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Saving Lucy: 18-Month-Old Dog Saved by Door County Humane Society Intervention

 

By doing something most people find distasteful, Steven Petry of Sturgeon Bay set in motion a series of events that ended up saving the life of a sweet 18-month-old female dog named Lucy.

Petry had just bought a house for his young family and decided it was time to add a dog to the mix. He learned that a family friend’s pitbull had just given birth to seven puppies and they were being sold for $200 each. They were less than two weeks old when Petry picked out one of the puppies, but soon after he got a telephone call saying that puppy had died. The dog owner told Petry he could come and pick another one and he could have it at the reduced price of 50 bucks.

Unbeknownst to Petry, the owner was eager to sell because Lucy was unable to feed the puppies and they were dying faster than the owner could get rid of them.

Petry went to the dog owner’s home to pick up a three-week-old female pup.

“From what I saw when we walked in, I knew right away we had to do something,” Petry said. “Lucy (the mother dog) was laying on the bathroom floor, skin and bones, not moving.”

He said his puppy “was really small. She couldn’t walk. Her eyes weren’t even open.”

He took the pup home with the idea of bottle feeding it, but the puppy’s weak and puny condition, combined with the memory of the pup’s mother’s emaciated condition, prompted Petry to call the Door County Sheriff’s Dept. to report dog abuse.

“I don’t like having to do that,” he said. “It wasn’t easy making that call, but I knew full well those dogs aren’t able to make the decisions on their own. They need someone to help them. They can’t take care of themselves.”

With his call to the sheriff’s department, Petry was told he would first have to get the Door County Humane Society involved.

“So I called the humane society and got everything going,” he said. “I got a call back two hours later that Lucy was at the humane society.”

It was Door County Humane Officer Bridget Isaksen who made the decision to not only seize Lucy, but her other remaining pup as well.

“I took one look at her and thought, this dog needs to come with me. Once I said I was taking Lucy, he wasn’t happy about it, but once I said I was taking the puppy, too, it escalated fast. In my face,” said Isaksen, who, incidentally, was making her first solo assessment as humane officer. “He was more mad that I was taking that puppy because someone was coming for it that day.”

Isaksen, accompanied by a deputy from the Door County Sheriff’s Department, seized the two dogs and drove them to the humane society, where she met with her mentor and fellow humane officer Dr. Deb Johnson.

“So we have this incredibly skinny, skinny dog. She lost one-third of her body weight,” Johnson said. “She sat up on our exam table and really was so weak that she had to lay down.”

This is how Lucy looked when she was brought to the Door County Humane Society on March 3, 2015. She weighed 29 pounds. Submitted.

This is how Lucy looked when she was brought to the Door County Humane Society on March 3, 2015. She weighed 29 pounds. Submitted.

Johnson said after examining Lucy, for the first time in her career, she told the humane society staff that the dog might not be alive tomorrow.

“She was that bad,” she said. “She was at the bottom of the body condition score.”

Lucy weighed 29 pounds.

One of the things Isaksen noted in her investigation and took photos of at the dog owner’s house was the type of food Lucy was given.

“She was fed incredibly poor food [Twin Pet Dry Dog Food]. It costs $5 a bag for 13 pounds at Walmart,” said Johnson, who bought a bag to check the nutritional contents.

“One cannot purchase wood shavings for a guinea pig cage for this price,” Johnson wrote in a report on the case.

She found the protein content in the dog food to be 16.5 percent, which she said might be OK for a normal dog, but a pregnant and then lactating female needed quadruple the protein available in the cheap dog food.

“I thought, that’s the answer, bad food,” Johnson said. “We put her on a protocol. We have daily care sheets that we follow. Initially she was dewormed. We did blood work on her and it was consistent with starvation, but we also determined she had a massive infection. Super high white blood cell count. She was terribly anemic. She had no external wounds. She just whelped, maybe her uterus was infected. She didn’t have mammary glands to speak of, which is why the puppies were dying. So I put her on antibiotics. We needed small little meals frequently. One of the risks Lucy faced, when you lose 10 percent of your body weight or more, you’re at risk of re-feeding syndrome, which they learned about when they freed prisoners from concentration camps. You can’t just go out and eat a steak.

“She ate like a champ. She drank, but she was still extremely weak. We trucked along like this the first week,” Johnson said. “She came in on a Tuesday, I went back and checked her on a Friday. By then Lucy was pretty comfortable with us. She’s a doll. She took to laying down and letting us rub her tummy. She’s a very good, calm dog, and like a good veterinarian, I took advantage of that. While she was laying down, I pressed her tummy, just to check and I felt something very bad and rigid way down in the abdomen. She was up in a flash and she put her mouth over my hand as gently as if she were admonishing her own puppy. She hurt.”

After a full week at the shelter, Lucy had gained only two pounds.

“Her color was getting better, but her infection numbers were horrible,” Johnson said.

At that point Johnson was praying that Lucy was suffering from constipation rather than having a dead puppy inside her system.

“I was afraid there was a mummified fetus in there, so we took her to Dr. [Sherry] Billett’s office,” Johnson said. “They opened her up and found the infected uterus, and Dr. Billett said…”

“There’s more going on here!” said Billett, who performed 3½ hours of surgery on Lucy. “It was astounding. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. It was considered exploratory because you don’t know what you’re going to find. Literally, in 30 years of practice, I haven’t seen anything that bad.”

