Winter storm was deep trouble for pets

Animal hospitals report surge in frostbite, wounds to dogs amid snowfall

February 23, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

They were pummeled with shovels, smacked by snowboards and snowplows, lost for hours in snowdrifts and even shot.

In the frenzied days of the recent snowstorm, man's best friend didn't fare so well.

Local animal hospitals reported a surge in cases of frostbite, lacerations and paw wounds - made all the more painful because of the salt on the roads. A few had surgery for fractures or breaks.

Such was the fate of Julie, a shepherd mix who suffered deep lacerations and a broken leg when her 15-year-old owner, John Doyle, snowboarded over her while on a daring jump on Ruxton's Circle Road last weekend.

"She just kinda got in the way and couldn't get out," said the teen's brother, David Doyle, who rushed Julie to Falls Road Animal Hospital in North Baltimore as soon as he could get his car out. "She was right there when he landed. He couldn't stop."

Julie is recovering, though with a limp. No one is sure about the lingering psychological effects. David Doyle said Julie has always been afraid of his little brother.

Dr. Kim Hammond, who owns Falls Road Animal Hospital, said other animals fared worse. Two dogs died after they were hit by cars that couldn't stop. Several others froze to death. Many others came in with upset stomachs from eating snow. But the most common problems were frostbite and injuries inflicted by snow-covered objects, which the dogs had trouble seeing and smelling. And with snow as high as some fences last week, dogs could slip over easily and get into unexplored territory.

"The snow is so thick. The dogs don't know what they're running on," Hammond said. "You have to be smart because the dogs don't know. They just get in trouble."

Hammond's hospital treated two dogs, Kaya and Unlucky, who got into a fight in the snow. Another dog, Chocolate Austin, was a victim of what Hammond called "pure meanness" - he was shot on Park Avenue.

Most dogs lost in the deep snow eventually found their way home again - but only after causing owners great worry. Lauren Feldman spent hours tromping through the woods near her Green Spring Valley home after two of her puppies ran out as she brought in groceries. By morning, two hours after she'd given up, she spotted them outside her window.

"We thought they were dead," she said. "We couldn't believe it."

Sue Beatty, director of operations for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County, said her shelter received 10 reports of lost dogs during the storm's first couple of days. Four owners called back within a day to say they'd found their dogs.

"We're very glad they call back to tell us," said Beatty, who recommends keeping dogs inside, or in a "well-insulated doghouse" in such weather.

And then there are the dogs that won't go out. Brian Cassell, who co-owns the Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic, fielded a lot of calls from dog lovers who were becoming less enamored with their pets every housebound day.

"We encourage people to dig a hole in the snow," he said. "We just basically tell them to keep trying."

Outside Federal Hill Park, Barry Heyman's two dogs appeared to be walking him. Buddy, a beagle who was pulled out of the harbor two years ago, sprinted along the sidewalk, his nose in overdrive. BJ, his half-beagle, half-border-collie companion, veered off in the opposite direction.

The pair was so excited by the snow when the storm began that they ran out of the house, jolting Heyman and sending him down to the pavement. He has a couple of bruises on his forehead.

"Well, I held on to the leash, anyway," Heyman said as Buddy and BJ pulled him down the street.

Other dog owners were taking unusual precautions. One said she was washing her Newfoundland's feet every night because of the salt. Another admitted to shoveling a moat of snow around the perimeter of his yard to keep his Australian shepherd mix from escaping over the fence.

"Pet owners always amaze me at how committed they are," Cassell said.

The same could be said for the shelter and hospital staff. Most stayed open during the storm, using four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up staff - even though they risked a $1,000 fine during the initial snowfall because of statewide driving restrictions.

Jacqueline Falke, an emergency veterinarian at Catonsville Emergency Veterinary Clinic, said she called the state police to see whether travel by her and her staff would be considered essential and permitted on the roads during the state emergency Feb. 16. When the authorities told her no, Falke said: "Well, we're helping animals here."

They were unmoved. She drove in anyway.

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