Angel, a 5 month old pit bull terrier mix, first came to BDAR in March. She was taken by someone to the local animal shelter in Cheyenne (we do not know the relationship this person had to either her or her previous owner) in life-threatening condition. The tiny puppy had sustained more than 20 broken bones and a large, fluid-filled mass dominated her neck and shoulders. Though she was loving and accepting from the moment she was transferred to us, she was subdued and in obvious pain.
For almost 4 months, our team and our friends at Cottonwood Veterinary clinic worked to help this spirited girl recover from the horrendous abuse she sustained. Some of her fractures were older by the time she came to us, so they had already set and begun to heal in their own way.
But other injuries required intervention. The swelling in her neck and shoulders was likely the result of her having been violently shaken by the loose skin all puppies have in this area. It was painful and prohibited normal movement. A surgical drain and a small plastic balloon were attached to her for 3 weeks while the fluid drained from this area. During this time, she also wore a cast on her right front foot, where all four of the toes were broken. Her left foot had previously sustained the same injury, but that was an older one which went untreated and her body had already begun its own healing process.
The Journey begins
Like all of the animals in our care, Angel stayed at home with a foster family. At first, she went with our Executive Director and her family. She got along with the other animals there and the 8 year old boy. Because of her always-friendly personality and the fact that her bandages and drain required constant monitoring, Angel soon became a fixture in the BDAR adoption center and the CrossFit gym as well. She made fast friends wherever she went.
During this first month in our care, something very special started to happen. One of our Board members began frequenting the adoption center more than usual. Angel's story and her bright personality were intensely compelling for Meredith. Usually the practical, logical sort, Meredith found herself in tears around the joyful puppy. The emotion she felt for this little dog was seemingly inexplicable. Meredith also frequents the same gym where Angel would visit and the two began to form a close relationship. It wasn't long before Angel was moved to Meredith's for fostering.
It took about a month for her drains to come out and for our team to figure out the next most-urgent step for Angel. Her right front foot continued to be a problem as the toes weren't healing. But this injury was compounded by an additional fracture in her elbow, higher up on the same leg. At the tail-end of the puppy, her right rear leg was in pieces. The tibia and fibula had old fractures that had begun to heal. But the femur was shattered in two and the ball of her hip joint was unrecognizable in its many pieces. With only periodic exception, Angel was not using the rear leg.
Due to the severity of her rear leg injuries, it was determine that the best course of action for that leg was to amputate. But doing so before the right front was healed would compromise her mobility and balance too much. So the decision to address Angel's front leg first was made, and tiny pins were inserted into two of her toes to re-align them and allow them to act as a stabilizing splint for the other broken toes as well. This delicate procedure was performed by Dr. Tiffany Healey in house and Angel's subsequent recovery from this operation lasted about 6 weeks, with twice weekly bandage changes and a slow transition back to an unsplinted leg and paw. The elbow break continued to confound us as the surgical prognosis was guarded at best and would significantly reduce both her flexibility and mobility. In the end, we decided to leave that fracture alone and let Angel heal it on her own. After all, she'd already demonstrated a remarkable ability to compensate for other broken bones!
While Angel's physical recovery is telling, and it paints a picture of long weeks and numerous procedures - the telling of it does not do justice to the life this little girl was living at the same time. On more than one occasion, Angel literally woke up from a surgery which should have left her fairly immobile for a while and trotted her way out of the clinic. She remained utterly unphased by all of her treatments and even came to learn the routine of visiting the clinic, where she would excitedly run to the door in anticipation of seeing so many people she had come to love. There was likely never a single appointment that didn't end with people on the floor, tossing her a ball, rubbing her belly, and laughing at her adorable snorts and zest for life. If ever we doubted that the little dog had been through too much, she showed us each day that she was undetered by any of it.
During these weeks, Angel's story spread. She became popular on our social media and photos of her at local coffee shops and breweries, high school track meets, and visiting elementary schools circulated throughout the community. Questions about her abuser and the consequences for such a horrific act where abundant, but remained unanswered. Even so, Angel told her own story. She spoke to us about unconditional love, forgiveness, perseverance, and determination. There never seemed to be a time when her tumultuous past was reflected in her present. Though we have tried, there really is no way to explain the effect she has had on all of us.
moving right along
As the time to address her back leg began to draw near, we once again re-visited the numerous fractures we saw there. While Angel did occasionally use the leg for balance given the large and awkward splint on her front leg, she still struggled with pain when we tried to manipulate it and despite several weeks having gone by, the fractured femur had still not set. The agonizing and tearful decision to amputate as soon as the right front was stable enough was made.
