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Saving Ford, A "Ruff-olutionary" Idea!

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No, this isn't a story about the Ford Motor Company. It's a story about a dog named Ford who wandered into a neighbor’s yard and, as a result, has had to endure tremendous pain since September 28, 2012. The costs to Ford and his human, Glen Bierman of Cairo, GA, have been high, both financially and emotionally. Glen is determined to get Ford’s story out there, not primarily due to the cause of Ford‘s injury, but because he believes, and I agree, that the challenges and innovative solutions found in this account might help other people’s canine and feline companions live pain-free lives.

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Ford is definitely a dog that has nine lives. Born to a litter where each dog was named after a car company, Ford was the runt of the group. When just a small puppy, he survived a bout with parvo and was adopted and brought up by Glen. When he was still a youngster, Ford jumped into a fishpond, knocking over an underwater pump and almost electrocuted himself. Ford managed to live through that experience as well.

As you can see from the Youtube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJS-oX25IFg. Ford had a wonderful life. Until that fateful day when, at 18 months old, he wandered into a neighbor's yard and was shot in the elbow, maimed forever.

The neighbor who shot Ford is a policeman in Thomasville, the county next door to Cairo, where Ford and his dad live. While off-duty, Police Officer Andrew Childs claimed that Ford, a friendly dog who never hurt anybody and was known to people in the neighborhood, felt threatened for his family when he saw a dog on his property and believed his only option was to pull out his gun and shoot to kill. Childs story was that he was leaving his home, backing out of the driveway, when he saw a dog on his property. Childs got out of his truck and grabbed his gun, shooting Ford. Under questioning, Childs admitted that Ford had not approached him in a menacing manner.

In the rescue community we are well aware of the fact that shootings like these happen way too often, when officers take the lives of canine family members without cause. Every 98 minutes a dog is shot by law enforcement. There are multiple FB pages detailing these horrific events. Most officers have no training on alternative solutions to "shoot to kill."

Dogs Shot By Police https://www.facebook.com/DogsShotbyPolice is just one of the support groups. Police admit that many times, errors are made, and they enter the wrong house, shooting and killing any animal that approaches them in a threatening manner. And don’t assume it’s always a pit bull. It can be a dog of any breed. Most often, these officers are not chastised, and restitution is not made to the animal’s grieving human. Even when signs are clearly posted regarding the presence of an animal, the signs are disregarded upon entry. It boggles the mind that any law-abiding citizen who posts a sign on their gate warning people that an animal resides there, would ever expect their animal to be shot on it’s own property.

In Denver, this past year, the issue gained prominence after a Commerce City police officer shot a dog that had been tasered and was restrained in a noose at the end of a catch pole. Robert Price, the officer, faces a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals as a result of the November 2012 incident. That city was determined to clean up it’s act, and, like other cities, have instituted a program to train police officers on how to handle situations with dogs.

You can read more here: Police dog-handling training will help officers - and dogs - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/ci_22895415/police-dog-handling-training-will-help-officers-and#ixzz2mGK32Wv4

Thankfully this idea is gaining popularity across the country. So many animal companions would be alive today if the badge-wearing shooters had been aware if their choices. However Thomasville GA was not one of those cities who had provided advanced training to their officers in animal contact.

On that fateful day, Glen was in the middle of working on his house when he heard the first gunshot. He started yelling for his dog when he heard the second shot, followed by the sound of Ford screaming in pain. Glen took off to find his dog, mindless of the fact that he, himself, might be injured with the next bullet. About 10 seconds later, he found Ford in a clear spot next to the path, bleeding badly, shaking and whimpering. The animal was passing in and out of shock.

Scared out of his mind for his friend, he drove to the home of his ex-wife, an RN who lived nearby. She was able to stabilize him and the two of them rushed to find a 24-hour vet who would come to her office. As they drove, Ford slipped in and out of consciousness.

The emergency vet they found told them the situation was looking very grim. She told them they would have to wait till the morning to see if the bleeding would stop and if Ford would stabilize enough to be x-rayed.

So Fords’ human had to make a decision. Does he try to save Fords leg?. Does he have the leg amputated? Dogs can live and happily survive as tripods.

But any decision may not have saved Fords life.

Luckily, Ford stabilized, and fate stepped in again, but this time in a good way. Glen found a team of specialists right in his backyard who would help him in this crisis.

Capital Veterinary Specialists, located in Tallahassee, Florida, have more than 18 years of combined experience, and Glen turned to Doctor Kevin A. Drygas, DVM, DACVS, for help. Dr. Drygas has performed limb sparing surgery on animals in the past, along with developing innovative physical therapy strategies. You can read about many of their remarkable procedures on their web page: http://www.capvetspecialists.com/

Ford's x-ray showed that the elbow was completely shattered. In an effort to save the elbow, Dr. Drygas decided to try a procedure with which he had previous experience. He attached an external fixator to Ford’s elbow - a series of metal rods that stabilize and immobilize the leg. You can watch the video of the cleaning procedure Ford had to undergo every day for seven weeks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asWk8FFmwCg#

It is absolutely heart wrenching. But the calmness with which Ford endures what must be a terribly painful ritual gives an indication of Ford's brave heart and the very close bond and trust that Ford and Glen share. Dr. Drygas knew Glen was committed to helping rehabilitate his dog. Ford and Glen were extremely lucky to find a veterinary surgeon nearby with this rare type of experience.

