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Shelter survivors

Anytime an animal is adopted at the Jackson County Animal Shelter, facility Manager Barbara Talbert considers it a win.

But sometimes, the odds seem stacked against animals to such an extent that overcoming them and being adopted is a special occasion.

"Especially when you think of the history of the shelter," Talbert said, adding the shelter, at 5595 S. Pacific Highway in Phoenix, at one time did not have the resources to take on animals with severe injuries.

"But things have changed over the last five years. Now it's, 'What can we do other than euthanize this animal?' And so we've gotten much better at giving the animals medical care they need. ... We've gotten a little better about asking for help from the community when we need it. Our foster network has gotten bigger and stronger."

Here are three stories from 2017 of shelter animals that survived despite overwhelming odds.

Hilo

No one had much interest in Hilo, a 6-year-old pit bull that entered the shelter in March. By July, he was still there.

"He was a nice dog, but he was a brindle," Talbert said, referring to its brown and black color pattern. "Some people find it very attractive, but I think black dogs, they don't jump out to people walking through the kennel."

On July 1, injury got added to insult. Another larger pit bull attacked Hilo at the shelter, tearing up his chest and leaving severe puncture wounds on his shoulder. Shelter officials took him to Best Friends Animal Hospital in Talent for surgery. The wounds later got infected, and Hilo contracted MRSA — Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Talbert, who fostered Hilo as he healed, tried one antibiotic, then another. Neither helped. She also had him wear a T-shirt, changed daily, because the wound was draining and needed to be protected.

"We weren't sure he was going to make it," Talbert said. "We tried two different antibiotics, and the wound wasn't healing. It wasn't closing."

After multiple surgeries and 10 injections of a third antibiotic, the infection healed.

During the healing process, Talbert became quite attached to Hilo. She personally paid more than $1,000 for medical costs.

"It had to be a painful experience, but he just was the perfect patient," Talbert said. "He would do whatever I would ask. Put the silly T-shirt on, take his meds. He was a very good patient."

Shannon Ritzinger of Medford adopted Hilo in September. He enjoys walks and loves his chew toys, she said, and his temperament remains sweet. The biggest problem she has with him is that he has to go up and greet every child they encounter during strolls around the neighborhood.

"He thinks every child belongs to him," she said.

Ilene

Ilene, a 7-month-old gray cat, was found on the side of Crater Lake Avenue days before Thanksgiving with a limp and a severe injury on her back.

"Basically, her whole backside, it was like she had no flesh," Talbert said. "The muscle was showing through. It was just a really large wound."

Despite that, the animal had a sweet disposition, and it made shelter officials want to push forward with medical care.

An initial exam performed at Best Friends Animal Hospital showed a variety of maladies, including several old fractures in her pelvis, the base of her tail and her left front paw. There was also an old lesion on her left hip joint. The old fractures didn't require fixing, but they had left her with a limp. That's actually where her name came from: "I lean" led to "Ilene."

But the large injury on her back needed treatment.

"Because the wound was so wide — and it had been that way for a while — they felt that just suturing it up, they'd have to pull it too tightly," Talbert said.

Instead, veterinarians continued to clean the injury and trim around it, repeatedly dressing the wound as it healed. The approach worked. Ilene was in the care of a Medford foster family during her treatment, and they adopted her a few days before Christmas.

Lily

Shelter officials met Lily, a 1-year-old red heeler mix, in September. She had been abandoned and was brought into the shelter with a broken back leg that had not healed properly.

It was initially a simple break of the long bone, but it became displaced significantly. X-rays showed surgery would be complicated, and additional surgeries would be required if the first one was not successful.

Because of Lily's age, shelter officials made the decision to amputate. The shelter held a successful fundraiser for the procedure in September. She then went into foster care to recover from the surgery, which took longer than expected because of an infection.

"She runs around like she never misses the other leg," Talbert said.

Lily was adopted a week ago.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Shannon Ritzinger takes her dog Hilo, who she rescued from the Jackson County Animal Shelter, for a walk at Union Park in west Medford Wednesday afternoon. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]