She added that because they really didn’t know what was going on with Lucy, the surgery was high risk.

“We didn’t know for sure if we would have a dog after surgery, but we also knew she wouldn’t survive without it,” Billett said. “She survived it like a trooper. She is one tough dog. She had apparently been scrounging for whatever she could find to eat. She was so full of foreign material. We took out bits of plastic and fabric of some sort, and bones. I don’t know if she cannibalized one of her puppies or if he was feeding her bones. All this foreign material had been in there for so long, it had sawed through the wall of the bowel. It had cut through at a number of points. One of those places where she had embedded material up by the pancreas and small intestine, which you can’t go without. It had been there long enough that it had fibrosed. There was a ton of scar tissue that tried to wall off these injuries. That’s what gave us the immediate tipoff that this was a chronic thing, that it didn’t just happen.”

As Dr. Billett and her team worked to save Lucy, the county’s legal team went into action against Lucy’s owner. A civil case was begun through the county corporation counsel’s office in order to recoup costs of caring for Lucy, and the severity of abuse was enough to criminally charge the owner with misdemeanor abuse.

“Our county attorney sent a letter to the owner saying the vets have determined she will die without surgery,” said Dr. Johnson.

“So he got brought into the loop.”

“What happened in this case, the investigation led the humane officer to the decision to seize the two dogs,” said Corporation Counsel Grant Thomas. “Once that happens, my office will file a petition for disposition of animals because we want the owner to be responsible for holding the animals and disposing of the animals, versus the county, so we get it into court as quickly as possible, but when you have a criminal case that’s paralleling the civil case, the civil case tends to get delayed, just because of the way the statutes read.”

The dogs were seized on March 3, 2015, and remained in shelter care until July 22, 2015, which amounted to about $9,000 in costs, but the county had to wait for the disposition of the criminal misdemeanor trial before seeking the costs from the owner.

Thomas pointed out that the owner could have been free of that fiduciary responsibility to the dogs.

“The bleeding could have been stopped the day the animals were seized if he would have agreed to surrender the animals to the humane society,” Thomas said. “But he had a perfect right not to. He hired an attorney and had a jury trial and ended up losing. We are now sitting with a judgment of almost $9,000 we are trying to collect. We are trying on the civil side to determine if he has any assets or funds/property to seize to pay this off. As of now we have not been successful.”

Thomas also points out that the $9,000 bill for Lucy’s care does not include the surgical work Dr. Billett and her team performed on Lucy.

“The vets volunteered to work on her,” he said. “We paid their out-of-pocket expenses but they didn’t bill us for their time in surgery and follow-up. People that are involved in this are passionate and dedicated and will bend over backwards to help.”

Thomas said while this type of animal abuse case is rare, Door County is “absolutely blessed” to have the team it does in place when such a case occurs.

“I can’t say enough for Dr. Johnson. She is the only county humane officer in the state who is a veterinarian,” he said. “She’s phasing herself out, and we have Bridget Isaksen riding on her heels and training under her.”

Assistant District Attorney Joan Korb prosecuted the case.

“I can’t do a prosecution unless these guys do their jobs by investigating it thoroughly,” she said. “Door County is lucky. I think we’re the only county in the state that has a trained veterinarian as a humane officer. And then we get a veterinary technician to assist and who is now a full-fledged humane officer. They know what they’re doing. Every time we have a new case, Bridget gets much better and knows what to look for, not just protecting the animal, but what we need for the case in court.”

Korb said the owner came up with all sorts of excuses for minimizing his culpability.

“It was amazing that this case actually went to trial,” she said. “It took a day. We had a half-dozen witnesses. Deb analyzed the nutritional content of what Lucy was being fed compared to what she should have been receiving. We’re teaching the jury. Deb was so good at it, she ought to be teaching at a veterinary school. I think Dr. Billett was probably the last witness. We did a PowerPoint for the jury with pictures of the dog, what it looked like in the home, the complete surgery, the jury was riveted listening to Dr. Billett explain what was going on and what was in this dog. The jury was out, literally, 10 minutes. After the jury goes out, I go down to my office and I haven’t even sat down at my desk and the jury was back.”

When court reconvened with the verdict, the jury had one overwhelming question: How is Lucy? What happened to her?

“She has the life of Riley now,” Dr. Johnson said, adding that after nearly four months of care from humane society kennel manager Rachel Asher and others at the shelter, Lucy left with new owners weighing 43.18 pounds. “All’s well that ends well.”

“She is such a special dog,” Billett said. “There are a lot of dogs that would have just given up.”

“What starts this is somebody contacting police and saying there’s an issue. They have to start the process,” said Door County Humane Society Executive Director Carol Boudreau. “That was the beginning of this, the young man calling in March 2015.”

“It takes courage for a stranger to call the police and say ‘What I’ve just seen is reprehensible’,” Korb said.

“I look at dogs as family,” said Steven Petry. “When they said the odds of any of them being alive was slim to none if I hadn’t made the call, at that point, I knew I did the right thing.”

And today, Lucy’s pup, Harley, is Petry’s daughter’s best friend.

“Everywhere my daughter goes – she’ll be two on Christmas Eve – that dog goes with her,” he said.

 

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