R.I.P. Lefty


Lefty’s Story by Zach Skow

Lefty had a generous capacity for love that made him one of our most cherished rescues. His life and his tragic death taught me invaluable lessons that have made me a more capable rescuer and more mindful dog-lover.  There will never be another Lefty, but because of him, I will love all of my future doggies to the extent of my capability.

In the spring of 2009, I got a phone call from a fellow who was camping with his youth church group up at Mountain Park. It seemed that a camper from a near-bye site had left his dog behind. The dog, a beautiful Australian Cattle Dog, had decided to latch on to the church group as if his attitude were “I didn’t much like the guy that used to care for me, do you folks mind if I pal-up with you?”  They didn’t mind and he became their camp-dog for the duration of their stay at Mountain Park. When it came time to pack up and come down the Mountain, they called me and asked if could help find a home for their new buddy. I agreed to help and we met-up at the Tehachapi Vet Hospital. The dog jumped out of their truck, content as can be, acting as if he had been their dog for a life time. The dog ran right up to me and started licking my face. He reeked of campfire and had a considerable limp on his right side. I asked the group if they had named him. They said no, because they hadn’t wanted to get attached-instead they just called him “doggy.” “Doggy” is no kind of a name for a doggy, so, at that point, considering he was probably left-handed due to his damaged right-front leg, I named him “Lefty.”

We brought Lefty into the hospital for an exam and it was revealed that his limp was caused by a poorly healed break. He had most likely broken his leg as a pup and due to inadequate care, or non-care, the break had healed a little catawampus. The limp didn’t seem to cause any pain; in fact, he could run like Forrest Gump, so Lefty was given a clean bill of health and sent home to become one of Marley’s Mutts.

Lefty arrived at our rescue with little fanfare and was welcomed by the pack graciously. Many new arrivals require a carefully supervised introduction that can take hours and often involves my intervention and assertion in order to maintain harmony. Left fell in place like a bird to a flock in formation. Pledge accepted, card punched-he was one of The Mutts. New arrivals go through a series of protocols in order to be evaluated for temperament, abilities, upsides and downsides. We take this evaluation and do an honest assessment of what needs to be worked on in order to make them better suited for adoption. Do they respond well on a leash? Are they comfortable with children? Do they ride well in a vehicle? Are they good with other dogs? The goal is to work with the dog so that we can answer in the positively affirmative to as many of those questions as possible. I would like to take credit for Lefty’s temperament, abilities and over-all balance, but the truth is that he showed up pretty much perfect. The law requires that dogs be held for two weeks before they can be adopted. This gives the potential owner a chance to come forward and claim his/her dog if they are even looking. So, for the meantime we posted Lefty for adoption and waited for responses from potential new adopters.

Lefty gave me his full allegiance right off the bat and followed me everywhere. Dogs like Lefty end up serving like capable employees; their balance and demeanor rubs off of less stable dogs. Essentially their positive energy is contagious.

One night (about two weeks into his stay) I woke up to unmistakable sounds of labored breathing. I found Lefty under the bed, clearly experiencing breathing difficulties. Lefty slept in my room every night since his arrival, but never had he retreated under the bed:  that gesture (of sequestering) led me to believe he was injured.  I gave him a snout-to-tail assessment, which revealed he had very serious swelling of the tongue and neck. Severe swelling and windpipe blockage is a very serious situation, so we took Lefty in to the Vet first thing Saturday morning.  The Vet immediately took him in for an x-ray to see if he had ingested anything or if there was some sort of a blockage.  The imaging revealed no obstructions, just severe swelling. Next, they shaved the swollen area to look for evidence of a bite (snake, centipede and spider bites can all cause swelling and, in some cases, death) .  Shaving Lefty’s neck, throat and chin didn’t expose any punctures but it did make the severity of the swelling very obvious. At this point Lefty is still breathing on his own and capable of walking, but it did seem like he was getting worse. The Vet sent us home with a thorough supply of steroids and antibiotics, the hope being that the drugs would greatly reduce the swelling at that the antibiotics would fight whatever infection was occurring. For a while there, the swelling seemed to go down or at least stop advancing, but Lefty was still not very active and his breathing was still very loud. We went to bed that night hoping to wake the following morning to a much improved Lefty.

At about 4:00am I woke up to check on Lefty and found him lying motionless on his side with his eyes rolled back. He was unresponsive and not breathing. At that point in my career I had never given CPR or rescue breathing to a dog, but what else were we to do? I started huffing and puffing and trying to force air down Lefty’s windpipe. The problem was that his tongue was too swollen to make an airtight seal between my mouth and his snout. A bit of air would get in but most would just escape from the side of his mouth while making a futile kind of ‘fart’ noise. No matter how hard we tried to force air into his windpipe, it wouldn’t work; his tongue and throat had swollen shut. At that point, definitely panicking, my Dad put his whole mouth over Lefty’s snout, essentially enveloping it, and began to blow as hard as he could. One breath, two breaths, three full breaths and VOILA!!! We had life!! Enough air was getting into his lungs through his nose to jump-start our boy back to life. After the initial kick, we had to try and time our rescue breathing with his natural breaths. After a little while, Lefty got his timing down and was able to breathe on his own, however shallowly.

