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The VCA West Los Angeles to the rescue

Here's a photo of Shadow in recovery
Here's a photo of Shadow in recovery

Zowie Vasquez, the referral coordinator on duty on at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital received the call at 9 am. The voice on the other end of the line sounded calm but there was a definite sense of urgency in his voice. It was Zach Skow, Executive Director of Marley’s Mutts Dog Rescue and he had an unusual case on his hands.

Several months earlier, an animal control officer in Kern County, California notified the organization that a crate containing three dogs had been found by hikers in the middle of nowhere. Two of the canines were battered, starved, dehydrated and frightened, but alive, while the third was deceased and frozen solid, as a result of the 15 degree temperatures the dogs were abandoned in. After being taken to the Lake Isabella Animal Shelter, the animals were retrieved by Marley’s Mutts and taken to an animal hospital for examination.

Despite the bullet casings laying near the cage the dogs were found in, initial examination cleared the animals to go home to new owners. A short time later, one of the rescued – a friendly pup named Shadow – was coughing up blood.

Her frightened new owner took her to the hospital for further x-rays which revealed the worst had happened - that Shadow had been living with a bullet lodged in her lung. Time was of the essence and the complicated surgery required was not one that many animal hospitals are equipped to handle, which left Shadow with very few options. Skow needed to know if VCA WLA would be able to perform the surgery if they could get Shadow to them in time. Zowie flew into action.

A group of experts that ultimately included a veterinary surgeon, Dr. Sady Cabera, DACVS, four surgery technicians, and a veterinary intern, not to mention the ICU and critical care staff that provided the post-surgery care, were notified that Shadow was being transported to WLA.

Zowie also conferred with Rayna Faumuina, the Hospital Administrator, who confirmed that the hospital could offer a generous non-profit discount. “We donate a lot of services to rescue organizations and non-profit animal welfare organizations,” explained Faumuina. “And we wanted to help this dedicated rescue group as much as possible.”

With the help of their supporters, Marley’s Mutts was able to fly Shadow from Tehachapi to the Agua Dulce Airport, at which point she was driven as quickly as the law would allow to the VCA West Los Angeles facility. They arrived at 3 pm and an emergency CT scan was immediately performed showing the location of the bullet and the extent of the injuries. After Shadow was stabilized, surgery was performed on Sunday February 16th. During the intense 6 hour long surgery, a .40 caliber slug was removed from her chest, along with one of the lobes of her lung that was most compromised by the bullet.

“This was a particularly complex surgery because the bullet had lodged near the heart. Scar tissue had adhered to the pericardium and several large vessels so the surgery had to be very meticulous,” explained VCA surgeon Dr. Cabrera, who specializes in orthopedics, soft tissue surgery and neurosurgery. “Shadow is a fighter and deserves a major share of the credit for her own survival by being strong and having the will to live. We’re incredibly pleased and inspired by how quickly she’s bouncing back.”

The team of animal medical experts at the VCA West Los Angeles facility is one of the finest teams in the country when it comes to complex, life-threatening surgeries, and it was fortunate that they were able to accommodate Shadow in her time of need. Given the circumstances, the hospital made their team and their expertise available at a moment’s notice to tackle this challenging operation, and helped underwrite the open-chest procedure.

The surgery has been deemed a success, and Shadow has been able to return home. She is expected to make a full recovery. The VCA West Los Angeles serves as a general practice animal hospital for the West Los Angeles area, a specialty treatment facility, a referral hospital for veterinarians in Southern California, and as a teaching hospital to provide post-graduate education for veterinarians. For more information visit or call (310) 473-2951.

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