The metallic appliance was kept on for 7 weeks. During this time, Glen was told by Dr. Drygas that the elbow could not be saved as it was too badly shattered. So they began looking at alternatives.

After the fixator was removed, Ford still had to undergo further surgery to remove some bullet fragments, including the bullet casing that was causing infections, and also to remove the pins from the fixator. Dr. Drygas believed that was needed was to replace the total elbow joint, removing all bones, since they were so badly shattered they would never heal.

Dr. Drygas and the team at CVS have done limb saving surgery like this in the past, but only on animal’s knees, not on an elbow, and they have not totally replaced a joint. What was necessary right now was to find someone who could put an orthotic brace on Ford’s elbow to support it while it was healing, and while they explored their surgical options.

Miraculously it was a company located in the same area as Capital Veterinary Specialists whom they approached for a solution.

Williams Orthotics And Prosthetics (www.williamsoandp.com/) are also located in Tallahassee, FL. They provide care to patients with partial or total absence of a limb by evaluating, designing, fabricating, fitting, and aligning those artificial limbs. They also have provided orthotics and bracing for pets. But replacing a dog's elbow with a prosthetic device? That had never been done before anywhere in the world. Nobody knew if it was going to work. It had to be flexible enough for the dog to use without causing additional pain.

Randy Williams of Williams Orthotics agreed to fit Ford for his first orthotic brace before the fixator was removed, knowing there would have to be a series of fittings and refittings as the dog grew more mobile. Luckily Ford was patient enough to go along with this procedure.

If you're the human companion to any animal you understand that no matter how much you want something to happen or your veterinarian want something to happen, unless the animal is willing to put his whole heart and soul into it, it just won't fly.

But here we are talking about a dog who is exceptional. He was willing, and still does undergo the endless fittings and re-fittings of his orthotic brace.

Obviously Ford’s story doesn’t end there. As of today, Ford still needs to undergo a further procedure to complete the healing process. Dr. Drygas began researching replacing the elbow with an artificial implant. He found a specialist at NC State Veterinary School, who is willing to try.

Nobody knows if this type of experimental project will pay off. When you have no previous experience with this formulation, no guidelines, nothing to compare it to, every step is a shot in the dark. There are no animal welfare organizations or insurance companies that cover the steep price tag of anything like this. Glen is a man who does not have deep pockets. He just was not going to let down his best friend.

At this point in time, Glen has already spent $7,000 dollars rehabilitating Ford. But Glen is determined that whatever the cost, he had Ford as his best friend for the dog’s whole life and is going to do whatever he can to keep Ford’s life whole. The neighbor who caused this senseless destruction has been unwilling to contribute any funds towards Fords rehabilitation. After reviewing the case, Thomasville Police Chief Ellis Jackson imposed corrective and disciplinary action for Childs. That action included probationary status, remedial instruction and canine awareness training.

The cost of the artificial implant is very high… approximately $29,000. If the funds become available, Dr. Dennis Marcelin-Little at NC State will be performing the surgery, assisted by Dr. Drygas who has been with Ford every step of the way. Dr Drygas is very experienced with Ford's condition, and would love to share the knowledge he would gain from Dr. Marcelin with other vets. Dr. Marcelin is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and a Professor of orthopedic surgery. He has experience in knee replacement surgery on dogs, but this would be the first-ever elbow replacement surgery performed by any veterinarian!

Although what happened to his dog was horrific, the more important story here is that there is hope for dogs in similar situations. Currently, braces and prostheses with ultra-light plastics, cutting-edge carbon fiber and super-strong resins that can withstand even the wear and tear created by very active, very happy pets is available. But if Ford’s elbow implant surgery is successful, if your companion animal has some sort of bone destroying tumor or cancer in one of their limbs, or has even been shot, like Ford, the idea of total joint replacement opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Obviously cost is one major hurdle; the other is finding a surgeon who can operate at this level.

The pioneering efforts behind Ford’s story are so innovative that a filmmaker has expressed interest in putting his tale on screen. If you have been touched by his story, Glen welcomes any donations to help defray the $29,000 cost, which right now is out of his reach. Glen is asking that all donations be sent directly to the NC State vet school. 100% of what you donate will go toward Ford getting his new elbow. Please contact Glen for information regarding the donation at tadpolesugar@yahoo.com or on his FB page, Justice for Ford https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForFord

We hope that one day, Ford Bierman, you will once again be able to run like the wind. You are a groundbreaking pioneer for Dogland.

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