The Story of Petunia
I have been practicing veterinary medicine for 17 years. I love all of my patients, even the ungrateful ones who try to bite me and pee on the floor. I understand, because to my patients I am the lady with the needles. I would not like me either if I were them. Despite the thousands of dogs and cats I have treated, there was one dog that wrapped her little, damaged paws around my heart.
On March 28, Debbie from “It’s a Pittie” rescue called to see if I could treat a dog that was in bad shape. I have been treating rescued pit bulls for years, most of them are in bad shape so why not? The story was unclear, but it appears this dog was found walking the streets and was taken to an animal hospital to be held as a stray. She sat there for 5 days before she was brought to me.
What I saw when the dog was brought in stopped me in my tracks. I was presented with a pregnant, gaunt female with at least 20 % of her skin gone and another 5-10 % dying. She had fractured teeth, her right front foot was swollen, and her toe nails were all pointing the wrong way. I immediately muzzled her, assuming a dog with this kind of pain would be hard to handle. I initiated an aggressive treatment plan for her skin and started immediately. Treatment included, among other things, washing her exposed tissue and removing her dead skin. She not only did not bite but was gentle and allowed us to care for her. Afterward, she gratefully accepted a meal and some milk bones. I could not help but wonder how a dog that was clearly tortured could be so grateful. We decided to name her Petunia so that she could blossom. Tunie for short.
The following day, her story hit the radio news and then exploded. TV networks and newspapers were calling all day. The Internet was running wild with her story. Her Facebook page, Mama Petunia, was also started. I could not believe the fervor this story was bringing and the subsequent response.
I was hoping her puppies would not come for a while, but Petunia had other plans the next day. Maybe she finally felt comfortable enough to bring her babies into the world safely? An x-ray showed she had ten puppies. 10??? She started giving birth at 3 pm, and my relief veterinarian assisted. At 6 pm I took over. Petunia was handling it great but was just too tired and confused to take care of the newborns. All of them were assisted births, resuscitated, cleaned and placed on her mammaries to encourage eating. She had a puppy every hour. Unfortunately, 5 of her babies were stillborn. I considered it a mixed blessing because her battered body could not take care of all of them. I was as tired as her by the end of it. During this ordeal, Petunia had total faith in me and allowed for me to handle her and her babies. Most new dog moms will become protective and aggressive. Not her. That is the moment I fell in love. I realized this dog was more forgiving than any human I know.
After the birth, she rallied and did a great job taking care of her babies. She continued to allow the staff to handle and treat her wounds. At this time she also had become a celebrity. Non-stop phone calls, emails and visits. I could not believe one dog could generate so much interest. On April 3, she developed a fever and felt pretty down. In order to encourage her eating, she was fed McDonalds cheese burgers. I know that is not exactly a nutritional meal but I could not stand to see her not eat. By the way, she is a fan of McDonalds. That day, she also licked my face for the first time. I felt like I won the lottery.
The following day she continued to get weaker but still cared for her babies. Soon after it was decided she needed to see a specialist for further treatment. I hated to let her go, but the rescue and I really wanted her to have the best chance of surviving. She was seen Friday and had immediate emergency surgery. Post op, she did well for 36 hours. One of the ICU veterinarians told me that she should never had survived her extensive burns. My first thought was “awesome, she did it” but my second thought was “uh oh”.
I was called at 5: 30 am April 7 with the horrible news that she did not survive. I actually felt my heart break.
I could not believe a dog that I only knew for 10 days affected me so much. This dog was tortured, abandoned, left untreated for 5 days, and then endured very difficult treatments all while giving birth and feeding her babies. Basically, everyone failed her. I then realized the reason I love her so much is that she has all of the qualities I look for in people- kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, nurture and bravery.
My sincere hope is that the international community that became so involved in her story will open their eyes to the atrocity of animal cruelty. Petunia’s story is not exclusive. Cruelty to animals is a common occurrence and it should never be ignored. I also hope that this wonderful breed will finally stop being misjudged. They are excellent pets and companions. That is why I will always have one (or more) in my home.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the thousands of people that rallied for Petunia and donated for her care. I also want to acknowledge the passion and dedication of “It’s a Pittie “dog rescue. They work tirelessly for this breed, 24/7. These volunteers are amazing advocates for pitbulls. They are heroes.
Respectfully and sadly submitted,
Lynlee Wessels D.V.M