By Jodi Casher, BS, AAS, RVT
On a chilly evening in February, Animal Hospital of North Asheville got a call that a critically ill two-month-old puppy was being transferred to our care. This was the second puppy that had come to us for burn treatments in a span of just one year. She, too, had been rescued from a devastating house fire and taken to REACH by the firefighters for initial assessment. The owners were contacted to discuss findings, essential critical care, and given an estimate. They were unable to be contacted again. The Asheville Humane Society took over guardianship of the puppy, now named BB, and transferred her to the Animal Hospital of North Asheville under the dedicated and experienced care of Dr. Earley with Animal Hospital of North Asheville donating the cost of the care to Asheville Humane Society.
In the case of burn victims, some immediate issues are easily identified like the need to treat and prevent pain and increased respiratory effort, rate, and lung sounds, which can be eased with the aid of oxygen supplementation. However, the extent of external damage is often not apparent until days later. BB’s fur was singed along her back and she presented with edema, or swelling, in her ears, head, back, and legs. She already had a full thickness burn on her muzzle that went up to her right eyelid. Thankfully her eyes themselves appeared unharmed. Time would reveal the extent of the rest of her burns.
As expected, those singed and edematous areas began to slough. Dr. Earley devotedly provided constant pain medication and wound care over the next several critical weeks. He began to anesthetize the puppy for regular debridement (removal of the damaged tissue), laser treatments, wound cleaning and packing, and bandage changes under sedation with the compassionate and committed help of our technicians. As the extent of the fire damage was revealed it became obvious that BB had been burned from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, across her back and down her legs and feet; in total covering almost 80% of her body.
In such a severe burn case, if the odds of survival are slim, the best decision might be euthanasia. But every time this was in question, BB would wake up from anesthesia with her tail wagging, seek out the first person’s lap she could crawl into, and reach up and lick their face. She always had a tail wag for anyone who stopped by her bed to say hello and everyone did. From the front desk staff to the overnight nurse and everyone in between, the whole hospital was her cheering squad. Anytime her fate was in question she let us know she was a fighter and was not ready to give up on life, and Dr. Earley never gave up on her.
A few of our technicians took turns bringing her to their home over the weekends. Even though she wasn’t out of the woods yet, she was able to have some semblance of a normal puppyhood. She got to go out in a grassy yard, carefully socialize with other dogs, cats and people, and snuggle on the couch like a normal puppy. While most of the time she was tired from her bandage changes, healing, and pain medications, she found moments of energy where she learned to jump on the couch, sit and lie down eagerly for treats, and play with toys. Her tail was always wagging, of course.
After long months of critical hospitalization and regular procedures it appeared that the healing process took a turn. All of a sudden, her skin began to repair itself exponentially faster and she was soon out of the woods. She turned this corner and never looked back! At this time, I began taking her home for more regular sleepovers and realized I missed her soulful eyes and sweet snores on the nights she was not there. When the time came to consider her future after the bandages came off for good, I could not imagine life without seeing BB every day and watching her blossom and grow into the incredibly loving, silly, special dog that she has become. Before I even broached the subject of adopting a third dog, my husband brought the idea up to me! The ultimate decision came from our other two dogs who were always ready to play with her, share their toys and snuggle in bed together. The vote was unanimous.
Thanks to the painstakingly dedicated care of Dr. Earley and the Animal Hospital of North Asheville team, BB gets to live out the rest of her life as a happy, healthy, well-adjusted but definitely goofy puppy, and I got new family member who brings joy and laughter to our lives on a daily basis. She loves her two four-legged sisters, going for hikes, and sleeping under the covers in our bed. She also loves to visit her many fans at AHNA and they love to see her. Without fail, every time Dr. Earley sees her he stops what he’s doing to drop to the floor and play with her and she always has a kiss, or more likely an ear nibble, for him. And, of course, her tail is always wagging.
Dr. Earley has this to say about BB:
"BB is a little pit mix that was transferred to us by the Humane Society. She had been in a house fire and her injuries did not appear as severe at first as they really were, but with our knowledge of burns we knew this was going to be a very serious case. About a week after the fire, the true extent of her injuries became apparent. I was so proud of our staff in working with her over the coming 2½ months. We had to repeatedly anesthetize her, remove dead areas of tissue, and change burn dressings. She was on antibiotics and pain medications the whole time. About 3 weeks in, I almost gave up on her but when we looked at that little face, we let her decide. She was a trouper, and she had an incredible will to persevere. Slowly her skin began to heal leaving large scars and she then started to grow. Her little personality started to come out even more. Looking at BB now, running around active and wild, it is hard to believe she was that sick little puppy. I am so glad I did not give up on her and that she found an incredible home. Her life now is better than mine most of the time."