AHS veterinarians recall some of their favorite cases from the past year — lifesaving work made possible by your support
By Mary Tan
Minnesotans rely on Animal Humane Society to care for some of the state's most vulnerable animals. Our expert medical team works tirelessly to provide exceptional, compassionate care to the 23,000 animals we take in each year — and we pour our hearts into each and every one.
Thanks to your support, we’re caring for — and saving — more animals with serious health and behavior issues than ever before. Last year alone, our shelter veterinarians diagnosed and treated 29,511 conditions. That total includes many illnesses and injuries that were considered impossible or impractical to treat in a shelter environment less than a decade ago.
“Our veterinarians are at the forefront of shelter medicine,” says AHS President and CEO Janelle Dixon. “We have one of the largest and most sophisticated veterinary teams in the state.” That team includes 15 full-time veterinarians, 10 relief vets, and more than 60 veterinary technicians who’ve dedicated their careers to caring for animals.
Shelter medicine is as rewarding as it is challenging, says Dr. Graham Brayshaw, who leads the veterinary team at AHS. “If you talk to our vets, you’ll learn that most of us chose shelter medicine over private practice because of our desire to make a difference in the lives of animals in need.”
But the work isn’t easy. “To be a vet at AHS requires a special skill set. We operate at a much faster pace than private practice veterinarians, and we’re always pushing ourselves to do more,” says Brayshaw.
Practicing medicine in a shelter environment — where animals live and interact in close quarters — often requires extraordinary measures. Many conditions that are simple to treat in a private clinic can be difficult to manage in a shelter, where contagious illnesses spread more easily.
AHS veterinarians also provided care to more than 15,000 animals through our public Veterinary Centers, which offer low-cost services to income-qualified pet owners, military personnel and veterans, and other non-profit rescue organizations.
Whether in shelter or in the clinic, our veterinarians believe in the work they do and the mission they support, says Dixon. "Their work changes lives — not just for animals but for the people who love them."
Every animal and every interaction shapes our work and our organization — but some hold a special place in our hearts. We asked our vets to reflect on some of their most memorable cases over the last year. Here’s what they had to say.
Saving Sasha's puppies
Dr. Ashley Trock, Golden Valley
Sasha, a sweet, white German Shepherd mix, came to us from an overcrowded shelter in Mississippi. She was shy, but very affectionate. The day I met her she walked up to me in my chair and slowly lowered her head into my lap. She looked up at me with her dark brown eyes and I instantly fell in love with her.
During her intake exam we noticed she had a very round abdomen, and radiographs revealed she was pregnant with seven tiny puppies.
I checked on her every day, sometimes several times a day. After a little more than a week in our care, she started going into labor.
At first everything went smoothly, but after a few hours Sasha started showing signs of distress. She managed to birth five of the puppies herself, but the last two just weren't going to come out on their own. I was so nervous! I decided to call in my colleague, Dr. Shelli Stulken, who is an expert at C-sections.
Late that Saturday night — long after the shelter closed — Shelli and I delivered the last two puppies by C-section. But it was too soon to celebrate, because the puppies weren’t breathing. We did everything we could to resuscitate them, methodically rubbing and moving their bodies to allow blood flow. I was so relieved when those tiny puppies began to breathe on their own!
It was a long night, but we never gave up. Together we were able to save this sweet family.
A few days later Sasha and her puppies went to a loving foster home, where her little ones were able to grow big and strong. When they made their debut in our adoption center, both mama and her babies found new homes in no time. Before Sasha left the shelter with her new family, she looked up at me one last time with those big brown eyes. I think she was saying thank you. I couldn't have been more proud.
Little Peanut's big recovery
Dr. Angelica Dimock, Golden Valley
Peanut was like so many of the kittens we see here at AHS. Super cute, super tiny, and super vulnerable.
But Peanut was more vulnerable than most. She and her littermates were found in a Twin Cities garbage dump. Only days old, Peanut was the smallest of the bunch. She weighed only ounces — less than a deck of cards — and was so tiny she was able to curl up and fall asleep in the palm of my hand.
Kittens that size can’t regulate their body temperature so this little girl was freezing cold when she arrived at our Golden Valley shelter. We used heating pads made of rice to warm her up and did our very best to hydrate and feed her.
I’ve worked with countless neonatal kittens in need and I knew Peanut’s condition was dire. But something about her was different. Looking down at her fragile, helpless body, something pulled at my heart. I knew deep within her, she had the strength to make it — and I knew I could help.
To make matters worse, Peanut’s weakened immune system left her susceptible to an upper respiratory infection. But with lots of oral antibiotics and round-the-clock care from a dedicated and selfless foster family, her condition improved and she put on the weight needed to get her ready for adoption.
I was sure it wouldn’t take long for this adorable little cat to find a loving home. Today she is happily living in suburban Minneapolis with two new feline siblings. She now goes by the name of Cheddar, but I’ll always remember her as our little Peanut.
