Dog gone lucky: $10,000 raised for injured Cornwall pup

MIDDLEBURY — Homeward Bound Executive Director Jessica Danyow’s office window looks over the drop-off area for new, furry additions to the Addison County’s Human Society shelter. She witnesses a sporadic parade of pooches and pussycats with assorted hard-luck stories that all include a common chapter: No place to call home.

On Feb. 12 Danyow noticed an unusual arrival limp into the shelter.

“I knew that we didn’t have any dogs scheduled to take in that day, but I saw a woman lean over a husky that was more burrs and matts and dirt than fluffy white fur,” she recalled on Thursday. The woman had found the dog wandering in a wooded area of Cornwall and decided to bring him in for care.

Further observation revealed the young male dog, dubbed “Pico,” had a seriously injured right hind leg to go along with his disheveled appearance. Speculation is that Pico had either been struck by a vehicle or had been abused by a human. He was wearing a collar, so Danyow believes he had an owner at some point. Homeward Bound officials were impressed with the resiliency and friendliness Pico exhibited in spite of the pain he was undoubtedly experiencing.

“Huskies are often a little aloof,” noted Danyow. “But he was very loving toward humans. He was in pain, but that good-naturedness never wavered.”

A quick trip to the Middlebury Animal Hospital revealed much more than a simple hitch in Pico’s get-along.

“The X-rays showed a bad break that was going to require reconstructive surgery,” Danyow said.

The Middlebury Animal Hospital veterinarian recommended amputation of Pico’s leg, given the complexity of reconstruction and an arduous rehabilitation process that the precocious pup would have had to endure — with no guarantee of success. And Danyow noted that dogs often eventually develop arthritis in limbs that have been pinned.

The veterinarian reasoned that at one-and-a-half years old, Pico could adapt well to life on three legs.

“Given his age, they said ‘He’s a young, strong dog and (amputation) would be a much cleaner surgery and he will get on with his life more quickly,’” Danyow said.

Homeward Bound officials learned that the amputation surgery would cost around $3,250. The nonprofit organization simply did not have that sum in its budget and decided, on an emergency basis, to put out a call for donations.

“We budget for special needs of animals, but not necessarily for a surgery that costs $3,000 to $4,000, for one dog,” Danyow explained.

The organization publicized Pico’s plight on its own website, on its Facebook page, and through the crowd funding website gofundme.com.

“We at Homeward Bound believe that Pico has a bright future with a loving, caring family,” reads some text that appears below a photo of Pico on the gofundme appeal. “This surgery is paramount to his future and we ask that animal lovers everywhere consider sponsoring his surgery.”

The response to Pico’s cause was, in Danyow’s words, “absolutely mind blowing.”

“Within 24 hours of (posting the appeal), we were almost there,” Danyow said of the $3,250 goal, “and the money was still pouring in.”

And the news got even better.

Just as the fund-raising needle eclipsed $3,250, veterinarian Nate Heilman of the Qi Vet Clinic in South Burlington called offering to perform Pico’s surgery for free.

“It was fantastic,” she said of the news. “We accepted (the offer) without question.”

All of a sudden, Homeward Bound had an embarrassment of riches available for a patient that was now in line for a free operation. So Danyow and her colleagues updated the website with the good news and offered to refund the contributions to donors living as far away as Florence, Italy. Those gofundme donations at this point had reached $7,510.

“Not a single person wanted a refund,” Danyow said with a smile.

In fact, additional contributions dropped off at the shelter have totaled $1,852 as of this writing and have brought the “Pico fund” total to almost $10,000. This special needs medical account will be used to defray surgery expenses for future shelter animals requiring medical TLC.

“It’s been such a heartwarming response,” Danyow said. “The beauty of it is that the next animal that walks through our door, whether it needs surgery, or extensive diagnostic treatment — whatever they need, we can say ‘Yes, we can give that to you.’ We’ve got the funds, thanks to everyone who stepped up for Pico.”

Homeward Bound will continue to accept contributions for the Pico fund, through PayPal or checks. Danyow is not planning gofundme campaigns for other shelter animals.

“I see it as a last resort,” Danyow said of the special appeal for Pico. “It would be disingenuous for us to repeatedly use gofundme.”

Pico underwent successful surgery on Feb. 24. In addition to the amputation, he was neutered and had three rotting molars extracted. Pico was also treated for a nasty infection in both of his ears.

Thursday saw him convalescing in a segregated room at Homeward Bound. Though clearly still smarting from his procedures, Pico gamely got up from his cozy cushion and hobbled over for quick audience with a nosy reporter and a persistent pup-arazzo.

Chris Ouellette, animal care coordinator for Homeward Bound, slipped him a few treats. Pico’s mouth was still tender, but he chewed through the pain.

“He’s doing real well, for what he’s had done,” said Ouellette, who took Pico to her own house following the operation. She was impressed to see Pico negotiate four steps without his right hind leg.

And yes, Pico will be up for adoption within around two weeks, after his stitches are out. The celebrity husky is expected to draw considerable interest. Information about Pico can be found on homewardboundanimals.org.

“We’ll make sure to tell people through our website when he is able to receive visitors,” Danyow said.

The groundswell of support for Pico can be called “a textbook case of ‘It takes a village,’” Danyow said. “I also attribute it to the innocence of Pico and of animals in general.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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