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On the mend

By Staff | Feb 17, 2015

BRIAN WIERIMA Sunset has survived her extreme injuries and can walk on her own and eats healthy portions each and every day. The staff at GCHS has been instrumental in her recovery.

A life of neglect and severe abuse almost came to an end for a 2-year pit bull, after her usefulness expired when she gave birth to a litter of puppies.

The “owners” of this scrawny, sick and dehydrated dog decided it would be appropriate to get one more use out of her before they decided to put her out of her misery by throwing her in a pen full of hungry and vicious attack dogs to help train their bloodlust to become better fighters.

In most cases, the sad and pathetic story ends with a violent death to what is termed a “bait dog.”

But not on this day, which was Tuesday, Jan. 27.

No, on this day, a brave and courageous dog – or what was left of her – was tossed out like a bag of garbage on the road near Sunset Boulevard in Lehigh Acres.

Instead of dying, this dog persevered and kept breathing. She stayed alive long enough to be spotted by a former Gulf Coast Humane Society employee, in which he picked her up off the side of the road, fed her and brought her into his former work place in Fort Myers.

“She came in nearly comatose, she was pretty well ripped up,” said GCHS veterinarian Dr. Jeannette Barnes, who was on duty Jan. 27. “She had an injury to her left ear, which was almost ripped off her head. She had wounds down her mandible. Her feet were oozing and her left front foot pad was almost ripped off. Both of her ankles very swollen and full of puss.

“There were so many wounds, it was hard to tell what caused what. There were some slashing injuries and some bite injuries.”

But what happened in the ensuing days was a remarkable story of recovery and outpouring of sympathy, rage and disbelief from the public.

The “bait dog” was named Sunset, which was dubbed after the street she was found on. But the sun wouldn’t set on her life, instead it turned out to be a ray of sunshine in exposing the dirty world of dog fighting in the Fort Myers area.

Sunset was given a 50/50 chance of survival, partly due to her injuries, but mostly due to the widespread infection which was attacking those wounds. Add on top of that, she was nearly starved to death and very dehydrated after what can be guessed from months or years of severe neglect.

“What endangered her life the most, was the infection which was in so many parts of her body,” Dr. Barnes said. “Sunset was severely dehydrated and was emaciated, with almost no fat or no muscle on her body.”

Her physical injuries were very similar to that of those of a bait dog. In most cases, bait dog injuries consist of bite marks to the face and feet. In some cases, the bait dog is muzzled so it can’t fight back.

Sunset’s injuries to her face and feet were severe. Her left front foot pad was entirely ripped off, exposing the flexor tendons which moves her toes and foot.

Her left part of her upper lip was also ripped off.

“We started her immediately on fluids and medications, but she couldn’t hold the fluids, they were just flowing out,” Dr. Barnes said. “The real problem was the severe level of dehydration and emaciation. Her white cell count was very high, in the range of what most dogs have when they have a tumor. She was very anemic and sepsis settled in, which is infection throughout the entire body.”

The decision to try and save Sunset, instead putting her to sleep to end her suffering, was discussed by Dr. Barnes and GCHS executive director Jennifer Galloway.

Everything was considered, but in the end, the effort to save Sunset was made.

“This is what we do, we shelter animals and give them medical care,” was Galloway’s answer.

Dr. Barnes estimates Sunset was discarded within the 24 hours she was found. She also had signs of giving birth to a litter of puppies. There also were previous scars on her body, which resulted from previous injuries.

From the minute Sunset was brought into GCHS, she went from being alone and tortured, to the center of loving attention. Volunteers and employees of GCHS comforted the pitbull and tended to her needs.

The first three days were the most critical, as she ate and drank in liquids. Her infection rate was severe and remained crucial during that time.

“She is recovering slowly, it was nip and tuck for the first three days,” Dr. Barnes said. “We fed her numerous times a day in small portions and she was eating better, which was encouraging.

“I would say she didn’t see any affection during her life,” Dr. Barnes said. “I think she was used for breeding, and disposed of. That’s what I think her life has been.”

Another aspect Sunset started getting used to was all the good attention she was receiving from people. Chew toys, hugs, petting, along with soft kind words entered her usual world of cruelty.

In the beginning, volunteers would take her out carrying her in a sheet so she could go to the bathroom outside. After a while, she got used to the royal treatment and refused to walk back.

“She learned how to twist people around her paw,” laughed GCHS development director Robin Griffiths.

Sunset has literally become the face of dog fighting, after the local Fort Myers media discovered her story early in the process. The public has shown rage and shock of this taking place in their backyard.

There even has been a reward posted by the Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers, along with several local anonymous residents, to lead to the capture of the individuals who did this to Sunset. A compassionate anonymous individual even donated $10,000 for the cause to catch the perpetrators.

A website named “Stop Illegal Dog Fighting” was established, which is focused on Sunset’s story, but also offering rewards leading to information on any type of dog fighting or animal abuse.

The Humane Society of the United States will offer up to $5,000 leading to the arrest and conviction of a dogfighter. You can call 1-877-TIP-HSUS and your identity will be protected. If there are any tips on the abuse of Sunset, you can call 1-800-780-TIPS and donations can be made to help raise reward money to www.gofundme.com/lmf15c.

Tips also can be made at www.swflcrimestoppers.org.

The mass attention has also put GCHS’ Second Chance Fund into the spotlight.

Dr. Barnes estimated if Sunset was being cared for at a private clinic, her bills would be anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, not including all the volunteer man-hours put into her care.

The GCHS Second Chance Fund is directly responsible to help care for abused animals like Sunset. Jimmy, another case of a severely abused bait dog who lost his hind leg, was recently adopted. His care was paid for by the Second Chance Fund.

“GCHS has been able to help over 32 dogs and cats that needed immediate medical attention,” Galloway said. “Without these donations, the pets would truly not have a second chance. “

To make donations to the Second Chance Fund, call GCHS at 239-332-0364. Donations can be made directly to that fund if requested. Or visit their website at www.gulfcoasthumanesociety.org.

The explosion of awareness of the despicable world of dog fighting can all be credited to one brave pooch – Sunset.

“This is what we hoped when (Galloway and I) exchanged in our conversation when she came in,” Dr. Barnes said. “Hopefully something positive can come out of this misery.”

Sunset is walking on her own with the help of a cast on her left leg. A winding trail of stitches runs down her right side of her face and the tip of her tail will probably have to be amputated at a later date. She doesn’t quite look people in the eyes and her tail is always tucked between her legs, but she is starting to love the petting and hugs.

“Right now all the focus has been on her recovery,” Griffiths said. “Many people have stepped up and want to adopt her, and we have their names. But that’s a little premature right now. But we’ve had an outpouring of support from the community. It’s been quite overwhelming.”

Although Sunset bears a name which means “an end of a day”, her survival is the beginning of awareness of the cruelty in which humans can inflict on animals through dog fighting.

Sunset’s survival hopefully is an awakening that dog fighting is prevalent and needs to be addressed and not forgotten. It needs to be met head-on and wiped out of existence. And it starts with awareness and to accept dog fighting as a serious criminal act.

This is Sunset’s story, one which will hopefully end in a sunshiny ending.