A Thanksgiving Dog’s Tale

Last month with Halloween approaching I thought about writing a blog about pets and cute pet costumes. It was a trending topic and I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to post fun pictures of my Jack Russell Terrier Lucas in his custom made Dracula costume.

Somehow though, I just wasn’t inspired. Probably because so many dogs and dog owners, myself included, dread Halloween and all the commotion it brings with it.

The nail in the coffin of my Halloween blog came when I was reminded that it was the anniversary of a brutal attack on my friend Hillary’s dog, Lucy.  I will tell you in advance, Lucy and Hillary’s story has a happy ending. What began as a Halloween horror, concludes as heartwarming story perfect for this time of year when our hearts are filled with reflection and gratitude.

Hillary and Lucy’s story is a tale of unconditional love, commitment and determination – human as well as canine.

Lucy is a 5-year old Doxy mix adopted from the Sonoma Humane Society. Three years ago on Halloween she was dressed up like a bumble bee and hanging out with her Dog Mom Hillary at a de-facto dog park in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. They had with them, the latest addition to their extended family, a six-month-old Havanese puppy named Monty.

Hillary was enjoying watching Monty and Lucy play together off leash. In the distance, Hillary heard someone intermittently calling out,

 “Be nice Charlotte! Be nice!”

The voice of Charlotte’s owner grew closer and moments later, Charlotte, a white Pit Bull appeared without her owner. She charged at Monty.  Lucy stepped between Charlotte and puppy Monty to protect him.  This was obviously enough provocation for Charlotte who picked up Lucy by the neck and thrashed her about.

Lucy was helpless in the jaws of the large dog. Her primal screams were unlike anything Hillary had ever heard. Without giving any thought to her own safety, she jumped up to free her little one from the jaws of her attacker.

Hillary rushed Lucy to the vet. She had suffered life-threatening punctures on her throat. A disc in her back was also ruptured. The recommended treatment was an orthopedic surgery that came with a double-digit price tag. Spinal cord injuries require treatment within forty-eight hours.  Because Hillary was unable to afford the surgery, the vet recommended euthanasia as a humane alternative.

That evening Hillary and Lucy returned home in shock. The surgery was not financially feasible but Lucy was still so alert and mentally stable that Hillary could not bring herself to euthanize her. Hour by hour Hillary watched as Lucy lost more muscle and sensory function in her body until finally she was paralyzed. There was nothing the vet could do for Lucy except medicate her for pain.

Hillary’s family encouraged her to put Lucy down. Understandably they felt she was not being realistic about Lucy’s situation.  Despite not having any basis for her reasoning, not to mention being devoid of all hope, Hillary refused to consider that option.

For the next two days, Hillary and Lucy hunkered down in her studio apartment. She did nothing but cradle her medicated dog in her arms. Lucy’s loss of sensory function made this a messy proposition but as far as Hillary was concerned, the clean up was all part of being a Dog Mom.

An unexpected source of hope came when a friend of Hillary’s offered to sponsor a consultation with Dr. David Fong at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists.  Dr. Fong, is a holistic doctor known for exploring different modalities other than invasive surgeries. At their consultation, he was cautiously optimistic about Lucy. This glimmer of hope was exactly what Hillary needed.

Lucy began treatment that included acupuncture, steroids and chiropractic. A few weeks after starting acupuncture Lucy popped her head up.  On Thanksgiving Day, Hillary and Lucy spent the day cooking at Lucy’s Grandpa’s house. Lucy spent most of the day sitting in her dog bed in the kitchen while Hillary was cooking. Out of nowhere, she miraculously got out of her bed and scooted around the kitchen.

Despite Lucy’s progress there were still many voices in Hillary’s life who felt Lucy should be euthanized. They felt Lucy’s recovery had become an unhealthy obsession for Hillary.  Inspired by her dog’s resilience, Hillary was undeterred and maintained her resolve. At this point, Lucy had enough mobility that Hillary was able to walk her using a sling that provided support for Lucy’s hindquarters. It was back breaking work but Hillary was happy to put in the time.

In the New Year, Hillary found herself moving to Los Angeles. It was not a planned or necessarily welcomed change of address. The cultural differences between San Francisco and the City of Angels were not something Hillary was looking forward to. Nobody was more surprised than she was when Los Angeles , with its mild weather and open land brought so many benefits to Lucy.

Living in Laurel Canyon with a backyard, Lucy’s prey drive returned. She began scooting around to chase lizards that darted around the yard. One day she delivered her most inspired moment yet, when she jumped up on her hind legs and took a few steps.

In Los Angeles, Hillary discovered another incredible veterinary resource at Two Hands Four Paws. TWFP is an award-winning canine rehabilitation facility. The timing was perfect because Lucy was ready for the next phase of her rehabilitation.

After a consultation at TWFP, Lucy got a customized treatment program that includes core strengthening exercises using a stability ball, the underwater treadmill and massage. The underwater treadmill helps strengthen Lucy’s legs without putting too much pressure on her joints.

Over the summer, Lucy finally got herself a cart from K9 Carts. From the first day in her cart, Lucy has never looked back. She’s been zipping around the streets of her adopted city ever since.  She even took her cart to the Huntington Dog Beach in Orange County.

Having watched Lucy and Hillary over the last two years has been inspiring to me. Hillary saved Lucy and brought her back to life. Lucy in the meantime, has taught Hillary about resilience.  These lessons came at a time when Hillary needed them most.

I sometimes roll my eyes when people say everything happens for a reason. But one day on one of our trips to the Huntington Dog Beach, as I struggled to keep up with Lucy and Hillary, I thought maybe this is true after all.

There they were just ahead of me jogging along into the sunset — the most incredible ambassadors for what I believe is a new era in dog rehabilitation. We are fortunate to be living in at time where people don’t automatically euthanize dogs who are paralyzed, lose a limb or who are born without one (or two for that matter).

I admire that Hillary never confused her own threshold for pain with Lucy’s and she also followed her own instincts even when people close to her told her she had lost her mind.

And despite everything Hillary has been through, her sense of humor is still in tact. When she had finally saved enough money for Lucy’s cart, she told me Lucy was going to get a personalized license plate that said, “Later Bitches.”

Hillary & Lucy at the Huntington Dog Beach.

Hillary & Lucy at the Huntington Dog Beach.

Lucy in her K9 Cart.

Lucy in her K9 Cart.

Lucy on the underwater treadmill.

Lucy on the underwater treadmill.

Happy Thanksgiving.