In February last year, Claire Gallo was moving into a new apartment. Her 11-month-old Husky Leia, not much more than a puppy, was so spirited that she called a friend and arranged a play date so the dog would be safe while she moved. “I didn’t want her running out an open door,” she recalled in an interview.
So she dropped Leia off at her friend’s house and returned to her car. “My friend opened her back door to let her Pomeranian out and Leia ran after her. There was no fence and my friend ran after Leia. When you chase Huskies, they run away from you and, when you run away from them, they chase you. So I’m watching my friend chasing my dog right out onto a main street.
“Two cars going one direction stopped and one car going the other direction stopped and she [Leia] was in the middle. I thought everything was OK but then a car came along speeding 10 or maybe 15 miles over the limit and the driver didn’t see her. The car rammed right into her and it was the most devastating day of my life. Leia screamed like a human being.
“I was thinking, ‘What do I do?’ I I was running toward her and she dragged herself across the street toward me and stuck her nose between my feet and cried. I didn’t cry and I didn’t scream. I ran and got a blanket out of my car while my friend stayed with Leia and I wrapped her tightly and put her on my lap and drove to the closest emergency hospital – San Clemente Veterinary Hospital – about two miles away. I was covered with blood and she was covered with blood. Her leg seemed to be hanging by a tendon.
“I had opened a new credit card the day before and I just swiped it. It was my baby and I didn’t want anything to happen to her. But her injury was so extensive that they [the hospital staff] seemed to be preparing me to put her down. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d had her since she was seven weeks old. So I was devastated. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep.”
Claire was 18 at the time and a part-time student at Saddleback College. She had about $2,000 in savings that she gave to the hospital to help pay for Leia’s treatment – but the bill was going to be about $8,000. “I was working my butt off just to pay the rent,” she said.
Then Angel Fund stepped in. It contributed $1,000 and the hospital matched that figure. Claire’s mother had found Angel Fund on the internet and the hospital also recommended it. “Basically, Angel Fund saved my dog’s life,” Claire said.
Dr. John Agostini of the San Clemente hospital, did the surgery. He said that “there was so much destruction of the tarsal joint – the ankle joint – that it had to be fused. That is unusual. At the same time, there was an extensive amount of skin that was lost. So it turned into a team effort with Dr. Randall Fitch doing the fusion and I was the reconstructive guy, who put the skin back in place. We did some plastic surgery, probably the best way to describe it. Then there were months of status changing and rehab. The post operative ankle fusion had to have a rather extensive Kirschner-Ehmer apparatus put on it. It’s an array of pins [nine in this case] to keep it stable while the bones heal. We [he and Leia] got to know each other pretty well. She was in here several times a weeks and had another surgery.”
Leia is “amazing” today, Claire said. “I take her to the dog park and nobody can tell the difference. She runs like the wind. Every once in while you’ll notice her picking up her back leg because there’s so much muscle lost. She runs as fast on three legs as she ever did on four.” And, she said, when she takes Leia back to San Vicente Hospital, they say, ‘Hey, look, this is the dog!’ They all love to see her.”
Claire is planning to continue her education. She is still a student at Saddleback but she’s thinking of transferring to a Bay Area school. And, she said, “after this experience, honestly, I want to be a veterinarian. I want to be that person who gives joy to people who have an experience like I had. I can’t even believe the gifts that Dr. Agostini gave me.”