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Jack's Legacy

Despite best efforts, intentions, troubles could not be overcome

With a final, lethal dose of anesthesia, Jack, the badly injured stray dog rescued from a roadside ditch last summer, was euthanized by those who'd saved his life.

This is a very sad story, says Lori Dey, clinic supervisor for the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center. Unfortunately, there's no happy ending for Jack.

The young rottweiler-Doberman mix was euthanized in February by vets at the center after repeated attempts failed to find the troubled dog a permanent home.

Jack's story illustrates the bigger issues of proper animal care, pet adoption needs and limited space and funding for stray animals, says Colleen Macuk, program director for the Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center.

Jack was not a bad dog. He was the poster child for all the things we wish had gone right in his life ' but didn't, says Macuk.

— Unclaimed, unsocialized and untrained, Jack was always at risk for being considered unadoptable. But it was his bursts of aggression that couldn't be tamed by medicine, work or well-wishes that led to his ultimate death sentence.

Jack arrived at the veterinary center after a hit-and-run driver on Aug. 8 left the young dog lying in a ditch on Old Stage Road with three severely broken legs.

His plight caught the attention of many community well-wishers who paid his &

36;8,000 veterinary tab through the Jack Fund set up at county animal control, says Macuk.

An animal this severely injured normally would be euthanized immediately. But the media had learned of Jack's plight and the community responded with an outpouring of concern and cash. Given the extent of Jack's injuries ' added to the larger unknown of his temperament ' the clinic, center and community were taking a big chance on trying to create a happy ending to this story, Macuk says. That is sometimes the nature of compassion, she adds.

We talked about this from all angles, says Macuk. The average cost of animals we treat at the shelter is right around &

36;100 to &

36;200. But we felt it was important to the community. And I cannot stress enough my feelings of appreciation for the veterinarians and members who said 'let's try.'

Dr. Steve Ferreira repaired Jack's three fractured legs in an intensive 10-hour surgery days after the accident. Months of medical care, more surgeries and painful rehabilitation followed.

Jack's growling ' evidenced in his first few days at the clinic ' was at first hoped to be a result of fear and pain, says Dr. Adam Reiss, a veterinarian at the specialty center. Jack's food aggression had turned into unpredictable episodes of snapping, snarling and attempts to bite some staff members, he says.

Jack was treated as one of our pets, says Reiss. I really liked the dog. But he was unpredictable.

Jack's recovery was not as smooth as the vets had hoped for, Reiss says. Jack had reactions to pain medication. Nerve damage from his injuries caused the dog to chew at his toes until they were bloody and infected, says Reiss, who performed multiple surgeries to remove many of Jack's toes.

Staff members paid up to &

36;100 per month for an anti-depressant medication in hopes that would stop Jack's self-mutilation. But it was only marginally effective, says Dey.

He just kept chewing, says Dey. And we kept having to operate and amputate his toes. He was finally down to just one toe.

Staff members worked for months to resolve the big dog's problems, says Dey. They took the dog home to work with him in a one-on-one, quieter environment.

Although many people had donated money to offset Jack's medical care, only two came to inquire about giving him a permanent or foster home in spite of repeated media stories about Jack, says Dey. The prospective owners quickly changed their mind upon seeing the large dog's attitude toward strangers ' and the size of his teeth.

I can understand, says Dey. But we were really hoping it would work out.

Macuk says her agency always is looking for suitable foster homes for dogs and cats who need short-term lodging and love before being permanently adopted. But all agree Jack would have needed a very specialized environment with a skilled owner.

Jack was not only destructive to property, he was aggressive with other pets, says Reiss, who considered adopting Jack himself. But since the dog had shown aggression toward several of his staff members, Reiss decided Jack was too dangerous to bring home. Reiss has two young children.

If he's unpredictable with adults, it's not responsible to place him in an environment with kids, Reiss says.

It was frustrating to repair and rehabilitate Jack, only to discover the dog's behavior issues were more deep-rooted than originally suspected, Reiss says.

Since an in-home placement was out, efforts ensued to place Jack in a no-kill shelter.

We called rescue groups and the Humane Society, says Dey. We really wanted to find him a home too.

Although they'd offered to drive Jack to a shelter in Utah, he was not accepted, she says.

It's really hard to place a dog with aggression issues like Jack, says Dey.

Eventually, the conclusion became unavoidable. The clinic could not keep him. No private home nor no-kill shelter could be found. Jack was out of chances.

We did everything we possibly could, says Dey. We were very attached to him. It was a heart-wrenching decision to put him down. But it was the responsible decision.

Responsibility is the key to resolving the majority of problems seen at animal control, says Macuk.

The question of whether Jack was born with an unstable temperament will never be answered, Macuk says. But what is clear is that Jack's owners did not properly care for their pet.

They did not neuter, tag or train Jack, says Macuk. And they never stepped forward after his accident. Their neglect left Jack's fate at the mercy of others, just like thousands of abandoned pets like him.

Everyone out there took the responsibility for Jack that his owners didn't, says Macuk. Especially the vets.

No one wants to put a dollar value on any animal's life. But the reality is Jack used up resources which could have been spent on saving at least 50 other less injured and more adoptable animals.

The veterinary clinic takes in up to 10 animals a month from after-hour emergencies called in to law enforcement agencies. It is the only 24/7 veterinary clinic in Southern Oregon, Reiss says. The clinic's costs for stray animal care is far outstripping its reimbursements from the county, he says.

We have donated between &

36;13,000 and &

36;14,000 in medical services to stray animals (in Jackson County) last year, Reiss says.

Jack's fund will continue to help pay for animals taken to the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center for initial care, assessment and pain management, says Macuk. Jack's legacy will be to help other animals survive ' and possibly help the community to understand there can also be compassion in humane release.

There will be no more Jacks, Macuk says. Jack is the only animal with that severe of injuries that we tried (to save).

The clinics discount their fees to the shelter, says Macuk. But the shelter must spend its limited dollars carefully as it is solely funded by licensing fees and donations, she adds.

If the answer must be no to saving any particular animal, it will based on the reality of Jack's experience, Macuk says. And it will be an educated and humane decision based on an individual assessment, she stressed.

We all need to understand it is never done lightly, says Macuk. And we don't want anyone to feel badly they chose to try and save Jack. It's one of those chances you take when you are hoping things will work out.

What happens to wayward dogs

The Jackson County Animal Control Center annual report shows the agency handled 7,745 animal cases in 2005. Program director Colleen Macuk says the shelter rates third in the state for successful adoptions. Other statistics:

u 22,500 dog licenses were sold.

u 2,927 dogs were handled by the center.

u 798 dogs were adopted to new homes or rescue groups.

u 891 dogs were claimed or returned to their owners.

u 1,058 dogs were euthanized (779 because they weren't adoptable, 237 by owner request, and the rest because of other circumstances).

u 111 were listed as road casualties and dead on arrival.

Jack's Legacy"sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Jack was found Aug. 8, 2005, lying in a ditch. Despite $8,000 worth of surgeries and repeated attempts to find him a home, the rottweiler-Doberman mix had to be euthanized because of unpredictable and untreatable aggression. (Mail Tribune file photo)