"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tales From the Trenches: Good People

In light of all of the horrible stories about police officers that have been in the news lately, I want to tell you guys a good story about an officer and the dog that he tried to save.

Not the dog in the story, but you get the idea.
It was a brutally cold night, unreasonably cold for our area with wind chills in the single digits. Normally people hibernate when the weather is like this but on this evening it seemed like every animal that had been doing poorly for the last few days/weeks/months had chosen this particular day to start circling the drain. 

A STAT was paged and I sprinted up to the lobby to get it. There were flashing lights in the parking lot and our receptionists said it was a police officer with a dog that had been hit by a car. I grabbed one of my coworkers, Irene, so we could run with the gurney outside. We figured it was going to be a police dog, which are usually large German Shepherds or Malinois.

Just as we were going outside, the officer ran in through the doors carrying a small Shepherdy-type mixed breed dog wrapped up in his uniform coat. The officer was in layman's clothes. There was some confusion initially about whether it was his personal dog.

The little dog was conscious, lying on his side with his front legs extended rigidly, which indicated some sort of spinal trauma, possibly neck. We ran back into the ER with him. He was stable with no obvious injuries other than his rigid position. We are allowed to stabilize animals within reason, so we went ahead and gave the dog a dose of IV pain medication. The doctors continued assessing the dog while I went to tell the officer what was going on and get the full story.

The officer had been off-duty. He heard the dog get hit behind him and stopped his vehicle to check what had happened. He found the little dog lying in the street and wrapped him up in his coat so that he could pick him up; the dog was trying to bite him in his fear and pain. 

The police officer told me that he'd already notified Animal Control (if he didn't do it, we had to: it's MD law) and an officer was on their way. The AC officer materialized less than 10 minutes later. I don't care what people say about Animal Control: every individual that has ever walked through our doors to pick up an animal (sometimes strays get dropped off at work) or investigate an issue has been gentle, sympathetic and an obvious animal lover. This officer was no exception.

In the meantime, I told the doctors the story. The little dog had rabies tags but no name tag. One of my coworkers brought out our ER microchip scanner: he had a microchip! She then set about calling to see if we could obtain the owner's contact information. Animal Control calls the shots in cases like this and will authorize and pay for stabilization within reason. On physical exam there definitely seemed to be something wrong with the dog's spine, as he had no responses in his hind legs. Otherwise he was fine: normal vital signs, pain controlled thanks to the injection we'd given, no apparent internal bleeding noted on the quick scan we did with the ultrasound. The AC officer said that since the little one was stable, we should wait to see if we could locate the owner before starting the big diagnostics. This was absolutely fair, but the police officer stepped in at that point and asked what needed to be done. We told him the next step would be to take x-rays and run bloodwork but given the dog's neurological status, x-rays of the dog's spine were the first thing that should be done, as it would determine what would happen next.  The police officer said to go ahead and take the x-rays; he would pay for it.

I think all our jaws dropped at that point. Two of my coworkers went to take the x-rays while I finished up with another patient that was in the ER. Mary, our most experienced overnight tech, was able to pull off one of her miracles and obtain the dog owner's contact information despite the microchip not being registered. One of the doctors made the phone call to let them know what was going on. They were on their way. At this point, the Animal Control officer left since everything was under control. She left her card in case we needed to contact her and wished the little one good luck.

My coworkers came back with sombre faces. The little dog's back was broken badly: completely displaced. We can fix some spinal fractures surgically but this was bad. The police officer had been waiting in the ER talking to one of the doctors while waiting for the x-rays to be taken and he was distraught. "Does this mean he will need to be euthanized?" he asked. The answer was a sad yes. The officer said he would stay with the dog until his owner arrived.

And he did. We started IV fluids to keep the little dog stable. The officer stood next to the little dog and petted his head gently until the owner arrived about 15 minutes later. He stayed while the owner was given the news. He gently rubbed the owner's arm comfortingly when she broke down into tears, and he stayed until the owner's friend arrived for moral support.

He would go back to the lobby to wait until it was over, leaving only after the little one was gone.

It was a sad ending to this dog's story, but he left with the love of so many: his owner, his owner's friend, and the officer that tried to save him. The police officer that was off duty, who didn't need to stop to rescue this dog, but who did.

Despite the cold, cold temperatures outside, we were left with warm hearts: there wasn't a single person in our ER that wasn't touched beyond words by the police officer's incredible kindness, compassion and empathy.

Much later our receptionist would tell me that the guy that hit the dog did show up. He had turned around when he realized he'd hit a dog and had spoken to the officer: he didn't even see the dog until it was too late, it had darted out of nowhere in front of his car. I'm not sure how the young man knew where to go, but maybe the officer told him which hospital he was taking the dog to? The guy sat in our lobby, distraught, hands trembling, not knowing what to do to make things better while everything was happening. In the end he insisted that the officer be reimbursed so that he himself could pay for the emergency exam and the x-rays. I don't think he actually spoke to the owner in person because he felt so, so awful about what had happened, but he paid for what he could and asked our receptionist to please tell the dog's owner how sorry he was. And then he left.

I was so moved when I heard this part of the story. We had assumed it had been a hit-and-run.

We had 8 emergencies that night and 6 of them died. But for me, it was not a bad night. Why? Because it was wonderful to see that humanity still exists among people.


  1. Tears are running down my face. Faith in humanity, restored.

  2. Yep I'm crying. Thank you for sharing this story:)

  3. There is so much humanity in vet med. When it's bad it's BAD, but when it's good you know exactly why your doing it. What an awesome human being.

  4. The happiest ending an unhappy story could have... might need a grab the tissue box warning though.

    Always good to hear about more compassion in the world rather than less. ♥

  5. very sad - but sweet story... lots of compassionate people out there

  6. Tears. Many tears. And hurrah for cops. I've got two friends who really love to bad mouth cops every chance they get and I will just get up and walk away. There are bad eggs in any crowd, but by and large, cops are some incredible people. This story really sets the bar. <3

  7. This has me crying too. It's so sad the dog died, but I'm impressed and happy with how everyone involved handled it.