This was perhaps the hardest three weeks in Angel's recovery as we had to field a lot of questions from the community about this decision. Though Meredith and her family were doing their best to tell her story and help people understand, they were sometimes made to feel like bad guys. It was very, very hard to help people understand not only that the decision had been made very carefully and with great concern for her long-term well-being; but also that Angel herself would recover perfectly well from it. Because despite the strong emotions people have when it comes to amputation, animals are blissfully free from such sentimentalities.
what lie ahead
Knowing too that the amputation, and the routine spay that would likely occur at the same time, were to be Angel's final procedures for the foreseeable future - we began too to think about what would happen for her after she no longer required the organization's care. It was time to think about Angel's adoption.
Despite her local celebrity, Angel had received surprisingly little adoption interest. She had a few applications, but they were too far away for our comfort and we desperately wanted to keep her close.
As it turns out, we needn't have worried at all. Because, after all this time, Angel was already home. Meredith and her family (with maybe a LOT of encouragement from just about everyone who knows them) decided to make her a permanent member of their family. This was happy news indeed, but the adoption would still have to wait. The day of the final surgery loomed.
The Final Obstacle
Angel's front leg bandages and splints were gone. She was running and rolling and doing all of the normal things little puppies do. She was even getting into trouble at home, chewing things she shouldn't. But of all of the things she was doing at this point one stood out above the rest. Suddenly, Angel began to walk on her back leg. And not just walk. She was jumping!
Just days before her scheduled amputation, and only 3 weeks after her last set of x-rays, Angel's rear leg was x-rayed again. And this time, for the first time in all the months she'd been here, the leg showed signs of healing. Her body had begun to form a large bony callous around the broken femur. It wasn't pretty, but it seemed to be doing the trick! Angel's care plan changed once again and instead of amputating the leg, a less severe operation called a FHO was performed by Dr. Farr. In this procedure, the shattered remnants of Angel's hip joint were removed, giving her body the ability to form scar tissue around that joint. This is a very common procedure performed on dogs with hip problems and it will allow her to have a nearly-fully functional leg for the rest of her life.
We don't know how or why her leg went for so long without healing and then suddenly repaired itself. But we suppose for some things there are just not any answers.
Angel's recovery from this final surgery and spay were as unremarkable as all of her previous recoveries. She bounced right back and was walking again on the leg as soon as she woke up from surgery. The rest, as they say, is history.
Just this week, Angel was officially adopted. And with her new beginning comes a new name as well. Because of her amazing ears and wide, toothy grin, she's been lovingly re-named Stitch. There is no reason to mourn the shedding of her past moniker as a new name for a shelter dog represents a new beginning, a new belonging. For this little dog, adopted one day shy of her 9 month birthday, the new name marks the beginning of the rest of her life.
We couldn't be more happy for Meredith, Stitch, and the rest of this beautiful family.
Angel's recovery would not have been possible without the help of an entire community. Altogether, more than 50 individual donations came in to support her care and recovery. Three different veterinary clinics consulted on her treatment plan, the local animal control pursued her abuser (who was identified and charged in her case), and our friends at Cheyenne Dog Food Company sponsored a DNA test after so many questions emerged about her particular heritage. In case you missed it, she's mostly pit bull with some blue heeler and lab sprinkled in.
We are grateful to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Becky Orr for running her original story, and to the thousands of people who shared it on social media.
We are thankful to our volunteer Cliff Cox, who took most of the photos of Angel along the way. His photography was instrumental in helping tell her story.
For everyone who sent cards and gifts, and who stopped by to offer her love and encouragement - thank you.
Thank you to everyone who made this story and its conclusion one of the most memorable in the history of Black Dog Animal Rescue.
Angel's story is incredible. But it is unfortunately not unique. In the 4 months since she has been with us, at least a half dozen animal abuse cases have been identified in WY. Until we give these victims a voice, and identify crimes against them as the violent and intentional acts they are, this will not stop. We must demand of our lawmakers that animal cruelty be given greater weight and consequence here. Please, do not let Angel's story fade. When the time comes, speak to your representatives about it, ask them for help in ensuring a better future for the pets and people of Wyoming.
Be their voice.