- Associated Press - Monday, May 29, 2017

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - He was as innocent as innocent victims get - a dog caught in the crossfire of a deadly confrontation between his owner and Indiana State Police. When the shooting was over, Bryan Bishop peeked inside the man’s truck.

Bishop, a Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office deputy assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, has seen a lot. But what he saw that February night behind the truck’s front seat melted his hard exterior.

It was a pitbull terrier mix, shot once through-and-through in the shoulder area. To Bishop’s amazement, the animal was conscious but wasn’t whimpering or making any other noise.

“He just kind of laid down in the back floorboard,” Bishop said.

The hard-boiled law enforcement officer paused for a few seconds. He spoke evenly.

“We could tell he was injured,” Bishop said. “I went up there and petted his head a little bit. He laid his head down.”

Bishop and the other officers resolved that they would not let the suffering animal die. But it was about 11 p.m., and they were in the parking lot of a gas station in Knox County. Someone rousted a local veterinarian to action. Bishop, a canine handler with the sheriff’s office, loaded the bleeding dog into the backseat of another officer’s vehicle and applied pressure to the gunshot wound as they sped to the vet’s office.

On that night more than three months ago, it was Bishop’s help that meant the most to the dog since named Ruger. But since then, local animal rescue activists and veterinarian therapists have mobilized to help the partially paralyzed animal recover. He is just a year and a half old, by his caregivers’ estimation.

They are under no illusions that it will be easy. Veterinarians believe the bullet nicked Ruger’s spinal cord. He can have a good quality of life, his therapist said - but a full recovery is not in the cards.

“We will probably get 20-30 percent improvement,” said Dr. Alice Stewart Wyatt, a vet at East Side Animal Hospital. “I don’t know if Ruger will ever walk again. I think he may be able to ‘spinal walk.’

“He might be able to get up, and then once he’s up, his body goes into just a rhythmic spinal walk - a walking motion. He doesn’t really know he’s doing it. His body knows that once he’s up on all fours, it’s supposed to walk.”

In sessions lasting 30-45 minutes twice weekly, Stewart Wyatt puts Ruger through water therapy to increase motor function and laser therapy aimed at nerve regeneration, healing and improving blood flow. She said the dog’s motor function and sensitivity to sensation are substantially better than they were when he showed up at It Takes a Village canine rescue in March.

Ruger’s hind legs were essentially useless then, and he dragged them behind him like a pair of rags. He couldn’t control where or how they jutted out when he sat.

“Like he had no idea,” Stewart Wyatt said. “Now he’s kind of bringing them around together. He is starting to lick at them, which tells me that there has to be something going on there. He still knows they’re back there.

“He moves his legs some, and I can’t tell if it’s voluntary or involuntary, but he does have the reflex to scratch. It’s nothing that he is controlling. We just know that he can reflexively scratch if something is stimulated. He also has feeling a little bit farther down from the wound than he did when we first saw him.”

It isn’t difficult for the veterinarian and Ruger’s caregivers at It Takes a Village to feel personally invested in the dog’s recovery and welfare.

During a recent session with Stewart Wyatt, the sweet-natured pooch repeatedly interrupted his therapists’ important work with kisses and nuzzles. He was boisterous, active and friendly.

Tangila Wells, in whose home Ruger is living for now, recalled the first time she saw his tail move.

“He was laying down. I thought I saw it move, but I wasn’t sure,” said Wells, director of animal services at It Takes a Village.

Wells said she was “excited and hopeful” at the sight. Asked if she got emotional, she glanced downward and nodded her head.

It Takes a Village is a no-kill facility. Ruger will not be put down, the canine rescue organization says. The therapy isn’t free, but the group is prepared to pay for more sessions if that’s what Ruger needs.

Wells and her superiors know finding a home for this dog will not be easy.

About a half-dozen prospective adopters have met Ruger, Wells said. Two went so far as to fill out applications. But none have been in touch since.

“Once they come here and meet him and see how much work it is, how much work it’s going to be - they kind of change their mind,” Wells said, her voice tinged with sadness. “He’s a great dog. He deserves a home.

“It’s going to take somebody to want to take care of him - who wants to take him to his physical therapy sessions, wants to help him do exercises with his back legs, that’s strong enough to pick him up, put him in and out of his wheelchair.”

The wheelchair came courtesy of LawMan Security & Consulting, the private security and consulting firm co-owned by Bryan Bishop and several other local law enforcement officers.

It Takes a Village has options if no one adopts Ruger, said Susan Odoyo, the organization’s president.

Speaking at Ruger’s therapy session, Odoyo said ITV is a partner to the national organization, Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. Renowned for its work with special needs animals, Best Friends bills itself as “the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals.” Its slogan is, “Save Them All.”

“Once we are able to finish Ruger’s therapy and get him to a point where we have a little bit more of an idea what his prognosis is, we can then present that to any potential adopter,” Odoyo said. “If that doesn’t work out, then we’re absolutely willing to put him in a car and take him to a sanctuary that can take care of him for the rest of his life.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes, including if it takes us driving him out to Best Friends in Utah.”

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Source: Evansville Courier & Press, https://bit.ly/2r113F3

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com


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