the personal views, thoughts, and musings of donna d'errico

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why Bother Getting A Dog?

One of my rescues, Hank, is a great big bear of a dog. He has dark brown fur, a large, muscular body, huge head and muzzle, large ears that stand up, and is 93 pounds of solid muscle. Speeding toward you, barking and with teeth bared and ears forward, he is a frightening sight for anyone who might dare to trespass or try to break in. What they wouldn't know, however, is that Hank is the gentlest, sweetest dog this side of the Mississippi. (That's Hank with me in the photo on the left from a couple years ago helping me to promote spaying and neutering for all dogs and cats.)

Hank is somewhere around 5 years old now, and we've had him for 4 years this month. His previous owner had gotten Hank when he was a puppy, put a chain around his neck, and chained him to a tree in his backyard. He stayed that way for the first year of his life, during which time he grew from a puppy into the very large dog he is today. His owner never bothered to loosen the chain around Hank's neck as he grew. When he was finally rescued, he could barely stand up. From the neck down, he was skin and bones. From the neck up, the water retention and swelling made his head resemble a watermelon. His entire face was also mostly void of fur due to a terrible case of Demodectic mange. He was unable to swallow, and was slowly starving to death. As he had grown, his connective tissue grew completely over the puppy-sized chain, embedding it deep in his neck.

He was whisked to an animal hospital, where the vet went to work surgically removing the deeply embedded chain from Hank's neck. The vet had to cut deep into Hank's neck all the way around in order to get to the chain. Afterward, what remained of Hank's neck was beyond words. The vet had to cut down so deep to remove the chain that that portion of Hank's neck was left only as big around as a puppy's neck. But thankfully, Hank could now at least breathe better and could swallow. The swelling around his head and face began to drain, and he began to gain some weight.

On one of our routine visits to the local animal shelter (we go there to visit the animals pretty often), my son, Rhyan, noticed Hank. He still had stitches encircling his neck, his fur was not quite grown back in after having been shaved for his surgery, he still didn't have fur on most of his face due to the mange, and the swelling in his face and head was not gone. But there he was, wagging his tail and jumping around playfully trying to get Rhyan's attention.

After spending some time playing with Hank, Rhyan came and got me. We already had Molly, who Linda Blair had rescued from a kill shelter in downtown LA and had brought to us in hopes that we would take her after our other rescue, Bone, passed away. I told Rhyan we weren't getting another dog. But he insisted that I just take a look at this dog, Hank.

Hank came home with us that day.

That was four years ago. He has long since healed, and is the most amazing dog ever. The scar encircling his neck became, in time, less noticeable. He gained weight and muscle, the swelling went down in his face, and after two years of aggressive treatment he was able to get completely rid of his mange. But he isn't quite out of the woods yet.

As Hank's neck healed, it formed a thick, deep scar all the way around his neck. Over time, that scar has constricted, as scars will do. What that means is that the thick band of scar tissue encircling his neck is shrinking, giving him less and less room to breathe or swallow. It eventually got to the point where Hank was pretty much panting all the time. I had the vet take an x-ray of Hank's neck, and it was clear that the thick band of scar tissue was beginning to strangle him. He needed more room to breathe and swallow. So Rhyan and I agreed to allow Hank's vet to go back in and remove a section of the scar from one side of Hank's neck.

That was a month ago. He stitched a portion of it closed, and left a small area unstitched so as to hopefully have it heal a bit wider than before. He had to go back in for more stitches and a drainage tube, and gets the new stitches out next week (the picture at the top right is a photo of Hank's neck today). Even though this new surgery site will form a scar that will constrict as well, his vet is hoping that even after it heals and constricts, he will still be left with at least a bit more room than he had before. So far it is looking good, and that area feels much softer and looser than it did before. Hank will always have a neck that is smaller than he needs, so anything that can be done to make him even a bit more comfortable is worth it.

His previous owner was never prosecuted, by the way. So he is still out there, no lesson learned, free to do this to another dog. You know, if you are just going to take the dog you get and chain him up to a tree in your backyard, ignoring him as he lays there suffering and suffocating....why bother getting a dog?


  1. Donna I love how much heart and soul you and Rhyan have, especially with animals. We too, love our pets deeply. We have 4 cats and wish we could help more, but we are at capacity. I love that we have given them a better home than wandering homeless. I applaud your efforts. <3

  2. You have always been a kind and generous soul!! God bless you for all you do!! I love my rescues 2 dogs and 2 cats. You just are not living unless you can experience unconditional love from a sweet innocent creature every day! Give Hank a hug for me!!

  3. Hi Donna..I don't know why but I can't post my comment below your link on facebook:( I have decided to respond you directly here..

    I'm so sorry for Hank....I don't have a dog because I couldn't give him the attentions he needs..but actually, I love all the animals..I have a horse, and unfortunately her story is not so different from Hank's..when I bought her, six year ago, she was nearly dying because her previous owner didn't give her some food and water, the hygienic conditions were really terrible and he beated her up
    :(, she is fine but she is still very scared by people..she trusts only me and my dad..
    what I hate most is that all these people are not punished and as you have already said, free to do the same things to another animal..sometimes I ask myself who are the real beasts..

    ..I'm very happy your dog is fine now:)..thank God there are wonderful people like you who take care of animals so much!!..

    thanks for sharing your experience with us Donna:)..all the best to you!!..

    ps:sorry for my english, I'm italian and I don't speak english well
    :(..a big hug:)

  4. Hank's story makes my heart ache. I'm so glad he was rescued. I will never understand how people can do such things to animals.

  5. Donna,

    I didn't realize that Hank was only five years old. I sure hope all these surgical operations help; especially since it must be difficult for a dog to heal properly (you can't tell him not to scratch his neck). Hank is a great dog, and all he requires is a little attention, a little petting, and an occasional snack. I know he enjoys his runs with Rhyan the most, although I guess those will have to wait until he heals from his operations. You guys are good with all your pets.


  6. Hi Donna:

    I’ve read your blog and have often seen references and photos on the Internet about your love of animals and your rescue efforts. And I thank you and your family for that.

    I’ve never written on a Blog before and I’m not sure I can attach a photo of a family pet, three-year old Zoey. The family has a toddler and soon, a baby, and the dog is just too rambunctious for the kids. Zoey is a female Dalmatian mix, was adopted two years ago from Agoura Animal Shelter and will return there in two weeks if a home can’t be found.

    I’m contacting everyone I can think of, knowing that they might not be in a position to take Zoey but I’m hoping if the word gets passed along, maybe it will be just the right place at the right time for someone.

    Zoey is a good dog, submissive, well-trained on verbal commands, completely house broken, and only wants to please and be loved. She gets along with children and loves playing with all dogs. She can be spooked by strangers but after she is gently introduced she wants only to be petted. She loves her crate and gladly sleeps in it nightly. An ideal home would involve some yard with some shade and another dog.

    If you, or anyone reading this, is thinking about getting a dog, please pass this on to them and look for Zoey at the Agoura Animal Shelter in a couple weeks from today, September 1, 2010.

    Thank you.