It was Sunday so we couldn’t just take him to the Vet. We called a couple Vet’s on the phone and they basically told us that because the capillary refill to his gums was so bad and because his breathing was so shallow, he was already dead. This was an insufficient answer for us, so we tried to keep Lefty comfortable and stabilize him so that we could get him to the Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Bakersfield, which was an hour and a half away. Lefty seemed to most comfortable, and most capable of breathing, when he was standing on all fours, with his head reaching forward. Lefty nearly crashed on us a few more times when he would try to walk or lie down. Those movements caused him to seize up and tighten all of his muscles. His eyes would also lurch forward out of his head like a dog that was, well, about to die. Each time he would stabilize and calm down after a while. We kept him in that head forward position for another hour and a half, at which point we got ready load up Lefty and take him to get help. Lefty wasn’t exactly “ready to move,” but at that point we knew we couldn’t just wait it out, we had to get him the care he needed and hopefully a fair shot at living.

My Dad started driving as quickly as was still safe, while I sat in the back with Lefty. The trip started out well enough and we got all the way to the freeway without incident. About 45 minutes into the trip Lefty started to panic and then crashed. His eyes bugged out, his muscles tightened and he began to lose his bowels. I hurriedly tried to force air into his lungs while keeping him in a standup position. After struggling for about 10 seconds, his very tense body went limp. At that point, I tried not to panic and recommitted myself the rescue breathing. I began blowing air into his lifeless body through his nose, while also trying to depress his tongue to see if I could get air passed his swollen tongue. After about a minute… OUCH!!!, he snapped to, literally. Lefty had come back again and, while doing so, chomped down on my thumb and pointer finger. Moments after coming back, Lefty vomited a tremendous amount of blood (what I know now is that his lung had most likely popped from being overinflated, a result of me not being properly trained in CPR). The vomiting seemed to relieve some pressure for Lefty-odd as that sounds. He started breathing somewhat rhythmically again, although it was still very shallow. We screeched to a halt in front of the Vet Hospital and rushed Lefty in, thinking to ourselves, “we did it,” “he’s gonna be okay.” I carried him in and the awaiting staff went to work.

We paced in the waiting room, covered in blood, but nonetheless very confident that our resilient boy was going to make it. I kept asking the receptionist if he was breathing back there, but she just kept saying that they were working on him. About 15 minutes into our agonizing wait, the Dr. came out told us that he was gone. She said that he didn’t stay breathing long enough for them to get a tube down his throat. She also told us that the blood work showed his blood to be terribly thin and that he had definitely suffered a Rattle Snake bite, most likely to the tongue. She asked us if we wanted to see him, my Dad said no, but once I said yes he agreed and followed me in. We got to touch our courageous cattle dog for one last time, and then we said goodbye. We left that place (hopefully never to return) and went home to bury our boy.

On the way home we cried, not the whole time but enough. I told my Dad that I loved him very much and he told me the same. He told me that he was very proud of the way I handled the situation and how I did my best help our boy, and I told him that the only reason I could was because he was there with me. It had been a rough 2 days that involved an immense combination of emotions, but we couldn’t give him away until we buried him. We buried our boy next to glorious Pine Tree with a spectacular view of the valley. We said a few words about Lefty and we embraced. No other moment in my life has come close to revealing to me what that moment did about my love for my Father.

4 Responses to “R.I.P. Lefty”

  1. Nick Altieri Says:

    That made me cry.

  2. Tracy Says:

    Zach….that was so hard to read…but I can see why I keep checking back to see what dogs you have that might fit into my family. Your love for dogs is so evident! Please keep up the good work for those of us who are not able to do so.

  3. candace Eastman Says:

    Tears are running down my face after reading about lefty. This is just another example of why I will adopt another dog from you Zach. You (and your dad) have such a heart for these dogs. No matter the situation they come from or the condition they are in when they come to you, you go above and beyond to save them from what would otherwise be certain peril. I refer everyone I know that is looking for a great dog to Marley’s Mutts.

  4. Byron Says:

    Zach,
    I went to Marley’s Mutts tonight to read about the award you guys got, but was drawn to the Memorial section for some reason. After reading about Lefty, I am so proud of you and your Dad, and the work you are doing to help rescue so many dogs. I am also touched by the way it is strengthening the bond between you two. May God continue to bless both of you and Marley’s Mutts.


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