When 7-year-old Dachshund mix Rusty gets into the pool, he doesn’t seem to fear the water at all. He’s focused on having fun, not on memories of how water and wind once threatened his very life, or the proverbial rough sea his life has been for the past several months.
“He’s been through hell,” says Brian Harrington, President and Co-founder of Odie’s Place Animal Rescue. “Not only with the hurricane, but he’s been moved around a couple times, too.”
According to Harrington, Rusty survived Hurricane Sandy as a stray on the streets of New York and was taken in by a family who found him not long after the storm. Just 3 years old at the time, Rusty fit right into their household, getting along perfectly with their other dog, the cat, and all of the family’s four children. By all indications, Rusty was a perfect family dog.
Unfortunately, things changed when Rusty’s health dramatically declined this past summer. When he began losing feeling in his back legs, his family was concerned. Soon he lost control of his bladder, his bowel movements, and the ability to walk. Suddenly the formerly perfect pooch needed to be carried from room to room and was wearing diapers. Harrington believes it was all too much for the busy family who likely didn’t know what else to do when they arrived at one of New York City’s busiest shelters.
“Rusty was surrendered at the Manhattan [Animal Control Center] on June 27,” he says. An experienced animal rescuer, Harrington wishes Rusty’s family had felt they had another option, as the dog’s paralysis meant he was quickly placed on the shelter’s “at-risk” list, and faced euthanasia almost immediately.
“When he entered the facility, they put a timer on him for 24 hours,” Harrington explains.
“Because of his condition, he was deemed to be only adoptable by a rescue group. If there was an individual who wanted to adopt him, they couldn’t do it — he was a ‘rescue only.’”
At that point, no one knew exactly why Rusty was paralyzed, or even if his condition was permanent. Harrington says the dog’s records indicated some veterinary care after the paralysis — Rusty had received a cortisone shot that unfortunately didn’t help him regain mobility — but no diagnostic work.
Shortly after Rusty’s family dropped him off at the shelter, Harrington learned of the dog’s existence through an email from the Manhattan ACC. The appeal had been sent to all the shelter’s rescue partners in a desperate attempt to give Rusty another chance.
Hundreds of miles away in Massachusetts, Harrington didn’t pull Rusty from the shelter himself, but later worked with a group who did. He says the rescuers who saved Rusty initially placed the dog in a foster home in the northeastern United States. Unfortunately, the human of the house hurt her back lifting the mixed-breed dog (who is heavier than most Dachshunds at 31 pounds), and Rusty needed somewhere else to go.
At that point, Harrington took custody of Rusty, complying with Massachusetts’ regulations for imported rescue animals by placing Rusty in quarantine and getting him the medical care he needed. A neurological exam and X-rays suggested Rusty’s paralysis was caused by an injury to his vertebrae that is putting pressure on his spinal cord. It was good news for Harrington.
“There is potential for him to walk again,” he says, adding that the next step is getting Rusty an MRI to determine the extent of the damage and if surgery will help. Odie’s Place is currently raising funds for the procedure.
In the meantime, Rusty is thriving, and making progress in physical therapy.
“He has a foster mother who is just incredible,” Harrington explains. “She had experience with dogs like that who are down.”
Rusty spends his days cruising in his custom wheelchair from Eddie’s Wheels and participating in water therapy in the pool at The Canine Joint rehabilitation center. Harrington says Odies Place will continue to do whatever it takes to give Rusty the kind of life he deserves — whether his physical condition improves or not.
“[Our] goal is to get him to walk again, or find a forever home who has experience with special needs dogs.”
Harrington is sharing the dog’s journey on YouTube and Facebook using the hashtag #RustyStrong, and he hopes Rusty’s story can prevent other injured dogs from ending up in shelters.