Puppy with severe mange on brink of death—months after rescue, he sports a complete new look


When a poor puppy with a severe case of mange was found, mostly everyone agreed that his chances of survival were slim. But with a lot of tender love and care, he underwent an incredible transformation and now looks totally different—the young pooch beat the odds.

In May 2015, Stephanie Smith-Justus received a call from a neighbor, who told her that he had spotted a puppy that needed immediate help. Smith-Justus grabbed her husband and ran out of the house to where the dog was last seen.

She couldn’t find him in the forest area and was about to give up when her husband found the dog lying in a patch of weeds. The dog was in a terrible state.

“He said, ‘Stephanie, I don’t think he’s going to live,’” she recalled her husband’s words to The Dodo.

The puppy was just 4 months old and was suffering from severe mange.

“At first he looked like he’d been scalded,” said Smith-Justus, who worked for a local city shelter and also runs a no-kill Buchanan County Humane Society in Virginia. “It was so severe. Just imagine like a second-degree burn.”

When they rushed the dog to a veterinarian, they realized that he was dying. He had also been shot repeatedly with a pellet gun, and his intestines had collapsed after going without food for a long time.

“His tendons had lost their elasticity. He couldn’t stand up on on [sic] the pads of his paws. He sort of flopped down on his wrists … it was just painful to watch him walk,” Smith-Justus said.

Despite the dog’s condition, she told the vet, “Let’s save him.”

The dog, later named Watkins after the street he was found on, survived his first surgery. Things were looking good until a few weeks later when he stopped eating and his weight dropped from 34 pounds (approx. 15 kg) to 17 (approx. 8 kg). They had a feeding tube implanted, but he chewed that off.

He slowly recovered after spending 119 days in the care of the vet. He was allowed to go home with Smith-Justus on July 11, 2015, though he still had to visit the vet for an ear infection and treatment for his mange.

Just when Smith-Justus wanted to take Watkins to treat his legs, “he just got up and started walking like he was supposed to,” she said. “I have no explanation for it.”

With his health back, Watkins became stronger and more confident. He is no longer afraid of cars and can run around in the yard. He also loves his stuffed lobster, which he cuddles at bedtime.

“He’s such a joy; he’s such a pleasant dog. He grew stronger, his skin started improving, his ears started improving,” Smith-Justus said.

Illustration – Flickr | Austin Community College

“The doctors at Virginia Tech told me that they hoped and prayed for him, but they were not giving him a very high chance of survival … he surprised us all, Smith-Justus said. “He’s a miracle, he really is.”

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