It’s not clear how she came to be laying unconscious on the tracks in Shirley after midnight on Thursday, May 3rd, but that’s where Christine Spain was when a freight train made its way through the town, heading right for her. Her companion, Lilly, an eight-year-old pit bull, sensed the imminent danger and, as the train inexorably headed closer, frantically tugged Christine until the woman fell sideways to safety, within seconds of the train’s arrival.
Though the train’s engineer had seen the lifeless woman and her dog as he approached, and tried to stop, he couldn’t prevent the train’s wheels from striking Lilly, whose right front foot and pelvis were horribly mutilated. In spite of being critically—and possibly mortally--wounded by the impact, Lilly’s focus didn’t waver. Bleeding profusely and in shock, she never left the side of the still-unconscious Christine, and waited calmly until police and firefighters arrived.
What they witnessed when they got to the scene astonished them. Thanks to Lilly’s valiant efforts, Christine had not even been brushed by the train. Once the rescuers saw that she was okay, they recognized that time was of the essence if Lilly was to be saved. She was rushed to Acton Emergency Care, a 24-hour veterinary facility, where she was stabilized until Christine’s son, Boston Police Officer David Lanteigne, arrived. He quickly bundled Lilly up and transported her to Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, where veterinarians in the Center’s Emergency and Critical Care Unit were waiting.
It was an emotional trip. Lanteigne knew that if not for Lilly, his mother would be dead. He had adopted the brown pit bull three years ago as a therapy dog for Christine, who has been in a lifelong battle with alcoholism. From the minute they met, said Lanteigne, Lilly and Christine were inseparable. “Lilly means the world to my mother,” he said. “She has played a crucial role in helping my mom drastically reduce her drinking. Lilly’s recovery from this horrific ordeal is my top priority right now and I’ll do everything possible to get her back home to us.”
Once they got to Angell’s Emergency Care Unit, Dr. Alice D’Amore gave Lilly sedatives and pain medication to allow her team to assess the extent of the dog’s injuries. What they found was horrific: Lilly’s right front foot had been completely “de-gloved,” meaning that its skin, muscle, and connective tissue were completely torn away. Her left pelvis was fractured in several places, and even if she were to survive the surgery to repair it, veterinarians were concerned that Lilly might be permanently impaired.
Angell’s veterinary team determined that due to the extensive nature of the injuries to Lilly’s right front leg, their only option was to amputate it, which they did on Saturday, May 5th. On Sunday, May 6th, Lilly underwent a second surgery to repair her pelvis and left rear leg, which is now supported with steel plates.
Although Lilly will not be able to bear weight or walk without assistance for at least the next few months, Angell’s veterinarians are hopeful that Lilly’s indomitable spirit will support her through a challenging recovery. Dr. Meg Whalen, a staff criticalist at the hospital’s Emergency and Critical Care unit said, “As a 24/7 emergency care hospital, it’s fair to say that we have ‘seen it all’ with respect to companion animal emergencies. However, Lilly’s selfless bravery has captured the hearts of our entire staff. Her injuries are long and her road to recovery will be long. But she’s got the character and spirit that sometimes trumps all of our medical advances when it comes to recovery. I think she’s got what it takes to get back to her former self.”
Lilly’s extensive--and expensive--care is being partially supported by MSPCA-Angell’s Pet Care Assistance program, which provides aid to families whose animals need emergency, intermediate, and critical care at Angell. The fund is accepting donations for Lilly’s care through the MSPCA’s website
Lilly’s devotion to Christine, even at the peril of her own life, defies society’s stereotypes of pit bulls as aggressive or mean-spirited dogs. The MSPCA’s Director of Animal Protection, Jean Weber, said of this incredible canine heroine: “Lilly’s story has moved us all beyond measure. I hope her actions will underscore the truth about pit bulls—that they are amazing animals and are as devoted to their familes as any other dog.”