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A stellar recovery

  • Stella and Rocco

    A stellar recovery

    Rescue dog makes the best of her new three-legged life

Something in the ditch caught Bill Douglas’ eye as he drove the stretch of highway connecting Armstrong and Estherville, Iowa, in November 2020. He slowed his truck to a stop and got out to inspect what he believed to potentially be a puppy. 

Indeed, a dog lay in the ditch, nothing more than fur and bones. Knowing she wouldn’t last long in the biting fall cold, Bill tried to pick her up but she nipped at him in protest. Determined to rescue her, he headed home to grab a blanket and recruit his wife, Jarri, to help.

The pair managed to load the dog into their vehicle and take her home. The pup was fortunate as the Douglases have run The Dog’s Inn boarding kennel in Armstrong for nearly two decades. They set her up in a vacant kennel and hoped for the best the first night. 


“Frankly, I didn’t think when I came back out in the morning that she would be alive,” Jarri says.  “I’ve never seen anything so bad in all my life, and we’ve been doing this for 17 years. I’ve never seen anybody look so bad.”

The dog survived the night and the pair contacted the Emmet County Animal Shelter in Estherville. Kristy Henning, the shelter’s director, arranged care for the dog at a local veterinarian’s office. 

The prognosis wasn’t great. The dog, eventually named Stella by the Douglases, was incredibly malnourished—likely not having eaten for three to four weeks—and had suffered fractures to the elbow of her front left leg and to the femur of her left hind leg. The vet didn’t think he could save her. Henning then called the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to seek help. 

Clinical staff agreed to take on the case and soon Stella and Henning made the three-hour car ride north to the Twin Cities. 

Saving Stella

Arriving on-site at CVM’s Veterinary Medical Center, Stella was examined by a clinical team led by then- small animal surgery resident Stan Veytsman, DVM, and Pierre Amsellem, DVM, DACVS, DECVS, who confirmed her injuries and put her on the schedule for surgery. 

Stella’s treatment would be a great expense for the Emmet County Animal Shelter. Henning organized an emergency board meeting by phone while sitting in the VMC parking lot as she and other stakeholders tried to figure out how they would pay for the surgery. 

Stella sleeping

They caught a break as a VMC employee appeared to ask if Henning knew about the VMC Shelter & Rescue Animal Fund. This donor-support fund provides financial assistance to qualifying shelters and rescue organizations to subsidize specialized veterinary care.

With funding in place, Stella’s surgery was a go. 

The injury to Stella’s elbow was one she had lived with long enough to cause irreparable damage to her elbow joint and an amputation was performed on her left forequarter to give her a chance at an excellent outcome, according to Veytsman. There was hope for her hind leg. Veytsman and Amsellem were able to repair the fracture by cutting the fracture ends of the affected femur to realign the bone column and stabilize it with a pin-plate combination.

Stella would awake from surgery with one less limb, but Veytsman says this outcome gave her the best chance at a high quality of life. 

“If people have to make a decision to amputate a dog’s leg, whether it’s for a fracture or a bone tumor or something else, they should always talk to their veterinarian or a veterinary surgeon,” he says. “Dogs and cats are quadrupeds and have the benefit of three other functional limbs, so they can adjust exceptionally well.”

Finding forever 

After her surgery, Stella returned to The Dog’s Inn for about seven months to recuperate.  

Meanwhile, Henning worked to find Stella a forever home when she had recovered enough to be ready for adoption. She didn’t have to search long.

Ashley Hopp was browsing the adoptable pet page of the Emmet County Animal Shelter’s website when she noticed Stella’s profile. After losing her cat, Beans, who also had her front leg amputated in an effort to save her life at the VMC, Hopp knew she wanted the next pet she adopted to be an amputee. The stars between Stella and Hopp’s stories aligned right down to the dog’s name. 

Just everything about her just seemed like a sign that she was supposed to come home with me.

Ashley Hopp

“In my family, we kind of joke that we all have certain symbols that make us think of each other and mine has always been a star. Stella means ‘star’ in Latin,” Hopp says. “So, just everything about her just seemed like a sign that she was supposed to come home with me.”

Hopp put in an adoption application right away, but couldn’t contain her excitement and called the shelter a few days later to confirm they had received it. Upon reviewing the application, Henning says she couldn’t have found a better home for Stella. 

Coming home

Stella and Rocco
Stella and Rocco

Stella now resides with Hopp at her home in Sioux Falls, S.D. The pair enjoy spending days making new friends at the local dog park. Stella also has new friends at home, cuddling up with seven cats. She’s especially taken a shine to the youngest of the bunch, a little black kitten named Rocco. 

“Rocco was sick when I first got Stella and I think she could tell that Rocco just needed some extra love,” Hopp says. “Those two are constantly together, and they have become just best friends, they play and they sleep together. She is just a super happy dog.”

To this day, Jarri and Bill Douglas receive pictures of Stella from Hopp, allowing them to see the dog they rescued from certain death thrive. Though Stella’s life before her chance encounter with the Douglases remains a mystery, Henning is glad to see her enjoy a happy ending with Hopp. 

“The thing about rescue is it's got such highs and lows,” Henning says. “You’re either running on an endorphin rush to save an animal or feeling down because you didn't save one. So it’s really, really great when we get to have a high.”


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