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The Angel Who Could Not Fly

By Immydog

An email arrives in my inbox.  It was just one of many similar emails received on any typical day in rescue.  Upon opening it, I see many furry, friendly faces staring at me through the computer screen.  One in particular catches my eye.  A three month old puppy is unfortunate enough to find herself sitting in a high kill shelter, and her days are numbered.   Look into those blue eyes and tell me you don't love her.
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
I didn't fall for this puppy just because of her cute face.  I didn't fall for this puppy just because of her stunning blue eyes.  I fell for her because she had a deformity, a birth defect that put her life at risk.  I knew that this defect, even though it was not a life threatening one, was potentially life threatening in a shelter situation.
When requests for help are sent out from any shelter, it is often the "difficult" placements that get left behind for euthanasia day.  The old dogs, the black dogs, the large dogs, the ill mannered dog, and the dogs that have health issues.  I knew this puppy would likely be left behind as few rescue groups or shelters can afford the amount of veterinary care she would need to take care of this defect in order to be considered "adoptable".
She is functional as she is.  There is no question about that.  But would she get adopted with such a deformity if it was not "fixed"?  Would an adopter consider her for their home, or fear the unknown issues that may present as a result of this deformity in the future?  Would this deformity affect her gait as she grew to adulthood?  A dog will sometimes attempt to use a deformed leg, and this may lead to chronic injury as the dog gets bigger and places more weight on the leg.  I feared that the high cost of "repair" and low probability of an "as is" adoption put this dog at high risk for euthanasia.  I was right.  I asked the shelter if anyone had stepped up to take this pup, and no one had. 
So I did.
The original photograph did not reveal much of the details of the deformity, so I requested that the shelter volunteers send a few more photos.  The deformity involved her left forelimb.  Look closely at the photo below.  The normal right leg is pressed against the holder's blue sweatshirt.  The deformed left leg is in the foreground.  It looks as though a third front leg is protruding from the pup's proper left foreleg.  It may be interesting and odd, being a five legged dog.  But being interesting and odd would not keep her out of the euthanasia room.
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
The Angel Who Could Not FlyUpon arrival, we named her Polly, a shortened version of the term "polydactyl" meaning extra toes.  A surgery intern at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine was eager to meet Polly and look at her leg once I shared her photographs with him.  He examined the leg and he was interested in getting a more detailed look at her leg using x-rays to see if the leg could be salvaged surgically, rather than amputated.
Polly's radiographs (the medical term for x-rays) revealed that it was not an extra leg growing out of a normal anatomic leg.  The defect consisted of her normal radius and ulna being separately wrapped in skin, making it appear as though there was an extra leg.
The consensus among Iowa State's surgeons was that the leg would need to be amputated.  Polly returned to my clinic.  A few days later I amputated the leg that almost got her killed.
I immediately posted Polly on http://www.jewellanimalhospital.petfinder.com/.  Shortly thereafter, I received an email from an interested adopter.
"We are interested in adopting another puppy. 3 years ago we adopted our mixed breed Jenny from petfinder.com and she is a dream. We have been in training since she was 8 wks and continue to bring her for socialization. Our home has a fenced in back yard which is surrounded by conservation land. My husband and I have no children, but we love animals. What we are looking for is a companion and playmate for our 3 year old, she has lots of energy and is well mannered. Our hope is to someday pass the Canine Good Citizen test and visit nursing homes. The only reason she has not passed is she gets a BIG F for friendly! Knowing Polly may lose her leg stands out because I wonder if it is harder to find them forever homes. We would be interested in speaking to someone re: Polly and find out how she is doing. You can email or call my cell."
After a few weeks of recovery time, and approval of her interested adopter (they could not have had a more beautiful application), transport to New England was arranged.  Airline requirements mandate that the temperature at every stop between starting and ending point has to be above a certain temperature, and in the dead of winter, this presented a serious issue.  Polly was scheduled for her flight.  Her first flight was cancelled due to extremely cold weather.  She was scheduled for another flight.  That flight was also cancelled due to extreme weather.   Hopes were high, then hopes were dashed.  It seemed this girl would not get the chance to fly home.
Also in the clinic, we had a rescued Brittany Spaniel that was going to the New England Brittany Rescue by car transport.  Car transport consists of volunteers, each driving the rescued dog in 50-100 mile increments.  That dog inches its way across the country one car at a time.  At our request, and their acceptance, Polly was able to go from Iowa to New England via automobile, into the arms of her new forever home over 1200 miles away.
Polly's new Mom and Dad, Chris and Blair, monitored the progress of the transport on their email.  Each time the dogs went from one volunteer's car to the next, the transport coordinator sent an email to all of the participants about the status of the transport and to correct any time changes.  If the transport was running behind or ahead of schedule, the volunteers could adjust their meeting time to avoid waiting needlessly.
On these volunteer transports, the recipients of the rescue dog that is being transported, whether they are a rescue group or an adopter, are required to drive up to 150 miles to meet the transport of the pet they await.  Chris and Blair did this without hesitation.
The transport weekend arrived and on day two, Chris and Blair waited anxiously at the agreed upon meeting spot for the transfer.  This final transfer was not just a dog going from one car to the next.  This transfer was the most important one.  On this final transfer, a homeless dog becoming a family member.
They watched for the vehicle described in the Final Transport Run Sheet that was sent to all transport volunteers for confirmation before the transport began.  Finally, the anxiously awaited vehicle arrives, and Blair and Chris get to meet their new girl.  As Polly's leash was handed from volunteer's hand to new Mom and Dad's hands, the volunteer looked at them and said, "You have yourselves an angel here". 
I wonder if that transport volunteer realized that she and all the volunteers on that two day transport mission also had wings.
A few weeks later, another email arrives.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. we can't say it enough. We have changed Polly's name to Allie. When we first brought her home she was like an "allie gator" slithering around the hard wood floors snapping at Jenny's ankles. She has brought so much joy to our home. Yes, you were right she is full of energy and can run like the wind with her new sister. We bring her 2 days a week for socialization to a day care where they play all day with other dogs and the employees there LOVE her. All are amazed at how she gets around. She just won an award for the Halloween costume contest, she was captain hook!
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
We could not be happier. Thank you all so much for giving her a chance, I do believe it was fate that got me on the computer that day when I found her on your website.  It was a long wait in trying to get her with the cold weather but the wait was well worth it. She is a dream! "
Here we are, three years later, and another email arrived."From the moment we picked her up she has been smiling and so have we. Not sure if you recall, but when we found her on Petfinder, we felt she looked a lot like our 3 yr old rescue Jenny. It was meant to be! She runs like the wind and is fearless. She chases birds, bunnies and snakes. Running till she can't go any further, then taking long naps with Jenny. Even while she sleeps, her legs are moving while she dreams of her next adventures!"

While they had mentioned that Polly/Allie looked a lot like their current dog, Jenny, I was shocked at the resemblance!

The Angel Who Could Not Fly
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
The Angel Who Could Not Fly
A friend and mentor of mine, Mary Ann, once said to me, "Dogs and cats are born with three legs and a spare." I never forgot that statement.  Allie is living proof of the truth in that statement.
Two beautiful dogs, a loving family, and a wonderful new life for a dog whose life was almost robbed of its chance to begin.

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