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  • Penelope and her care team

    Back to wagging

    Penelope's care team sends her off to her foster home to finish her remarkable recovery. 

Penelope was found in a ditch near Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, her back broken and dislocated in several places, and her uterus ruptured. She’d been hit by a car and left to die.

To say she faced long odds is an understatement. But with luck, tenacity, and a dedicated team of doctors at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Center, Penelope survived – and was even able to walk soon after her daylong February surgical odyssey.

Every day, she holds her tail a little higher and wags it a little more vigorously.

Susan Arnold, DVM, DACVIM

When Penelope was released from the hospital, a mere six days after her accident, neurologist Susan Arnold, DVM, expressed astonishment at the patient’s progress.“Given the extent of [her injuries], it’s amazing that she’s essentially normal,” Arnold says. “Every day, she holds her tail a little higher and wags it a little more vigorously.”

True teamwork

When a good Samaritan found Penelope in that ditch, a rescue organization, Coco’s Heart, assumed responsibility for her and brought her to All Pets Hospital in Grand Forks, ND, where she was cleaned up, examined, and stabilized. Once she arrived at the VMC, a team of specialists – including veterinarians from critical care, surgery, anesthesia, and internal medicine, along with skilled veterinary technicians from numerous specialties – met to examine Penelope and create a plan. She was still able to move her limbs and tail; a promising sign that the nerves needed for relieving herself were intact, suggesting a hopeful prognosis.

Penelope’s ruptured uterus posed a serious infection risk, so Betty Kramek, DVM, MS, DAVCS, spayed Penelope and repaired several hernias on her abdominal wall. Next, radiologist Chris Ober, DVM, PhD, DACVR, and radiology resident Nikia Stewart, DVM, analyzed a CT of Penelope’s vertebral column and identified a dozen fractures and dislocations, as well as a bruises in her lungs. 

Extraordinary recovery

Arnold, Kramek, and surgical colleague Pierre Amsellem, DVM, DACVS, DECVS, stabilized Penelope’s vertebrae by reducing the dislocations and placing eight pins in four of her vertebrae – a six-hour process – then bent the pins and fixed them in bone cement. All the while, the anesthesiology team managed to keep Penelope stable and pain free. 

Just one day later, Penelope was able to move her legs. Two days later, her IV catheter was removed. The team, Arnold says, was “ecstatic” about Penelope’s resilience and their successful collaboration. “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the problems that a polytrauma case represents — you can quickly start to feel like there are too many issues,” Arnold says. “But by assembling a team of experts, we were able to break down the entire case into smaller pieces that we could manage.”  

When we put our heads together, we can do so much.

Susan Arnold, DVM

At press time, Penelope was in the care of loving foster parents – with the possibility of being eligible for adoption in April. “When we put our heads together, we can do so much,” Arnold says. “This dog went from the potential of dying a slow, painful death on the side of the road to getting the chance to live a completely normal life.”

Support shelter and rescued animals

You can help other rescue and shelter animals who haven't been adopted yet get a second chance at moving through life with ease, just like Penelope. Consider making a gift to the VMC Shelter and Rescue Animal Medicine Fund, which relies on the generosity of donors and partnerships with Minnesota-based rescue organizations to provide funding for qualified rescue or shelter companion animals in need of specialty care. 

Gifts to this fund provide specialty care to companion animals at qualified rescues or shelters. Our team works with rescues and shelters across Minnesota to help dogs and cats receive the care they need. 

Help deserving animals today