Espen the yellow Lab is obsessed with retrieving, but what he brought back to his pet sitter 15 months ago wasn’t one of his beloved balls — it was a 5-foot piece of rebar sticking out of his chest and abdomen. It’s a moment his poor pet sitter will likely never forget, but according to Espen’s human, Stacey Muscarella, the now 6-year-old Lab seems like he already has.
“He definitely has no long-term effects from it. He is a typical Lab, and the only reason you would know anything happened to him was if you saw him on the news or if he rolled over and you saw the scar on his belly,” Stacey tells Dogster.
The 63-inch bit of rebar was likely a leftover from her backyard’s former life as a tree farm. Stacey had no idea the metal rod was buried under pine needles on her Great Falls, Virginia, property until Espen found it in the worst way possible — and at the worst time, too. Stacey was out of state with her partner, Rick, and her teenage daughter when Espen showed his pet sitter what he’d discovered.
“He walked back up to the house like, ‘Hi, I’ve got a problem,’” Stacey explains.
Stacey says her pet sitter, a neighbour of the family, quickly called a veterinary hospital just up the street from her house.
“They sent over a vet tech right away, who took him to the Hope Center over in Vienna.”
Hope Advanced Veterinary Center in Vienna is a familiar place to Espen. This Lab is no stranger to accidents.
“He was hit by a car at 1 year old. He had a plate and 10 screws put in his hind leg because he took off thinking he was smart and got in trouble,” Stacey recalls, adding that the same veterinarian who fixed Espen’s broken leg five years ago later removed the rebar.
“Then, two years, ago he ate a corn cob. We don’t know where he got it from, but we had to have him opened up.”
After the corn cob removal surgery, Espen was bit by a snake, before finally impaling himself with the rebar when Stacey was out of town.
The rebar came out the same day it went in. The operation took more than two hours. The metal rod had injured Espen’s diaphragm, lung, and liver, and the cost had Stacey’s heart beating double-time. She remembers hearing an early estimate of $8,000 and worried Espen’s unexpected hospital stay would be beyond her budget.
When the folks at Hope Advanced Veterinary Center offered to put out a call for donations via social media, Stacey was happy for the help. News of the accident spread, and Lab lovers donated to the Giving Hope Foundation, part of the Veterinary Care Foundation, to help fund Espen’s care.
His accident happened on a Monday, and by Wednesday he was reunited with his humans, who had returned home to Virginia and visited him at the clinic. Stacey says if it were up to Espen, he would have gone home with them that very minute.
“He was ready to move on, like ‘let’s get this show on the road and get me out of here,’” she recalls.
Espen’s medical team disagreed with him, and kept him in the hospital for another day. Meanwhile, his humans were busy speaking with reporters, as the donation campaign had attracted the attention of local, then national newsrooms.
Four days after the impaling, Espen got to come home, but he was far from fully healed.
“When I first brought him home, he was so uncomfortable, he couldn’t sit. Of course it broke my heart,” says Stacey, who kept a calendar to keep track of Espen’s medication schedule.
As days turned into weeks, Espen started to feel better. He whined and cried, wanting to play ball, but his family had to help him take it easy.
“It took 12 weeks to recover because in order to remove the rebar, they cracked his ribs, so they wanted to give him that extra time to heal — and he was not a happy camper.”
Eventually Espen’s vet cleared his return to the rambunctious Lab lifestyle.
“You would never know it happened,” Stacey says 15 months later. “People who’ve known him before and after say he hasn’t changed one bit.”