GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Dex whimpers, using all his furry might to use his back legs to go forward. He wants to walk on all fours like he once did. He wants to run up to the Vienna sausages and chomp them up right away. But he can't — at least not yet.
Dex is a German shepherd in the Central Nebraska Humane Society's care. He is one of the first animals to benefit from the agency's new HEART program.
HEART stands for Helping Emergency Animal Recovery and Treatment. The HEART fund is used for the cost of additional medical services that some of the shelter animals need beyond the basic medical care the Humane Society provides. Executive Director Laurie Dethloff said the Humane Society provides basic care, such as a behavior and health assessment, and spay and neuter costs. The HEART fund helps cover extra things such as X-rays, blood and urine tests, surgery, amputation and treatment of broken bones. The money comes from outside donations. Dethloff said the program offers animals more care while offering people a specialized opportunity to help the animals.
Dex was recovered by Animal Control from an unsafe environment to which law enforcement responded. When brought to the shelter, Dex had kidney problems, head trauma and many sores on his body.
Dethloff said many of his sores were the result and combination of other dogs beating up on him and being in his own bodily fluids and not being clean. Dex was taken into emergency care for his wounds.
"We didn't know if he would even survive with where he was at," she said. "But there was just something about the look in his eyes. Even though he was weak and emaciated and you could see the sores, you could see the soul. He was ready to fight."
She estimates Dex to be about 7 years old, but he could be younger or older. Teeth are used in estimating dogs' age, and Dex's teeth were in very bad condition.
"From what we know, he hasn't had an easy life," Dethloff said.
An MRI for Dex at Kansas State would cost $1,500, so that was out of the question. She said she and others at the Humane Society have been doing everything feasible to care for Dex and make him comfortable. He stays in her office, where he has a place to lounge and rest.
Staff members take him out for therapy so he can regain his strength. His back legs are nearly paralyzed. A dog wheelchair was recently donated to Dex, making it easier for him to try to move. His body is supported, so it's easier for him to try to walk.
Workers motivate him by holding out Vienna sausages short distances away so Dex can walk to get the treat. Dethloff said he has been doing better each day since they got him in February, around the time they decided to start the program.
"He's got the desire," she said of Dex.
Though Dex is one of the most severe cases and part of the reason the program was started, many other animals have benefited. A full-time veterinarian on staff makes caring for these animals much more feasible.
Dethloff said the program has helped pregnant cats and dogs, dogs with mange and others. It isn't designated toward abused animals, though those are some of the animals that need more care. The program also helps animals from puppy mills or unclaimed pets that have visible medical needs.
She said on average animals are in the HEART program for about six weeks. Dex, however, will have a longer recovery period.
Dethloff said there can be a misconception when people adopt an animal from the shelter. The shelter invests a lot of money into the animals, often more than the adoption fee covers. But she said it's worth it, and the donors and sponsors make that possible.
"That's very important to everybody that's involved. So that adds to the expense of caring," Dethloff said about not euthanizing animals, even if they're at the shelter for a long time. "But there's so many amazing things that happen to animals that have been here six months, a year. When you think, 'We just wanted this to be a short stay,' and then that person comes in when they (the animals) have been here a long time or when we've invested hundreds of dollars in an animal. To see them (the animals) recover and get a family and live the life that they should, that is beyond words to see that and to get to experience that."
Besides the wheelchair, another big donation the Humane Society received is a dental machine. Dethloff said many animals come in with bad teeth, which are very important to animal health. The shelter can now care for those teeth and help prevent health problems for those animals' future owners.
The HEART program is inspiring for Dethloff and her staff.
"It provides us an opportunity to make a difference when we're on the front lines and we're watching those animals struggle," she said. "We know that somebody is out there giving us the opportunity to give that care. It's one of the most rewarding experiences in one of the most horrible situations.
"We're just always very thankful and grateful for people who look at those hard pictures and say, 'I'm going to get involved.'"