Behind the Scenes: Gemma’s Story

A Car Crash

We are going to bring you a special “Inside CDR” series, as we follow the journey of Gemma (pronounced “Jemma” as in a gem), a young pup who still very much needs our help as she comes into the CDR foster program and begins her long road toward recovery.
Gemma’s journey isn’t completely unusual for a CDR in that it begins in KY. But her journey is both chilling and miraculous, all at the same time. To be blunt, it is utterly stunning that she is alive.
On July 4th, in the middle of the night, starving and stray, 4 month old Gemma (an adorable and tiny Lab mix) ran across a road in rural KY and was hit head on by a car doing 70 mph. In a bizarre trick of the impact, her little fragile body ended up getting lodged inside the grille of the front of the car, with just her legs sticking out (see photo).

This is how she was found...she is a VERY lucky girl! Any bigger or smaller and she wouldn't have lived.

This is how she was found…she is a VERY lucky girl! Any bigger or smaller and she wouldn’t have lived.

With no dog rescues in the region, someone contacted the director of a wonderful local cat rescue “Save Grayson County Cats Rescue” who jumped out of bed and ran to the scene of the accident to see what she could do to help. Being a holiday and a weekend, she found only one vet in the region open, so that’s where Gemma went. Everyone thought Gemma wouldn’t make it…I mean, really, how could a 22lb puppy that was hit at such a high speed survive? And one who was already in rough shape…
But survive the night she did. And the next day too.
At which point she was moved to a vet facility better equipped to handle emergency cases. Now, keep in mind that Save Grayson County Cats Rescue is a cat rescue, not a dog rescue. They take care of many stray cats, but have such a small donor community that they can barely afford to feed their own rescue cats. Despite this, they were committed to doing all they could for little Gemma (yay them!), so they put up some social media donation pages and started trying to raise funds to cover their already sizable vet bill and the ones they knew were to come.
Like we said, Gemma was already in rough shape. She was painfully skinny. Plus, it was discovered that Gemma had a belly full of rocks, which is common for starving dogs. Sometimes stray dogs get so hungry that they eat whatever they can, whether it is food or not. Gemma also had (quite literally) hundreds of ticks and countless fleas on her. If that wasn’t enough, x-rays showed that both of her right legs were badly, badly broken. One was so bad broken that it was described as “shattered.” But she was stable, with no apparent internal injuries, (utterly incredible), and after several days of IV fluids, she was passing those rocks on her own, which meant she wouldn’t need intestinal surgery to remove them (a tremendous relief).
For her mangled legs, the vets discussed amputation. And they discussed complicated surgeries involving plates and pins. But those options were beyond the fundraising capability for the region, and without any orthopedic specialists nearby, even if they could magically raise the funds, she would still need to go elsewhere to find the right surgeon. So, the vet splinted both legs to keep her stable and secure, while the Save Grayson County Cats Rescue set about finding her a temporary foster home and figuring out what to do next. What would happen to Gemma?
Spoiler alert….Ithaca and CDR factors prominently in the next part of Gemma’s story!!

Committing to help Gemma!

One of our CDR volunteers and foster parents happens to follow the Save Grayson County Cats Rescue FB page (go figure!!), and forwarded the post about Gemma’s plight to CDR’s director, asking if CDR might be able to do something to help. We refer to that volunteer now as “Gemma’s Ithaca guardian angel”.

You just don’t see a photo like the one from the accident, and not jump to help, right? What started as discussions about contributing to Gemma’s care, quickly shifted to a commitment to bring Gemma here for treatment, fostering, and adoption, because it was clear that it was not going to be possible for her to get the surgical care that she desperately needed if she stayed in rural KY.

Thus began the hundreds of phone calls and emails working out a) how to get Gemma safely here—quickly– given her fragile and painful medical state, b) who could foster her and be able to help her through her rehab, and c) how to get her in to see our amazing Cornell orthopedic specialists—quickly, as it had already been 2 weeks since the accident– when they are the busiest service in the region.
We (and Gemma) just got break after break after break. First we found a wonderful Cornell vet student who was willing to foster her and help her through her rehab. Then we connected with an amazing nonprofit organization called Pilots N Paws — they are a community of pilots who donate their time (and fuel) to fly special needs dogs and cats to rescues totally for free, when ground transport is not appropriate or possible. They scrambled to assemble a flight plan to get her here on July 25th, just 4 days after our request went in. And for our last break… we called to get an appointment with Cornell Orthopedics, and found that we would not have to wait the typical 4-8 weeks to get her in for an initial consultation, because someone had just cancelled their July 27th appointment, moments before we called! Can you believe that?!!! So in less than a week, we got for Gemma 1) a foster home, 2) a series of free flights to get her here, and 3) an appointment for her to see the specialists at Cornell! Talk about the stars aligning for this puppy and a universe of people going the extra mile to see that she gets what she needs!!
Our last break was the weather. Pilots of small planes can’t fly through stormy weather, it’s totally unsafe. So we needed clear skies all day long so she could make her 3 flight legs, and she HAD to get here ASAP to make her Cornell appointment on the 27
th. Stressful! She was flying first from Elizabethtown, KY to Chilllicothe, Oh, then from Chillicothe to Beaver Falls PA, and then from Beaver Falls to Ithaca. On Saturday July 25th, her flight day, skies looked clear in KY, OH, and PA, but not in Ithaca (Grrrr…Ithaca weather!). They were calling for thunderstorms here in the afternoon, just when she would be flying in. So, we chewed our nails all day, and Gemma’s Ithaca guardian angel (the volunteer who brought Gemma to CDR’s attention initially) got in her car at 5:30 am and started driving to Beaver Falls PA, so she would be there to collect Gemma should the last flight be cancelled. The weather held…but JUST BARELY.

