Polka Dogz Pet Rescue, based in Winter Garden, is working to rehabilitate and care for a paralyzed pup named Maverick.
WINTE GARDEN When Winter Garden’s Polka Dogz Pet Rescue found Maverick — a 1-year-old Jack Russell Terrier mix — he was a sorry-looking stray lying in a yard, his entire back half paralyzed from a traumatic injury. The little dog’s spinal cord sits at a 90-degree angle, and his leg is broken and in a splint. But Polka Dogz’s founder, Heidi Hardman, promised she would help him every step of the way.
A BROKEN BEGINNING
Maverick came to Polka Dogz just a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, when volunteer Chris Jones found him lying in a yard. He knew Maverick was severely injured, but because it was a weekend and the pet rescue does not yet have a veterinarian on staff, he took the dog to animal control to be seen there. On Monday morning, Hardman drove to where he was in Polk County and brought him to her veterinarian, who confirmed that his back was broken and sent them to a specialist.
Maverick likely was hit by a car twice — the first time breaking his back and the second time completely paralyzing him and breaking his leg. He was a homeless stray, vulnerable to predators outside, and had to fend for himself despite the trauma he’d been put through.
It was at the specialist that the rescue discovered the extent of his injuries. Maverick’s spinal cord was completely severed, his leg was broken and he had no control of his bladder or bowels. Luckily, he was not in pain.
“He wasn’t in pain, and he just melts into your arms and I said, ‘We can’t let him go,’” Hardman said.
Against the recommendation of the neurosurgeon, Hardman promised Maverick she would help him. The eight-pound dog spent two nights getting fluids and antibiotics, as well as a CT scan that confirmed his back injury was at least a month or two old.
“We made the decision to go ahead and save him, and by that night, we had had someone step up to donate a wheelchair for him,” Hardman said. “He knows how to walk on two legs. I promised him I’d help him, and we couldn’t put him down. He has such a will to live and so much to teach us. He taught himself to get around and we’ve only had him about two weeks. He goes for walks; he smells and tries to play like any other dog.”
They put his leg in a splint, which they hope will help it heal and prevent infection. Hardman also was given a sling-type apparatus, which wraps around Maverick’s hip area and allows Hardman to hold his paralyzed back up so he can walk on his two front legs. So far, his treatment has cost the rescue around $3,000, but that number will grow as his treatment progresses. It’s a large price to pay — the rescue runs only on adoption fees, donations and the staff’s out-of-pocket money — but to them, Maverick is worth it.
“He survived on his own for all that time and was prey to anything out there, and we’re amazed he even survived,” Hardman said.
NEW HOPE FOR MAVERICK
Maverick is healing slowly but surely and being immersed in love at Polka Dogz. Now that he has gained some of his strength back, he loves getting to be around the other small dogs at the rescue and is learning to get around in his own way. Hardman said Maverick was already compensating for his injury and learning how to do “handstands” in his kennel to get himself around on his remaining two legs.
Hardman, Polka Dogz volunteer Aaron Stein and employee Zee Nackman all work together to take care of each dog in residence, and each has helped in the process of nurturing Maverick back to good health. They have to help Maverick go to the bathroom by expressing his bladder, since he cannot feel or process bowel movements on his own.
“I promised him I’d help him, and we couldn’t put him down. He has such a will to live and so much to teach us.” — Heidi Hardman
The rescue operates as a home environment rather than that of a kennel, since the end goal is to get each dog into a home. Each dog can stay as long as it takes to find it a home, and they are put on a schedule that includes exercise times, four walks a day and a nap time. In this environment, Maverick and the other dogs in Polka Dogz’s care are thriving.
Hardman said Maverick continues to prove his perseverance and will to live. He tries to run around and play with the other dogs, and remains a happy-go-lucky little dog.
“He’s inspiring,” Hardman said. “We don’t put them down because they’re in a wheelchair or had a disability. He’s here to teach us a lesson, and he’s so worth it. There’s a reason he didn’t die. Even though one of the vets recommended we put him down, it’s a life and he’s not in pain. This dog is what rescue is about.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected]ver.com.