By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Every so often, you get a dog like Penelope.
So says Hilo veterinarian Bill San Filippo.
“Not every dog can be saved,” he explained.
It’s a sad fact of his business. Some animals are just too badly injured, or would be too much of a burden to ask a family to take on.
But there are always exceptions to the rules, and this 20-pound, black and brown exception arrived at the doorstep of the East Hawaii Veterinary Clinic about two weeks ago, San Filippo said. The 6-month-old female Catahoula mix had a few broken ribs and an apparent spinal injury.
“People brought her in and said she’d been hit by a car,” he said. “Her back was broken. She was a paraplegic basically. … We gave them a prognosis that was pretty grim, and they said they couldn’t deal with her. They gave her up to the clinic.”
San Filippo said it’s not something they do routinely, but there was something about Penelope that caught his attention, and that of the other vets, technicians and employees in the office. This was a dog they would be willing to go the extra mile for, he said.
“There are some dogs that you just kinda make a connection with. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. Some dogs just make a connection with you. You just want to go out of your way to make sure they have a chance to make a life,” he said.
He added that the dog’s demeanor and age, combined with the fact that she had maintained some control over her bowels and bladder, made her a good candidate for further measures to try and preserve her quality of life.
“This is the first dog we’ve really gone to this extent with,” he said. “The majority of dogs (with this kind of injury), they completely lose the use of their hind legs and the majority of them wind up being euthanized. But Penelope, she had bowel and bladder control, which was a huge thing. It made everything a lot easier. The combination of age and attitude and the limited amount of the disability. … Everything just seemed right.”
Veterinary technician Mikki Cook added that it was Penelope’s will to keep on living that really affected her.
“In this profession, there are a lot of pets that are unfortunate and don’t have that second chance. But what we saw in her was something … she drew our attention somehow. The sadness in her face or eyes, at first. And then I think the willpower for her to live and try to get up and move around,” she said. “We were trying to keep her back as stable as possible, but she kept wanting to be around people, kept dragging herself around.”
It’s that connection with people and Penelope’s desire for affection that ultimately led to the decision to order a specially designed wheelchair for dogs on E-bay and see if she could use it to get around. Some dogs never get used to the devices and many are put down. But, in this case, San Filippo said, it was like a duck to water.
“She’s taken to the wheelchair pretty good,” he said. “She cruises around like a trooper in the thing.”
“She’ll never be a four-legged dog, but she’s a great, loving dog despite her disability. And she’s still at that puppy stage. She’s always getting into everything. She runs over curbs, likes to chew on sticks, loves to eat. Chases after cats. Everything other dogs do, she does.
“She’s very loving and affectionate, and she wants to be right under you all the time. She loves to be caressed and petted, and wouldn’t mind you giving your attention to her all the time,” she said with a laugh. “But then again, most dogs are like that, and some cats.”
Now that Penelope is mobile, the clinic is on the lookout for good adoptive parents for the young dog. Caring for such an animal will require a special effort, San Filippo said.
“Unless you’re really prepared to deal with a dog like this, it can be difficult,” he said. “We need people, like a retired couple, that can devote a lot of time to her. She can only spend so many hours in a wheelchair and needs to be taken out of it two or three times a day to rest. When she’s in it, she’s always standing on her front legs, so she needs a break.”
He added that while Penelope has retained some control of her bowels, with her type of injury accidents are more likely to happen, so her new family will have to be understanding on that front. But, he said, it’s a small price to pay.
“In return, you get all this unconditional love back.”
Penelope and some of the employees of East Hawaii Veterinary Clinic will be on hand this Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m. at Liliuokalani Gardens for the second annual Bark for Life cancer walk, a pre-event fundraiser for Hilo’s Relay for Life. Penelope will join other dogs and their owners in the walk, strutting her stuff in her new wheelchair, and San Filippo said he hopes the event will act as a great showcase for the pup to help find her a new home.
It will be difficult to say goodbye, Cook added, but the clinic’s employees are used to fixing up their patients and seeing them on to have happy and fulfilling lives. And the crew is always open to receiving visitors to give them an update on their progress, she said.
“It feels good. To know that we’ve given her a new leash on life — on wheels,” she said.
People interested in adopting Penelope may contact the veterinary clinic at (808) 959-2273.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.