Filthy, matted, emaciated and weak, with pieces of debris and wire embedded in her caked-together fur, she burrowed deep under a construction pallet under the hot Arizona sun, alone and scared, to deliver her puppies.
By the time her rescuers came to dig her out, the look on the German shepherd’s sad face was one of defeat. “Help me,” her forlorn, pleading eyes said to them.
And they did, as they struggled nonstop to dig her out from the mud and dirt left from the preceding day’s monsoon, using only their bare hands.
A day earlier, construction workers who had been feeding the dog saw her digging the den. One construction worker told his wife, who began making phone calls to try to get help. She contacted Saving Paws Rescue AZ, in Glendale, Arizona, a group that saves mainly German shepherd and Belgian Malinois dogs.
Off to the rescue!
Trish Houlihan, Saving Paws’ founder and executive director, and Charis Williams, a foster and volunteer, quickly loaded up the rescue’s van with food, water, crates, blankets and a slip lead. It was September 1, 2015 and 106 degrees. Upon arrival at the site, they were faced with a huge obstacle.
“She dug her den under a pallet fairly deeply, but it had heavy equipment on top of it,” Williams said. “There was no way to remove the pallet to get her out, so we had to crawl under there.” There was no certified forklift operator on site and only a handful of workers remained in the oppressive heat to help. The previous night’s monsoon had left muddy conditions and freestanding water.
The construction workers led Houlihan and Williams to the dog. “You could just see a little of her head poking out,” Williams said. The construction workers had placed water for the dog at the den’s opening.
“Trish and I got down and started digging her out,” Williams said. “It took about 20 minutes to get the slip lead around her neck. The dog seemed incredibly weak and tired, kind of like she was saying, ‘I’m not going to fight but I want to make sure my babies are OK.'”
Even more troubling was that the hole was dark and there was a drop-off at the dog’s backside. “When I went to pull her I was worried that she could be caught on something I could not see,” Houlihan said. “Once I felt the wires, I had to be sure she was not tangled up in the lumber pallet. I could hear the puppies but could not see them.”
The search continues
They tried to coax the dog out with food but were unsuccessful. Instead Houlihan gently pulled her out. She did not growl or wiggle away. “She was very weak and somewhat afraid, but she appeared to be ready for help,” Williams said. They then carried her to the van and placed her in a crate. She was very dirty, bloody, thin and weak. They gave her some water and tried some food but she wouldn’t eat. They returned to the den for the puppies.
The first four rescued puppies after they were placed in a crate.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
No one knew how many puppies there were or where the dog actually gave birth. It is possible the dog gave birth in another location and then brought the puppies to the den under the pallet, but Houlihan and Williams knew they had to search. “I started to reach under the pallet to find the babies,” Houlihan said. “One by one I got them out, but the hole dropped off and my arms were not long enough to go further.” Even with a light, it was too dark. Houlihan and Williams left with three puppies, not knowing if there were others.
Thankfully, they found that one of the construction workers took home one of the puppies. After contacting him they convinced him to return the puppy, as the little one would not survive without the mother.
A relieved Stormy and her six nursing puppies after they arrived at the Pratts’ home.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
The puppies were placed in a crate and Houlihan and Williams returned to the den one last time. They dug from all angles and then remained silent to see if they could hear any noise. After 45 minutes they determined if there were others, they might have died. Back at the van, they found the mother dog had gotten very sick in the crate. They cleaned up, drove to pick up the fourth puppy and headed back to the rescue center.
Mom and babies reunite
Back at the center, volunteers helped with baths and checkups for puppies and the mom, now named Stormy. They found wire and debris matted in her fur.
Alan Pratt feeding one of Stormy’s puppies while three of the Pratts’ dogs ensure he does a good job.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
Then a phone call came in from the construction workers: An operator had been brought in to remove the pallet, and they found two remaining pups alive and brought them to the rescue center. “By then mom was settled and everyone was nursing,” Williams said. “A calm came over Stormy when she had all her puppies.”
From the start, although sickly, Stormy always engaged with people, and she never growled, hissed or got angry, even when her puppies were handled by others. “She was a welcoming dog to anyone who showed her attention,” Williams said of Stormy, who was only 9 or 10 months old herself.
Stormy’s bouts of diarrhea contained debris, rocks, gravel, water and fast food wrappers. “She was desperately eating whatever she could to try to take care of the family she was carrying,” Williams said.
A temporary foster home was needed, which is when Susan Pratt stepped in. A Saving Paws foster and volunteer, Pratt was at the rescue that day and took a video of Stormy’s first bath. “I saw a very shell-shocked dog who had very sad eyes,” she told The Dodo. When Stormy was reunited with her puppies “she was so exhausted or sick that she really didn’t keep good track of the puppies. A few fell off the puppy bed and she didn’t really respond to that.”
Pratt’s husband, Alan, would pick up the dogs the next day. Pratt went home to construct a whelping box to be ready for their arrival.
A turn for the worse
At the Pratts’ home, Stormy continued to nurse her puppies but she was still a mess: Blood and chunks of uterine tissue came from her back end, an area they would often bathe. The puppies nursed but cried. Stormy continued to bleed excessively, so that week they brought her to the veterinarian. Concerned about germs Stormy might bring home to the puppies, the clinic ensured everything was sterilized. Her weight was still low at 51 pounds.
