Kristie Karcanes doesn’t know much about what happened to her rescue dog, Oakley, in the first couple months of his life, but she can be certain he was the victim of a very violent act.
“I just know he came into the shelter with a bullet in his spine before he was nine weeks old,” she explains.
According to Karcanes, little Oakley the Pit Bull arrived at the Montgomery County shelter in North Carolina as an owner surrender, but the person who brought him in didn’t mention the bullet. They told shelter workers that Oakley had been born without the use of his hind legs. Karcanes says the fact that Oakley’s paralysis was caused by people wasn’t discovered until rescuers pulled him from the shelter.
“They took him to the vet immediately, and they did an X-ray on him because they wanted to see what was causing his paralysis. That’s when they found a bullet near his spine.”
It’s a story Karcanes is getting used to telling — and one that is attracting plenty of attention online. After adopting the pup in 2014, Karcanes started a Facebook page for Bulletproof Oakley with the hope of spreading the word about the consequences of animal abuse. Her platform for advocacy is fitting, considering it was social media that brought Karcanes and Oakley together in the first place.
Active in North Carolina’s rescue community, Karcanes first noticed Oakley on her Facebook feed in 2014 and watched as a group she hadn’t before worked with, Friends FUR Life K9 Rescue, started Oakley on the road to recovery by ridding him of worms and urine burns.
“I liked their page and started following his story because I just wanted to make sure he was OK,” Karcanes remembers.
After a few days of keeping up with Oakley on Facebook, Karcanes couldn’t stop thinking about him, so she reached out to the director of Friends FUR Life K9 Rescue to ask if she could meet the endearing little pup.
“I just wanted to meet him, with maybe a possibility of wanting to foster him,” explains Karcanes, who ended up bringing Oakley home as a foster just one day after meeting the paralyzed Pit Bull puppy, who impressed her by bouncing around on his bottom.
Although Karcanes knew she was drawn to Oakley, she didn’t even consider adoption at first as she wasn’t sure if she could commit to a dog with complex medical needs and life-long incontinence. She also didn’t know if her other three dogs — Jasper, Ollie, and Kya — would accept Oakley.
“That was my biggest worry. I wondered if they were going to take him in,” explains Karcanes, adding that two of her dogs were indeed weirded out by Oakley at first.
“But Ollie took him right in. Ollie didn’t care that he was different. He got down to his size and just played with him. I think that made it easier for the other two to warm up.”
Within two weeks, Jasper and Kya also had accepted Oakley into their pack and Karcanes had accepted him into her heart. Oakley became a foster failure and a permanent member of the household. These days, the furry foursome loves to run together in the backyard — with Oakley keeping up in his wheelchair.
“I totally fell in love with him,” says Karcanes, who adds that caring for Oakley has included some unexpected challenges. Recently, the pup had to have a paw amputated.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that something like this was going to occur — that he would actually chew at his own feet. I had no idea.”
Unable to feel his back paws, young Oakley took to chewing on one of them. Karcanes tried bandages, the cone of shame, and a muzzle, all to no avail.
“We went in and actually amputated a toe and a half first, trying to save the paw.”
Then one night when Karcanes was sleeping, Oakley injured himself so badly that the whole his paw had to be removed.
“He hasn’t tried to go for it since, and he’s not trying to go for the other foot,” says Karcanes, adding that Oakley’s vet has also tried medications for nerve pain as well as antidepressants to keep Oakley from chewing himself.
After what she’s experienced with Oakley, Karcanes says she encourages other potential pet owners to consider getting a special-needs pet, but wants people to recognize that it is a very big responsibility — one that often includes unexpected outcomes.
While Oakley continues to recover from his amputation, Karcanes continues to devote herself to advocating for greater awareness of animal abuse.
“Before Oakley came into my life, I knew of animal abuse, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I started his Facebook page and started seeing all these other animals and the things that they have been through, the things that they’ve survived.”
“If I don’t know that — and I actually work in rescue — there must be so many other people out there who don’t know at all,” she says.
That’s why Karcanes is making Oakley into the poster boy in a campaign to stop animal abuse.
“We’ve made shirts. We’ve made hoodies. I’m actually making a website now,” she says. “People need to know that if you see it, it needs to be reported, because so many people see it and don’t do anything about it.”
Bulletproof Oakley will never walk or regain feeling in his back end because of the bullet that pierced his flesh as a puppy, but Karcanes hopes his influence may save other animals from a similar fate.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.