Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pit bull mix survives attack with ER care, lots of love

Animal Services seeks good home for 'great dog'

The brown and yellow dog leaped into Dr. Karen Sheppard's lap, his tail wagging hard.

Slugger, a 2-year-old pit bull mix also known as Rags, has lived at Huntsville Animal Services since September after he barely survived a brutal attack with a baseball bat that killed his sibling.

But after emergency treatment by Dr. Tim Crowell at Chase Animal Hospital and weeks of TLC by the Huntsville Animal Services staff, especially by Julia Harrison, the personable dog only has a small scar left on his head to indicate his horrific ordeal.

"It's his kiss from God," said Sheppard.

While lying in Sheppard's lap, Slugger/Rags stuffed his head into a visitor's purse sitting on the bench next to him. The canine's head surfaced with a sealed pack of graham crackers in his mouth. Sheppard gave the visitor the OK to give the friendly dog the treats, which he virtually swallowed whole. He quickly returned to the treasure purse, where he also found some cheese crackers. They, too, quickly disappeared.

"He's a great dog," said Sheppard. "We just want to find him an appropriate home. He has not had a good life."

On Sept. 19, an unidentified resident of a northeast Huntsville neighborhood phoned Animal Services about two dogs being beaten with a bat by their owner.

Officers Anthony Yates and Clanzelle Moore found one dog dead on the ground and the other in a trash can.

They had retrieved a camera from their truck to take pictures for evidence to support animal cruelty charges when they noticed the dog in the trash can was breathing.

They took him to Chase Animal Hospital where Crowell began work. The prognosis was grim. Slugger's skull was cracked open and his eyes were swollen.

"He was in rough shape," said Crowell. "He was essentially paralyzed."

No one expected him to survive, but the dog they named Slugger fooled them.

"We started him on steroids to cut down the inflammation," said Crowell. "I said, 'You're probably going to die, but I'm going to give it a try.' "

Crowell said Slugger's injuries were akin to those of dogs run over by a car tire. He said it was among the worst abuse cases he has ever seen.

When the dog stabilized, Crowell suggested a staff member at the clinic give him a bowl of food.

Slugger wolfed it down.

"After a few days he was looking pretty good when the Animal Services officer came by to see him," said Crowell. "He said, 'He looks good enough,' so he took him. It just takes a lot of time with a neurological insult. The fact he had someone take care of him is why he has done so well."

But injuries like that require quite a bit of work, and Slugger's vet bill rapidly grew to more than $1,200, which Animal Services paid.

After arriving at Animals Services, Slugger quickly became "King of the Hill." The employees called him Rags.

"We love that dog," said Sheppard. "It was obvious he had been loved at some point. We didn't have to teach him to jump in our lap and lie down."

Sheppard said the 38-pound dog would have died within a couple of hours had the neighbor not called to alert Animal Services.

"We need citizens to report concerns," she said. "If the person had not cared enough to call, Rags would be dead."

When Animal Services officers confronted the owner about the dogs, he still had the bat in his hand and admitted to beating them, said Sheppard.

She said there are some "mental issues" in the case. The owner failed to appear for a court date, so a warrant for his arrest has been issued.

"There is some mental incompetence with neglect," she said. "That makes it very difficult for us."

She said Slugger/Rags' case is in the top 10 percent of cruelty cases she has seen in her six years as director of Animal Services. She said the department handles about one cruelty case every three months. Most cases involve neglect, such as not providing adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care.

Sheppard has been tempted to keep Slugger/Rags as the shelter mascot, but believes he deserves a home after all his suffering.

"It's normal for the staff to get bonded with an animal after this," said Sheppard. "But he has a very cuddly personality, with medium to low energy. He needs to be in a home where he can be loved, and that's what we all want for him."

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