Sandy's painful secret
Dr. Elaine Rayne, Woodbury
I could smell Sandy before I could see her. I’ve seen neglected animals before, but I have to say seeing Sandy shocked me to my core. She was so matted and dirty it was hard to tell what kind of animal she was. But I knew we could help her.
We didn't know it then, but Sandy was a beautiful, 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel. She'd been surrendered to us after her elderly owner became too ill to care for her. I was amazed at her sweet demeanor — especially once we discovered what was concealed under all her painfully matted fur.
Our vet techs sedated Sandy and spent three hours carefully shaving her matted fur and trimming her nails, which had grown so long they curled up into her paw. The smell was almost unbearable, but with each passing minute — as we cut and peeled the matted fur off her body — we knew we were changing her life.
While trimming her fur we discovered a painful skin infection was causing the horrible odor. Over the next week we treated her skin infection and removed five rotting teeth.
Sandy was a new dog. Once her health issues were resolved, she was ready for a home. She found her new family within a few days of being available for adoption.
I'm so happy I was able to help this wonderful little pup. She was so determined to make the best of a sad situation and we all felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to help her.
Buddy's weight loss journey
Dr. Josh Dwuznik, Coon Rapids
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him. At 200 pounds, Buddy, an 8-year-old lab, was so over-weight he could barely walk. My heart broke for him.
Buddy’s owner wanted us to euthanize him because he was having trouble moving. But it just seemed unfair. It wasn’t Buddy’s fault he was in this condition. I wanted to help Buddy walk again, help him run, or chase a ball. I knew we could give him his life back — but it wouldn’t be easy.
It was clear that Buddy was eating table scraps and hadn’t exercised in years. Our first step was to change his food to a veterinary prescription diet for overweight dogs. He ate three times a day, and his food was care-fully measured. Even though he was a good boy, there were no extra treats for Buddy!
Once we got him on a restricted diet, we began searching for a foster home where he could continue his carefully planned meals and start getting some exercise. It took a while to find the right foster family. Buddy was so overweight he couldn’t climb stairs — and lifting him was no easy task.
After settling into his new routine, Buddy dropped the first 20 pounds. He was able to take a few steps with lots of breaks in between. Eventually, he started going farther and farther.
When his weight dropped to 158 pounds, I decided Buddy was ready to leave foster care and continue his weight loss journey in a new home. We needed to find a special family that would commit to helping him reach a healthy weight. Within a few days, a family from Duluth met him and fell in love.
Buddy is now named “Big Boy Buddy” or “Big Boy” for short. His new family takes him for several long walks every day — and now he even runs with other dogs, chases squirrels, and plays with his elderly feline sister.
After weigh-ins every other week since his adoption, Buddy has finally reached his ideal weight. At 100 pounds, Buddy is half the dog he used to be — but twice as happy and healthy as ever.
Smokey's massive tumor
Dr. Kaitlin Monson, Golden Valley/St. Paul
I will never forget the first time I saw Smokey and the massive, baseball-sized tumor hanging from his lip. I couldn’t believe it. It was hard to imagine how this sweet 18-year-old cat managed to navigate the world with a huge mass swinging from his face.
Smokey's owner told me he had lived with the tumor for more than five years because she couldn't afford the expensive surgery to remove it. During that time, it had grown larger and larger — and she had begun to lose hope.
Through a friend, Smokey’s mom learned about the low-cost services available at our Veterinary Center in Golden Valley, where the surgery could be performed at a fraction of the cost. She was relieved and overjoyed. It was clear how much she loved him.
Because of the way the tumor was attached to tissue in his mouth, the surgery took much longer than I anticipated. After about an hour I had finally removed the mass. I had to perform reconstructive surgery so his lips lined up.
We sent the tumor to the lab to make sure it wasn't cancerous. The pathologist let us know a few days later it was just a benign cyst. Smokey’s owner cried tears of relief, and I nearly joined her. I was so happy to know Smokey would live the rest of his days without pain or discomfort.
Freed from the weight of the tumor, Smokey now moves with grace and his head held high. His life is forever changed because we were able to help him. That feels pretty amazing.
Hazen's Horrible trauma
Dr. Julie Steller, Golden Valley
I remember the shock I felt when I discovered Hazel’s horrible injuries. My heart dropped.
Hazel was a 4-month-old lab mix who came to us from a shelter in Alabama. She was such a sweet little girl, full of life and energy. When I examined her, I was stunned to see she had severe trauma to the left side of her upper and lower jaw and a terrible infection in her gums, teeth, and bone — likely the result of terrible abuse.
We immediately scheduled her for surgery to repair her jaw and remove the dead tissue, which included several large pieces of bone from her face. We also had to remove all of the puppy teeth on her left side.
Hazel had a long recovery ahead of her, but within a few days she was already feeling much better. After three weeks, the gum tissue had fully healed and Hazel was eating just like any other dog. Unfortunately, her upper and lower lips will always be scarred and fused close to her muzzle. As a result, her tongue sticks out of the left side of her mouth — which makes her look more adorable than ever.
We’ll never know what caused Hazel’s horrible injuries. But in a way it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we were there for her — and so many animals before her. I will always remember helping Hazel heal.