Stormy was in the hospital too many times.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
Dr. Bryan Neidigh, DVM (Desert Hills Animal Clinic), feared she had a subinvoluted uterus whereby her uterus was not contracting to stop the bleeding. Bloodwork determined she was anemic and at risk of bleeding to death. Neidigh also tested for heartworm and valley fever, which is a disease of the lungs in people and animals that is common in the southwest and northwestern Mexico. Although negative for valley fever, Stormy tested positive for heartworm. Bloodwork showed microfilariae, which are microscopic baby heartworms, in the bloodstream. The vet said the uterus often repairs itself, but he was concerned about performing an emergency spay because of Stormy’s extensive medical complications; he feared she would not make it.
Stormy’s muscle structure was poor. She was emaciated. She hadn’t had a good diet.
She was in pretty bad shape.
Stormy loved snuggling with her pups.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
Neidigh scheduled spay surgery for September 10. Her bleeding hadn’t stopped, Pratt said, so they brought her in as scheduled. With only a 25 percent chance of making it through, permission was given to do a blood transfusion if necessary.
According to Pratt, the vet said, “This is serious. She needs to take every ounce of what she has to recover.”
Stormy couldn’t catch a break
Stormy was banned from nursing her pups because her health was in jeopardy and she did not have the reserves. The Pratts brought Stormy home and tended to her while learning how to bottle feed the six puppies. Instead of getting better, she took another turn for the worse. Stormy’s temperature had shot up to 107! (Normal temp is 101 to 102.5 for dogs.)
A call to the vet prompted a visit to the animal hospital VetMed, which was more equipped for 24/7 emergency situations. They lowered Stormy’s temperature and stabilized her. Pratt brought Stormy home only to turn around and bring her back the next morning as Stormy’s temperature shot back up to 107.4.
“Don’t die,” Pratt said to Stormy. “You’re too sweet.”
Although Stormy was near death and they had to bottle feed six puppies, “We were in it for the long haul,” Pratt said.
Blitz is one of Stormy’s puppies.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
Stormy stayed a couple nights at the emergency clinic. Complications from her surgery and pneumonia were possibilities, so they put her on antibiotics. The Pratts brought her home again doing everything to keep the pups from nursing off their mother, including putting a T-shirt on her so they could not suckle but could still bond.
An uneventful two weeks followed, with Stormy recovering, the puppies growing, and mom spending some time with her pups. However, she was not very protective and seemed content to have the Pratts do the work. Stormy was just not OK.
Stormy fights for her life
On September 20, Neidigh began Stormy’s heartworm protocol as per the American Heartworm Society. Serious and potentially fatal, heartworm is not to be taken lightly. Living in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels, foot-long worms cause heart failure, lung disease and damage to other organs.
Because of Stormy’s weakened state, it was touch and go from the beginning. Following her first dose of the heartworm drug ivermectin, “the vet said the next 48 hours are critical,” Pratt said. Keeping her calm was imperative. This first stage of the protocol was intended to kill off the microfilariae.
Stormy being chased by her new ‘sister’ Dallas at her new home on a 2-acre horse farm.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
The treatment was working and Stormy gained strength and improved as her puppies continued to grow and get stronger every day. They took it day by day. On October 20 she received her second ivermectin treatment.
The week before her first Immiticide injection (November 19), intended to kill the adult heartworms, all her puppies were adopted. Immiticide is arsenic-based and Stormy would be at risk of a pulmonary embolism or stroke, so keeping her calm and extremely quiet was imperative; having her puppies out of the house was perfect timing.
“I spent the night with her on the couch for that first injection,” Pratt said. “We spent a lot of nights together on the couch.” Stormy began to feel better immediately. She received her second and third Immiticide shots back to back after Christmas with Dr. Rhonda Lepardo, DVM, at Amherst Animal Clinic. “Within days she was starting to show signs of being a puppy.”
Stormy wins the battle
On January 27, bloodwork showed Stormy was clear of microfilariae. The uphill battle for Stormy’s life was won. She wanted to play. She was more energetic. She began to engage the Pratt’s other five dogs. “Finally. She’s feeling better and we could allow it,” Pratt said.
Stormy checks at her new horse.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
“We went back and forth about keeping her,” Pratt said. “It was a long, labored and painful decision, but the right home came along” on January 30.
Home for Stormy is a 2-acre horse farm with another female German shepherd named Dallas. “Within minutes they were chasing each other and it was really very heartwarming,” Pratt said. “We had done our job. She could finally be a puppy and have the life she deserved.”
Beautiful Stormy is now recovered and safe.SAVING PAWS RESCUE AZ
“Stormy has shown us her strength to survive for her puppies, her faith to trust again and her love to give to those that have cared for her,” Houlihan said. “Like all the dogs we have helped become healthy again and are with their forever families now, we say this is why we are here, this is what we do and with the help of those that follow us and believe in us, we will continue to do this work.”
Stormy will receive the Animal Survivor Hero Award on February 27 at the 13th Annual Hero Awards benefitting Friends of Animal Care & Control.