A small dog named Chloe trotted cheerfully around the courtyard of the Humane Society’s San Diego campus on prosthetic back paws, tail wagging, sniffing the ground in circles before returning to her new family. That family, San Diego Police Detective Chappie Hunter, along with his wife Arlene Hunter and 13-year old son Gavin Hunter are considered an ideal match for Chloe the Shih Tzu pup, as the police officer was fitted with a prosthetic leg following an off-duty motorcycle accident eight years ago.
The Hunter family already had one pet dog in their Alpine home but Arlene Hunter said a friend asked if they would consider taking in the small dog as her husband, Chappie Hunter might be able to help the rescued dog adapt to her prosthetic paws.
Chloe and her former dogmate Roxy had been taken into the facility after Serena Boney, a 27-year old Humane Society officer was dispatched to an Escondido veterinarian’s office. There, she realized the owner could not possibly provide the care needed for either dog, both of which had major injuries to their back paws.
“We get a lot of calls but this was my first incident like this,” Boney said.
To prevent them from licking and scratching, their owner had bandage-wrapped their back paws so tightly that it cut off blood flow— both of Chloe’s back paws and one of Roxy’s back legs had to be amputated.
Humane Society Veterinarian Susie Garity said she was present for Chloe’s surgery, performed by Dr. Seth Mathus Ganz of Agile Veterinary Surgery, and ultimately ended up participating in Roxy’s surgery, but the cases are different as Roxy has some arthritis and needed a more traditional prosthetic whereas Chloe has ‘house slippers’ she uses for everyday dog life.
“Fitting a dog with prosthetics is quite an involved process and this was a first for us. It included sedation to create a mold of the feet, getting the prosthetics to fit perfectly and monitoring for pressure sores. It takes time for the dogs to learn to use them,” Garity said.
That learning pattern was one the Hunter family was prepared to help with as a foster family for Chloe. After being fitted with her prosthetic feet, Chloe was able to stay with the Hunters, ostensibly in a temporary foster situation. Almost immediately, it was obvious the little dog was right at home with them and they decided to permanently adopt her.
“She’s so happy, she’d been at the Humane Society for four, maybe five months and Dr. Garity was looking for a foster for her. We weren’t able to take her until she had her prosthetics but now, she’s part of the family,” Chappie Hunter said.
The understanding of “putting it on, then being able to run and jump” was a good background, Chappie Hunter said.
Although the little dog now has a home where her needs are understood and she is evidently at peace, that wasn’t the case from the start.
Garity said the behavior patterns from animals and people who are hospitalized for long periods of time is similar: they get “sort of a quiet sense about them” and you can see when they need a pick-me-up to keep going.
“Enrichment is a little different for everyone but even 24 hours in a different environment can change their mental state,” Garity said.
The organization puts animals first, she said, and events like the one on Thursday are intended to show the public two things: first, that staff will keep pushing the limits of what is possible in a shelter and second, that there are always options for care.
Both Garity and Boney said they want people to know they can reach out for help before things get out of control as it did with Chloe and Roxy.
The important thing for pet owners to know, Boney said, is that the organization is not there to take away anyone’s pet but to help make things right for the animal.
“We’re here to help. We don’t have all the answers but there is low-cost pet care, there are resources out there. Call us, find us on our website, reach out, please,” Boney said.