While dogs are collectively known as “man’s best friend,” this phrase rings especially true for Dalton Hanner and his dog Lucky.
The two have been inseparable since they found each other eight years ago, and Hanner credits Lucky as the source of support that got him through many difficult times in his life.
In the fall of 2020, it was Hanner’s turn to provide that support after Lucky ended up in the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital’s (SAH) Critical Care service for more than two weeks after an accident nearly claimed his life.
The Perfect Match
Hanner first met Lucky while volunteering with a Houston adoption organization the summer before his freshman year of college. He felt a connection but ultimately decided to leave for college without bringing a pet.
Once he began his first semester at Texas A&M, however, Hanner was hit with a wave of depression that stemmed from not knowing anyone in a new city. He thought back to the dog he had met the previous summer and decided in October that if Lucky was still available, he would adopt him.
“As soon as I saw that Lucky was still there, I had to bring him home,” he said. “He was very young at that time, super skittish, and afraid of men, so I think that was what led a lot of people to look past him and not want to adopt him.
“He’s a Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog mix, and those are two breeds I had growing up. I always wanted to know what it would be like if I happened to find a dog that was both of those breeds,” he said. “Chance or coincidence, it was just a perfect match.”
With love and patience, Hanner and Lucky worked through Lucky’s shyness toward men and developed a strong bond.
“He’s the most trainable dog I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Hanner said. “His combination of breeds, I think, makes him super smart and intuitive as to how people around him are feeling. With what I was going through at the time, it was perfect.
“For the entire time I lived in College Station, he was my rock,” he said. “He’s been with me all eight years and he’s the only one who’s been there the whole time.”
An Unlucky Accident
After Hanner moved back to Houston, he and Lucky frequently made trips to the College Station area to visit friends and stay at a family friend’s ranch in Iola.
“For Lucky, being a Border Collie and Australian Cattle Dog mix, the land in Iola is his stomping grounds; that’s where he loves to be,” Hanner said. “He follows us everywhere and he’s always part of whatever we’re doing, whether it’s work or play.”
During a trip this past September, Hanner and his friend were doing some work on the ranch when a neighbor called to ask if they could jump start his truck. They got in his friend’s Ford F250 and left for what they thought would just be a short break from work.
While Lucky is trained to stay off of major roads, Hanner believes he had difficulty distinguishing the gravel county road from the smaller dirt roads that run through the property, which he is allowed to cross.
“He just got confused and ended up in front of the vehicle,” he said. “We felt a bump and immediately knew exactly what had happened.”
Hanner and his friend leapt out of the truck and found Lucky walking around, but he was obviously in a lot of pain. They tried to help him, but Lucky reacted aggressively because he was in shock.
“He bit me and latched on hard, and instinct for me was to try to pull my hand back, which ended up causing him to sink in deeper before he finally let go,” Hanner said. “Then I was panicking and freaking out and as I was checking on myself, the other guy also came to try to help Lucky and Lucky bit him on his hand too.”
Once Lucky calmed and it was safe to approach him, they immediately knew they all needed medical attention quickly.
“Lucky was trying to climb into the truck because the driver’s door was open and he was struggling. I got him onto the floorboard and he was about to crawl over the console, then I saw his internal organs coming out of his body,” Hanner said. “I’m not very squeamish, typically, but this is my baby; I was definitely in a heightened state of panic.”
As they sped toward Texas A&M, it seemed that fate was on their side; they hit every green light along University Drive, which made the typically 40-minute drive only 23 minutes.
After SAH staff took Lucky inside to begin urgent care, Hanner and his friend drove to an emergency room to get their own injuries treated.
For Hanner, all that was left to do was wait, but for the veterinarians and support staff at the SAH, the work to save Lucky’s life was only getting started.
It Takes A Village
Because Lucky was at the SAH for about two and a half weeks, his care was overseen by three different veterinarians in the Emergency & Critical Care (ECC) service—Drs. Ann-Mari Osgood, Dalton Hindmarsh, and Lance Wheeler.
“Initially, we told the owner that things looked very bad; there was definitely a guarded-to-grave prognosis that Lucky would ever leave the hospital,” said Wheeler, a first-year ECC veterinary resident. “It’s our job to quickly assess patient status so that we may present as much information as possible to the owner, allowing them to make decisions based on facts. Lucky was in a very bad way, and we painted this honest, gruesome picture so that the owner understood what he was getting himself into, but that definitely wasn’t slowing him down.”
Lucky was taken immediately into surgery to repair his abdominal contents and torn tendons, which required extra care since his intestines were exposed to the external environment, complicating the situation further with widespread bacterial infection.
“He needed more transfusions, of everything from blood to plasma to canine albumin (a protein made by the liver), than I’ve ever seen a dog get,” Wheeler said. “He had lost so much blood. He got pretty much everything we had.”
Once the initial surgery was done, the veterinarians began to address Lucky’s other injuries.
“We anticipated that there was going to be some wound management, but nothing to the extent he had,” Wheeler said. “When his skin wounds started to reveal their true extent, it became evident that none of his skin was really attached to him; it was just kind of there. It was almost like a burn patient, because they don’t have any skin to protect them from the environment.”
At that point, Lucky’s ECC team reached out to the SAH’s Soft Tissue Surgery service to begin daily assessments of his skin. They performed numerous procedures to remove portions of non-viable skin and used advanced tissue-healing techniques to nurture and heal the remaining viable portions of skin.
“There were many unknowns about how Lucky would respond to treatment,” Wheeler said. “We still didn’t know if he was going to walk. We didn’t know if he’d use the bathroom. Our focus was keeping him alive and comfortable, and we would turn our attention to other goals when medically appropriate.
“(But) everything just went in our favor; when we would challenge him by weaning him off medications or removing a certain tube, we had positive outcomes,” he said. “We were continually taking steps forward and very few steps back.”
As Lucky continued to improve, his care team became more and more optimistic that Lucky would not only get to go home, but would also see a nearly 100% recovery.
“It was exciting to see him improve so much and it’s pretty incredible how much went into getting him better,” Wheeler said. “Everybody was key and everybody involved had a big part to play.
“I was there when he walked out the front door of the hospital and it was something that I can’t even explain,” he said. “The joy that erupted from him when seeing his family waiting outside was something I had never witnessed. That moment in time was filled with so much joy and positive energy that it shook me to my core.”
Lucky’s Lasting Impacts
Once Lucky returned home, his recovery continued smoothly and with very few lasting effects of the trauma.
“I couldn’t be more thankful, because whatever issues we still have to deal with are worth it for me to have my best friend in the entire world,” Hanner said.
Hanner is also thankful for the generosity of friends and strangers who donated money to help cover Lucky’s medical bills, both through a GoFundMe page set up by his sister and the SAH’s Capper & Chris Save the Animals Fund, which provides financial assistance to pet owners who could not otherwise afford a lifesaving procedure for their animal.
Even after Lucky left the SAH, he continued to have a big impact on his care team.
“We’re all eternally grateful for everything the owner did and everything that Lucky taught us,” Wheeler said. “Lucky’s a perfect example of when something looks impossible to achieve, it’s not necessarily impossible, as long as you have the support staff, the owner who’s willing to keep going, and the patient that is willing to keep fighting.
“He touched so many doctors, nurses, and students during his fight for life,” he said. “Lucky pushed us to do things we felt were nearly impossible, providing for us amazing learning opportunities, and teaching us the importance of not giving up just because things feel impossible.”
Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of CVMBS Today.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVMBS Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216