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Rescue, UW vets put neglected dog on long road to recovery

April 7, 2011 By Chris Barncard

It may look like slow going from a bed in the intensive care unit at UW Veterinary Care, but for once in his recent memory a starved and neglected retriever has a shot at a happy life — and a newfound Internet following.


Now known as Braveheart, the emaciated dog’s road to School of Veterinary Medicine began when an animal control officer lifted him out of a trash bin in Kentucky in late March and took him to the pound.

“He was stuck there, because no one would adopt him or rescue him,” says Marti Houge, who runs the Columbus, Wis.-based dog rescue group One Starfish Rehoming Connections with her husband, Jim. “There are hundreds, thousands of animal rescue organizations out there that focus on certain breeds and kinds of dogs, but rarely do you find one that will take in a dog with serious medical concerns.”

And Braveheart was a wreck.

Visibly starved, he had three kinds of worm infections, sores and a particularly unpleasant case of mange. Worried that the mange was a particularly contagious type, rescue groups passed on taking in the dog. Until Marti Houge saw him.

“It didn’t scare me. We’d dealt with dogs like that before,” she says. “I like a good fixer-upper.”

Braveheart rebounded quickly after changing hands several times on his way from Kentucky to Wisconsin.

The Houges made a trip to the vet, got Braveheart some initial treatment, and brought him home to get settled among the other 17 or 18 dogs in One Starfish’s care. Marti Houge thought he was relieved to be around some loving humans.

“He was kind of perky, and I could feel him just melt under my hand,” she says. “I don’t think he’d been petted much. I think people were afraid to touch him because he looked so terrible.”

But Braveheart took a turn for the worse the next day. He was sluggish, and lost interest in food he couldn’t keep down anyway. Houge brought him to Madison, where he has spent nearly a week in UW Veterinary Care’s critical care unit.

“He’s stable, but I don’t think he’s out of the woods right now,” says Daniel Foy, a UW–Madison veterinarian. “He has a lot of concurrent diseases, many of which are probably the result of poor housing conditions and poor veterinary care before he came to us.”

How he got into that shape is a bit of a mystery.

“We don’t really know what happened, what kind of experience he had with people,” Foy says. “He’s a little shy, a little withdrawn, but he’s not afraid. And it’s interesting for us to get to know a patient for so long when we usually only have animals here for a day or two.”

The vet is cautiously optimistic.

“In his case, it’s just that he needs extended and intense care that will need to be maintained for weeks and months,” Foy says.

That’s tough for the Houges and for One Starfish, which was just organized as a charitable organization in 2009. They’re committed to Braveheart’s care, but also bearing the financial burden for a number of rescue dogs with complex medical issues.

“Couldn’t be happier with the care there. Everyone’s been so supportive, and I knew he’s getting all the love he needs,” Marti Houge says. “It’s been slow going, and that’s what’s frustrating. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Nearly 7,000 people have connected with Braveheart on Facebook through the UW School of Veterinary Medicine and a page set up to follow “Braveheart’s battle.”

Houge is hoping the attention will help both Braveheart and similar dogs that “slip through the cracks.”

“It’s amazing what love and good care and quality food can do for a dog,” Houge says. “There’s nothing more rewarding than to feel like you’ve given an animal a second chance. We just hope we can keep giving.”

Those interested in making a contribution for Braveheart’s care can contact Kristi Thorson at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine by calling 608-265-9692, or can make a donation online through the UW Foundation’s website.