Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Animal control officers fight to save dog's life

Animal Care and Control Officer Morgan Hermann visit with Deja following the Thursday surgery to remove the dog's right front leg. Photo courtesy of Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic.

CLEARLAKE They work long hours, see a lot of sad stories and often get criticized in the course of doing their work. {sidebar id=40}

Despite all of that Animal Care and Control officers remain in incredibly difficult jobs because they love animals, said agency Program Director Paula Werner.

They often encounter situations of need, said Werner, and are forced to think with their heads even when their hearts are involved.

But every once in a while they get challenged in a way that throws practical thinking out the window, which is what happened this week.

Katie Bennett, who works in Animal Care and Control's front office, said they received a call Monday from Clearlake resident Michael Sims.

The 60-year-old Sims said he needed to surrender his dog and have her euthanized because he couldn't afford treatment for a tumor that had grown up on one of her legs, Bennett explained.

Bennett said they told Sims they could pick up the dog at 4 p.m. that day. Sims, however, said he couldn't, because he had an appointment at the mortuary to plan his wife's funeral.

Two days earlier, on Nov. 24, Sims lost his 52-year-old wife, Evelyn, to cancer. The couple, who had been married 17 years, have a 15-year-old son, Justin.

The family loved its animals, which included many birds and their two dogs, a 6-year-old Rottweiler named Deja – short for Dejavu – and Wiener, a 10-year-old Dachshund.

But they had to get rid of the birds in order to move into a rental after their home was foreclosed on, said Sims.

“It's been a real rough year,” he said.

Both of the dogs, said Sims, were rescues, animals that came into the lives of his family after their previous owners moved or could no longer keep them.

The aging Wiener was blind, deaf and suffering, said Sims, so he had already surrendered him to Animal Care and Control to be put down. “He knew his way around the yard, but it was time.”

But the younger Deja – “she's just beautiful, a sweetheart” – had only been with the family three years, said Sims.

Compounding the family's sorrow, in the past month, Sims said Deja's tumor appeared on her leg, seemingly, out of nowhere. “It came on real fast. I thought she was snake bit.”

Not thinking it was a tumor, Sims took Deja to the vet only to find out she required $2,000 worth of treatment, which included amputating her right front leg. That, coupled with seeing her in pain and his already stretched finances, led Sims to his heartbreaking decision.

Determined to get help

Animal Care and Control arranged to come and pick Deja up Wednesday. Sims – who has had dogs all of his life – said he got “a little emotional” when Officer Morgan Hermann arrived to take the dog.

The emotion quickly passed to Hermann and other Animal Care and Control staff as they learned Sims' story.

Bennett said they see a lot of sad stories come through their doors, but this one struck them especially hard.

When Hermann arrived back in Lakeport with Deja, Bennett said the staff concluded, “We've got to figure something out.”

On Wednesday, they took Deja to Clearlake Veterinary, which is their contract vet when seeking grants from the Cobb-based Acme Foundation, which gives grants to help seniors and the disabled pay for veterinary care for seriously ill pets.

Deja's prognosis, however, wasn't good, said Bennett.

Deja, who is young and in otherwise good health, is suffering from bone cancer, with treatment not likely to gain her much time. Because of that, the Acme Foundation's strict funding criteria didn't allow them to help, despite the fact that the group wanted to, said Bennett.

The staff at Animal Care and Control weren't ready to give up, said Bennett. The story had broken their hearts and given them a firm resolution, that they wouldn't put Deja to sleep.

Next, they turned to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic, and Dr. Chris Holmes, a vet there for the past 13 years.

Bennett said Wasson works closely with Animal Care and Control, frequently giving them discounts when treating animals in need.

Holmes said Hermann brought the dog to him, heartbroken over the situation. “I hate seeing Animal Control officers crying over a case,” he said.

The emotion shown by Hermann and her coworkers, said Holmes, told him there was a bigger story behind Deja's case.

So Holmes took on the case, which he said he was happy to do.

Before they even knew the cost, Bennett said Animal Care and Control staff were determined to get Deja help in order to reunite her with her family. “No matter what, we're doing it. Even if all of us here have to pay for it.”

Just after noon Thursday, Holmes completed the surgery to amputate Deja's leg, with its softball-sized tumor.

Speaking with Lake County News just after surgery, Holmes said Deja was recovering just fine.

“She looks good,” he said. “She's going to be instantly pain-free compared to where she was.”

Deja's condition, bone cancer – or osteosarcoma – is extremely painful, said Holmes. The cancer eventually will eat right through the bone, causing it to break.

Osteosarcoma often appears in the larger breeds, said Holmes, including Rottweilers and Great Danes.

While the surgery got rid of the tumor, Holmes was candid in saying that the cancer already had spread. “We know that it's elsewhere.”

The amputation buys Deja about six months, with three scheduled chemotherapy treatments – one of which started within a few hours of surgery – adding six more months to that, Holmes said.

“We're basically buying her a year of a good quality of life,” he said.

In the coming weeks, Deja will receive two more chemotherapy treatments of Carboplatin, drug also used on human cancer patients, Holmes explained.

The surgery and chemo treatments will cost about $2,500, said Holmes, after Wasson initially discounted the care by $500 as its donation.

Holmes also discovered Deja has heartworm, a condition Wasson will treat at its own cost, he said.

The issue of cost preventing a family from saving a pet isn't new, said Holmes.

“We often see cases where you get an older animal and it's a big problem and they do have to weigh the costs of treatment versus how much life they may actually buy them,” he said.

Some people use medical issues as a reason to get rid of pets, said Holmes. At the same time, “There are plenty of people who would spend all the money in the world and we still can't save them.”

Staff starts fundraiser effort

“I can't recall a case like this,” said Werner, who added that Animal Care and Control Staff have been “in a big fat puddle of tears” for the last few days over Deja's plight.

“This one just got to us, that's all I can say,” she said.

The closest case to Deja's was in 2006 involving “Hero,” a German shepherd found emaciated at a Lakeport home. Bennett said the community donated so much money that it easily covered all of Hero's treatment, again provided by Wasson Memorial.

Werner said about eight staffers so far have signed on to donate their own money “on our county paychecks, I might add.”

Community members also have started helping, said Bennett, with a Clearlake business donating $200.

Werner said Animal Care and Control staffers wanted to give Michael and Justin Sims back their dog for Christmas.

Holmes added, “Maybe his Christmas will be a little bit better.”

After a “rough year” – a decided understatement after what he's been through – Sims said Thursday the help he's received from Animal Care and Control and Wasson has given him “a different point of view.”

It's also given his teenage son some hope.

When he told Justin on Wednesday that Deja was getting help and may be coming back home, “He just lit up,” Sims said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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