime, Mary Lou developed a voracious appetite. She now hungrily laps up her very soupy food, but because she can only lap a small amount at a time, Cheryl had to feed her more often.

As of this writing, Mary Lou has doubled in size and weight under Cheryl’s care and will be ready for adoption soon.

“We really appreciate The Mosby Foundation’s help,” Cheryl told us. “Now Mary Lou can have a fresh start in life.” Here at The Mosby Foundation, we’re so glad Mary Lou has gotten the care she so desperately needed.

Summers County Humane Society and its network did what most would consider the impossible. And for that, we thank them. The world of animal rescue is both rewarding and heartbreaking. More times than not, it’s heartbreaking. That’s why we’re so glad that Mary Lou can have a happy beginning.

MLP Box 4But there was one question I had to ask Cheryl. As someone who loves animals so much, “How can you give them up?” Her answer was simple and heartfelt. “It’s hard to let them go sometimes. Yes, I have shed some tears, but I’m saving lives. I don’t dwell on the fact that I’m giving them up,” she said.

“If I don’t give them up I won’t be able to save more lives. I have connections with people all over the country with animals I have fostered. I call them my ‘rags to riches’ dogs.”

And with good reason. Some of the dogs Cheryl has fostered were left for dead on the side of the road. These same dogs get placed in wonderful homes with other companion animals and children.

“I get Christmas cards from these families,” Cheryl said. “It just makes it worth it.” Cheryl paused for a moment, then said, “I may never see Mary Lou again, but I will know where she’s going and what she’s doing. The connection is what makes it special.”

I thought long and hard when Cheryl said, “How could I not do this?”