The clouds came in at around noon and there were downpours in T-burg and light rain in Ithaca, but arrive Gemma did, right on time, at 4 pm to the Ithaca airport!
Stay tuned tomorrow as we tell you more about Gemma’s journey through our foster care!
Arriving in Ithaca!

Arriving in Ithaca!

Gemma’s Trip to Cornell

Gemma had her consultation with the great doctors of the Cornell Orthopedics Clinic on Monday. They rock!! They did a full orthopedic exam, did full bloodwork panels, examined all of her previous records, and did radiographs of both legs and her pelvis. She was a total trooper throughout it all! Everyone loved her!

We love CU vet

We love CU vet

New radiographs showed that the break in her back leg is a pretty standard break, but the break in her front leg is quite bad, with the broken parts pretty far out of alignment. Her pelvis has an old fracture in it that apparently was not further harmed in the recent car accident. So, not the first trauma poor little Gemma has had in her short puppy life, but great that it wasn’t re-injured when she was hit recently.

Gemma’s foster mom said that 3 doctors on the Orthopedic service consulted on her radiographs and that all three were in unanimous agreement about what to do about her broken legs–no surgery at this time!

We were shocked. Apparently Gemma would have been a good candidate for surgery soon after the accident, but at this point, 3 weeks later, enough bone has been made, and enough healing/stabilization has occurred that to go in and break through all of that to realign and start over could do more harm than good. They aren’t worried about the back leg healing, though they think it possible that she could need knee stabilization at a later point in her life (just a possibility). They are less sure that the front leg with the far worse break will heal well enough, but— they think it might.

Their recommendation is for us to bring Gemma back for repeat radiographs in 2 weeks, and at that point, they will know whether a) it is healing well enough to end up being stable or b) it is not doing healing well enough and a surgical procedure should be considered. So, surgery isn’t yet ruled out for good, but it looks possible that it might not be needed.
Best news according to Gemma is that they also wanted those hard, heavy splints off of her! She is on crate rest almost totally, but when she needs to go out to the bathroom, they want her putting some weight on those legs, without splints, to further encourage bone growth. So no more carrying her everywhere, and no more heavy, itchy splints for Gemma. She is QUITE pleased!
The biggest problem we are having with sweet Gemma is just that she is a puppy and wants to do puppy things like…move around, play, and have fun! She has taken to hurling herself at her crate to let us know that she wants out, but luckily is happy to lay calmly next to her foster mom on the floor or the couch or the bed when allowed out. So, she’s not getting QUITE as much rest in the crate as was prescribed, but she is getting plenty of rest snuggling next to her foster mom and dad!
Next up…Gemma will visit CPS at Cornell for all of her regular vet needs like booster shots, microchipping, de-worming, and lyme tests. Since the KY vets pulled several hundred ticks off of her when she first came in, we’re all a bit worried about lyme disease for her, so we will let you know how that all turns out!

Big Spoon, Little Spoon

Big Spoon, Little Spoon

Gemma is already a selfie pro

Gemma is already a selfie pro

A Day In the Life of Gemma

After sleeping all night without a peep, Gemma has a lot of energy in the morning! She loves to sleep in late, then its breakfast and the first trip to the ladies room (AKA her favorite patch of grass) of the day. Little Gemma has to come up with some creative ways to to maneuver, so lots of times that means twirling in circles and backing up until she comes to something close to a squat and then occasionally peeing on her foster mom’s foot. Often they both end up sitting in a bush covered in leaves, but its good exercise for both. Good news is she never has accidents in the house! After the bathroom dance, Gemma goes back in the pen for a nap after exerting all that energy. Its hard for her to bear weight on her legs with muscles that haven’t been used in a while of course, and dancing isn’t easy.

Eventually Gemma is ready to have some play time and is carried to the couch where she spends a few minutes vigorously stretching. She loves to lie on her back and stretch her legs straight out and then hold the yoga pose for a few minutes until her foster sister, puppy Soco, wants to join in. Their favorite thing to do is share the cone where Soco looks for some leftover breakfast while Gemma chews on Soco’s collar. Gemma likes to chew on shiny things, and much prefers Soco’s collar and her foster mom’s watch and necklace to any of her toys.
When Gemma’s in her pen, her favorite toy is her tug of war rope. Her rope sometimes becomes her enemy when it gets stuck between her face and her cone and she wards off its attack by rolling around in her pen until it gives up. When Gemma’s pen has visits from her foster mom or dad throughout the day, she likes to make sure they can’t escape by army crawling over and sitting on their legs and rolling over onto her back for a belly rub. In this way she’s secured company, a belly rub, and has easy access to chew on a watch! Clever girl.

The rest of the day passes with episodes of naps, awkward playtime with Soco, hobbling to the ladies room, and when its nice outside all three girls (Soco, Gemma, and foster mom) like to sunbathe. Gemma is a calm girl by nature and while Soco is busy pouncing on and eating bugs, she much prefers to listen to the wildlife and observe her surroundings. When dad comes home, both puppies have new found energy and tails are wagging everywhere for attention! After dinner its snuggling on the couch – mostly Gemma and Soco since there’s really not room for humans and if they’re lucky the humans are allowed a to share a couch cushion in the corner in exchange for some belly rubs. At bed time, Gemma will only sleep right next to Soco and the humans and will not take no for an answer, so the bedroom is a little crowded but everyone is cozy and happy. Once she gets what she wants (which is only to be with everyone else) she sleeps the whole night through til its time to do it all again in the morning!

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