Ethel's Story - the essay that started it all - by Rebecca S. Lindeman (written in 2013)
When she was very young, my daughter once told me that she loved animals so much that she’d run out into the road and be hit by a truck to save one. As a parent, I was both touched and terrified by this sentiment.
Last spring,  I helped save the life of a puppy. Her breeder could not afford a trip to the veterinarian, let alone extensive medical care. He was, after all, only breeding his dogs to supplement his meager income. Raising a healthy animal is hard work and costs a lot of money; fostering an orphaned 3-1/2 week old pup with health problems is even more challenging. I didn’t want to get involved but, once I met her, I had no choice.
She weighed just 3.2 pounds, roughly half what she should, one front leg was bent beneath her at an odd angle, and the other three were too weak to support her. She struggled to push herself, face planted against the cold metal exam table, in search of something. Looking at her, my mind flashed to my great grandmother in her 96th year: crippled, confused, in pain, and in search of the very same things: warmth and comfort. I gathered her into my arms, gave her my Grangie’s name, and made her the same promise: to do the very best I could to make her life better.
The vet gave her a full exam, the techs fed her what might have been her first full meal, and Ethel went home with me to make the best of what life could offer. Maybe I understood her plight better than others. I have fibromyalgia and struggle every day to make my body do things that I used to take for granted. My saving grace is physical therapy. My providers have changed my life and I wanted the same thing for her. Our first stop was their office, where I was hoping for some advice on strengthening her three good legs and some direction in caring properly for the bad one.
Theirs is a busy practice and I was astounded when everyone, staff and patients alike, stopped what they were doing to meet and attend to Ethel. They made a custom-built brace to support and gradually straighten her leg and taught me range of motion and strengthening exercises. Within our first days together, I began to witness a miracle.
Twice each day, Ethel received her physical therapy. Her joints were flexed, her brace applied for a few hours, and she was supported in a custom-made sling so that, without the burden of weight, she could learn to use and strengthen her three good legs. The rigid muscles of her affected leg began to soften and flex. The unyielding brace stopped the inevitable bend of her limb beneath her body and she was now able to stand on all four feet for the first time in her life. Between workouts, she slept on a pillow beside our bed, surrounded and protected by her two rottweiler foster siblings.
She quickly became the darling of the physical therapists, visiting twice a week to have her brace refitted to her quickly growing body, and was the star of the show at her weekly checkups in the veterinarian’s office; she even developed a Facebook following where daily updates were posted for her friends to watch her progress.
Our hearts soared when she took those first steps under her own power and we all rejoiced to see her toddle around looking for mischief. But, just over a week later, her hind legs began to fail. Her muscles continued to grow weaker, her tiny body began to tremble, and she slept fitfully, often grumbling in what I can only guess was pain and frustration at losing that hard won ground. Early on a Sunday morning, our veterinarian met us in his office. We talked about the changes, he began to research a veterinary sharing website for similar cases, and we all continued to pray.
The answer: she was infected with an uncommon protozoan parasite, Neospora caninum. Her mother most likely became infected by eating raw meat or the afterbirth of an aborted calf and she passed it on to her unborn pup; the nature of this parasite is that Ethel’s mom is a lifelong host and will continue to infect other puppies if she is further bred.
Once the problem was identified, the solution was relatively simple. We administered the medicine twice daily, continued the physical therapy routine, and just a week later, she actually walked through the door under her own power. In time, her leg straightened, her strength increased, and she became a normal German shepherd puppy, spending her time, true to her herding dog heritage, chasing the cat, nipping at our heels, and trying to corral her big brother, the bird, and even our pet turtle.
She was finally well enough to receive those important puppy vaccines and was formally introduced to our dog training club. She attended puppy kindergarten, earning her STAR Puppy award, graduated into elementary classes, started obedience, tracking, and even agility training.
Every dog needs a job and it quickly became evident that Ethel’s is to draw out the shy puppies and teach them to play. She played a crucial role in teaching her biggest, best Great Dane buddy, Aayla that going to class was not as terrifying as it first seemed. She spent-one-on one time with one of her German shepherd friends, Kiya, and convinced her that she need not spend the entire class hiding beneath her person’s chair. This week, she has even begun to teach a four-year-old girl that dogs are not always to be feared.
It was in one such class that I began to notice that Ethel no longer ran quite the same way the other dogs do. I began to watch her more carefully and noted that she seemed to struggle when she stood from her bed. Her back had lost its graceful straight line and her ankles were beginning to bend toward one another. An x-ray has revealed that she has severe hip dysplasia and will soon need a total hip replacement, estimated to cost $3,800-$5,000 for just one side. I can’t afford it. I feel like I ran out into the road to save the life of an animal and was hit by a truck.
And, I’m not the only person to feel the impact, for this puppy is not only mine; she belongs to Dr Vince Svonavec and the staff of Animal Medical Center, she belongs to Steve Podratsky and the staff of Western PA Sports Medicine, she belongs to Lisa Urbassik, Jeanne Klink, and all the members of the Somerset Area Dog Training & Activity Club, and she belongs to every one of you who read this and wish that you could ease her pain. I’ve come to realize that Ethel and I are not, and never have been, alone in this fight, and that there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help.
Please note that Ethel's surgeries are complete and paid for
Donations to help other pets in need may be made online or sent toThe Ethel Fund Inc. PO Box 1231 Somerset PA 15501
“Like” The Ethel Fund on Facebook to follow her progress