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The luckiest Penny
See how one copper-colored pit bull charmed an entire practice and found her own pot of gold-a loving family.
After more than 20 years in the veterinary profession, I've seen a lot of stray animals come and go. Each one provided a glimpse into reality, such as the fact that today's tough economic times are causing more and more animals to be abandoned. And they also gave my co-workers and me the chance to place wonderful pets into loving homes. Even though all these dogs and cats have been special, I've never seen a dog survive more unbelievable circumstances than Penny. Here's her story.
Like yesterday's garbage
On a bitter cold February morning in 2008, one of the veterinarians I work with was on her way to the clinic. While she was traveling along the rural, winding roads of southeastern Ohio, she noticed the truck ahead of her pull off onto the shoulder. She watched in horror as the people in the truck pushed a skinny, reddish dog out the passenger door. Then they threw a loaf of bread out the window and sped off. The veterinarian immediately hit her brakes to stop and check on the dog.
Stunned, she didn't think to write down the truck's license plate number. Instead, her most pressing thought was to save the little dog from the freezing temperatures. She grabbed the dog, packed her into her vehicle, and headed off to the clinic.
Before Penny the pit bull could be placed in a foster home, her tolerance for children had to be tested. "I was careful to introduce Penny to kids," says Jennifer Ortman. "But I believed in her so much that I trusted her with my own boys." Penny, pictured here with Zachary, 9, and Zane, 4, passed with flying colors. (Photos courtesy of Jennifer Ortman)
After the dog's initial evaluation, only one thing was certain: This pit bull was lucky to have been rescued by a veterinarian. The scaring on her face indicated that she'd probably been in quite a few fights. Many of her teeth were missing, and most of the ones she did still have were either broken or badly worn. But this only added character to her giant smile.
Diagnostics revealed that the dog suffered from many health problems. To start with, she was burdened with intestinal parasites, including whip and hook worms. She also tested positive for heartworms. To top it off, she was pregnant. Most troubling, however, was the large, ugly, oozing abscess on the left side of her massive jaws.
After all the tests were completed, we put the dog in one of our kennels. She stood at the gate, gold eyes peering out with a stunning warmth. Her wounded face frequently melted into a smile and her tail erupted into vigorous wags with every kind word or pat on the head she received. This pit bull that had just been tossed away quickly made friends with all of our team members, and everyone took part in her care. Her cage tag simply read rescue, but over the next few days, we officially named her Penny.
During the time that Penny stayed at our clinic, she enjoyed good nutrition, a warm bed, and almost constant attention. This, along with her amazing spirit, helped speed her recovery. Our medical team spayed her and terminated her pregnancy of twelve midterm puppies. Slowly, she began to regain her body condition, and she started to look like a healthy dog.
Passing with flying colors
This meant it was time to find a rescue group that would help us secure Penny's future. Through contacts at the Columbus Dog Connection, we were directed to Measles Animal Haven. After much communication, Measles agreed to post Penny on its Web site and put her name on its foster-home waiting list. We scheduled an in-person meeting with the organization's director to evaluate Penny's personality and determine if she could be placed in a household along with other dogs.
The day of the evaluation, Penny rode peacefully beside me in the crate. She happily greeted the Measles director with a lick on the face. She even made friends with the director's cat. It was almost as if Penny knew this meeting was a good thing that would change her life forever.
After Penny's successful assessment (she was deemed fit for adoption into a multiple-dog household), she returned to our clinic for heartworm treatment. She endured the process like a trooper and was soon ready to tackle the next item on her treatment plan: The disconcerting wound on her face.
A shot at recovery
The large abscess didn't respond to the first round of antibiotics and had actually managed to increase in size. The veterinarian ordered a second round of antibiotics, but this, too, failed to reduce or eliminate the angry-looking sore in Penny's jaw. The abscess eventually erupted, and Penny underwent exploratory surgery the following day.
Nothing could have prepared us for what the doctor found. The cause of Penny's perpetual abscess and stubborn infection was a .40 caliber bullet lodged firmly in her jaw tissue. Someone had shot this poor dog in the face with a semiautomatic pistol.
But not even a gunshot could get Penny down. She had endured this extraordinary circumstance with grace and patience. In fact, taking a bullet didn't seem to affect Penny in hardly any way. She grinned through her scars and continued to heal more each and every day. Before long, her facial surgery site was unnoticeable, and she had gained 20 pounds. Finally, Penny was well. After a clean bill of health and five months at our clinic, it was time for her to move on.
Second chance at happiness
My co-workers and I were sad to say goodbye to Penny. But she was all but beaming while my sons and I drove her to her foster family's home. She sat on my boys' laps, her tail wagging the entire way. (By knowing Penny, I came to understand that the translation for a whipping tail is, "Thank you.") I'm sure she knew she was on her way to a better place, and, eventually, to a forever home.
Penny had been in foster care for just two weeks when the Measles director sent our clinic word of her pending adoption. The director told us that the members of Penny's potential family already owned a greyhound and they were looking to add another special dog to their pack. One meeting with Penny was all it took. The family welcomed her into their home—and their hearts.
I've never met Penny's new family, but I know they're lucky people—almost as lucky as Penny. I'm still attached to Penny, and I'm planning a reunion visit to her new home in the very near future.
I learned an invaluable lesson from this slight but incredible dog. In spite of being cruelly abandoned and shot, she was ready and eager to begin again. Even though life turned on her, she still wagged her tail. She welcomed the touch of a human hand. She remained hopeful. And she trusted.
Jennifer Ortman, MS, is practice manager at Masterson Veterinary Clinic in Somerset, Ohio. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org