When an unidentified good Samaritan brought the dog through the front door of the Emergency Pet Clinic of San Gabriel Valley last winter, a stench filled the room. Dr. Jeffrey Patlogar took one look and thought the animal needed to be euthanized, immediately, to end its suffering. But almost as quickly, the vet noticed something else.
The dog showed no sign of aggression. Perhaps that's why he had been abandoned, Patlogar surmised. Maybe the shepherd wasn't enough of a fighter, or a defender. There was something else. Kohl-black fur rimmed the dog's eyes and trailed off at the edges, making him look even sadder, more pitiful.
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The veterinarian crouched down. "You look awful," he told the shepherd. The dog replied with a lick.
Judging by the condition of his teeth and gray muzzle, he looked to be 7 or 8 years old. He weighed 53 pounds, about half of what he should have weighed based on his sizable paws and frame. Even if the dog survived, it would take months to nurse him back to health. It would take thousands of dollars.
Patlogar pulled out his iPhone, snapped a few pictures and texted them to his wife: "Can you believe this?" The shepherd looked remarkably like the vet's own dog, Bear, who had recently succumbed to old age. Patlogar made an impulse decision. The shepherd could stay, for now.
But no sooner did Patlogar find a large-enough kennel inside the El Monte practice than he began to second-guess himself. Was he saving the shepherd? Or prolonging its suffering?
Taking the dog home wasn't an option. Patlogar had four rescues. And the kennels inside his practice were already brimming with "projects."
"Realistically, what is going to happen to this guy?" Patlogar wondered.
Each year in the U.S., about 4 million dogs are taken in by public and private shelters. Some are lost. Most are abandoned or strays.
Roughly half will make it out alive.
Dogs with tags, or owners looking for them, usually get to go home. Almost as lucky are the dogs taken in by private shelters, where volunteers work tirelessly to find "forever" homes.
But scarce resources force the nation's public shelters to often make painful decisions.
Younger, prettier and healthier dogs are the ones most likely to be kept alive for adoption. That's why Patlogar and his staff hadn't seriously considered taking the shepherd to county- or city-run shelters, which euthanized a total of more than 29,000 dogs last year.
But by early summer, the clinic staff had reached a crossroads.
The shepherd had been nicknamed Sid, for "skinny itchy dog." It was a suitable moniker. Chronic skin ailments inflamed his back and legs and contributed to his yeasty, acrid odor and ceaseless scratching. An abscessed tooth was eating its way through his right cheek, which would require dental surgery, and blood tests detected a thyroid condition.
The staff had tried to find Sid a home through friends, family, Facebook. They had been caring for him for more than three months and cost was becoming an issue.