In the pleasant month of May, a concerned neighbor called Stephanie Smith-Justus, sharing a story about a desperate dog and offering her knowledge on how to help, knowing she might not have enough information.
Smith-Justus, a member of a local animal refuge and a dedicated member of the Buchanan County Humane Society in Virginia, who strongly opposes euthanasia, quickly joined forces with her partner and hurried to the end of their street. They were guided by their neighbor’s account of seeing a stray dog.
Despite an extensive search through the dense woods, they began to lose hope. However, by chance, her husband stumbled upon the weak and neglected dog, hidden among a thick tangle of plants at the edge of the road. “Stephanie, it’s hard to believe he will survive,” he expressed, as shared with The Dodo by Smith-Justus.
At first, the dog had noticeable marks resembling burns. He was just four months old and was suffering from a severe case of demodectic mange, most likely inherited from his mother. “The intensity of the condition was shocking,” Smith-Justus explained. “Imagine a second-degree burn.”
Coincidentally, a veterinarian had recently moved into the neighborhood nearby. Smith-Justus and her partner quickly rushed to the vet’s new residence, holding the small canine in their arms. “We didn’t bother with the formality of knocking,” she described. “I burst into her house, still cradling the puppy.”
Upon examination, the veterinarian, naming the dog Watkins after the location of his discovery, immediately recognized the precarious state he was in. Smith-Justus explained that “She feared that his demise was near.”
Quickly taken to the veterinary clinic, they discovered that Watkins’ skin ailments were only the beginning of his troubles. The unfortunate animal had been repeatedly shot with pellets, suffering from both physical wounds and severe malnutrition. Weighing a mere 34 pounds and enduring prolonged starvation, his intestines had collapsed.
Malnutrition had hindered the growth and development of his ankles. “His tendons had lost their flexibility,” Smith-Justus explained. “He couldn’t stand on his paws, it was impossible; his walking was a painful, limp-wristed ordeal.”
Mange had almost defeated his delicate physique. “He was constantly leaking fluids,” she remembered, illustrating a perpetual 8-inch damp halo surrounding him. “His swelling was noticeable.”
Smith-Justus was deeply affected by Watkin’s difficult situation. Her main concern was ensuring humane treatment for him. While acknowledging that euthanasia may be mandated by the state, she expressed her desire to prioritize his overall well-being to the vet. The vet responded firmly, stating that they should make every effort to save him.
The road to recovery was filled with challenges. After being transferred to the clinic, Watkins experienced a bowel torsion, which required urgent surgery. The chances of survival were slim, leading the vet to advise Smith-Justus to prepare for his departure. Despite the odds, Watkins defied expectations and continued to persevere into the next day.
The situation worsened several weeks later. Watkins, refusing to eat, began to lose weight and eventually needed a feeding tube, which he accidentally removed. Smith-Justus described his recovery as a series of unfortunate events.
Watkins endured 119 days under veterinary care, including a stay in Virginia Tech’s ICU. Throughout this difficult time, people from around the world who were familiar with his story sent supportive messages. Gifts such as blankets and dog beds arrived from distant lands, and a family even traveled across states to visit him.
A Facebook page documenting his journey gained over 12,000 followers. “His story and experiences resonated with others as deeply as they did with me,” Smith-Justus reflected.
Thanks to the support network and resilience shown by Watkins, he was able to return to the care of Smith-Justus on July 11. However, his journey to recovery was far from over, as he required weekly treatments for an ear infection and demodectic mange.
What truly amazed everyone was Watkins’ perseverance. Even when his legs seemed to give up on him, Smith-Justus sought further consultation for his condition. But, by sheer chance, Watkins suddenly stood up and started walking correctly. Smith-Justus was left speechless by his incredible recovery.
Over the following months, Watkins, still in the process of recovering, gradually became more energetic, almost reaching the level of a typical 10-month-old puppy. His fear of vehicles and law enforcement equipment began to fade away, replaced by a newfound love for car rides. He grew stronger and more confident, and recently he even started playing in the yard without any signs of pain. “Watkins brings me so much happiness, he truly is an amazing dog,” she reflected. Not only did his physical strength and skin condition improve, but his hearing also seemed to be getting better.
His aquatic friend, a toy lobster, joins him from his water bowl for nighttime play. Despite his difficult past, Watkiпs shows a lot of affection. Recently, when Smith-Justus fostered kittens covered in soot and their worried mother, Watkiпs eagerly embraced and groomed them while their anxious mother watched closely.
Watkiпs’s journey continues to be challenging, and he is currently receiving Prozac treatment to manage the stress of his medical visits. Each day reveals more of the lively dog hidden beneath the difficulties he faced earlier in life.
“The Virginia Tech team held onto dreams and sent their thoughts for him, although they weren’t optimistic about his chances of survival… he inspired us all,” said Smith-Justus. “He is truly a miracle.”
Donations towards continuing Watkins’ veterinary expenses are greatly appreciated.
To ensure that other dogs don’t face the same fate as Watkin, why not consider adoption? You can visit Adopt-a-Pet.com and explore the available dogs who are in need of a loving home for a lifetime.