Orson arrived at the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society is less than idyllic condition.
The chocolate lab, pure-bred by all indications, had been picked up by county Animal Control officer Roland Jones in the Stone Mill Creek area when Orson stumbled into a stranger’s yard in the first week of January.
Orson’s future was bleak.
He could only use three legs, he was emaciated, lethargic and had broken teeth, said Melody Townsend, director of the Humane Society.
“We had our vet do an assessment and he said he had one dislocated hip, likely from being hit by a car, and the other hip was injured, sad to say, by a gunshot,” Townsend said, noting that in the past couple of months the Humane Society has taken in at least six dogs that have been shot.
The shame of it all, Townsend noted, was that Orson had once belonged to somebody.
The fur on his neck showed a line where Orson had clearly worn a collar.
“That he indicates he belonged to somebody for a long time,” Townsend said.
To top it off, Orson tested positive for heartworms.
“With local surgery and rehabilitation, the vet said he had about a 60 percent chance of surviving,” Townsend said.
The cost, including treatment for heart worm, would be roughly $3,000, precious funds for a small humane society.
But there was more to Orson, estimated at roughly six years of age, than the injuries, Townsend and her staff soon discovered.
Orson had the friendly nature of a lab, wagging his tail incessantly around people and navigating the compound among other dogs, apparently happily, with his three good legs.
“We put him out for a temperament evaluation and they fell in love with him,” Townsend said. “He does his sits. He’ll walk up to anybody.
We had to do something.”
The options were to perform the surgery or put Orson down.
Townsend began reaching out to rescue groups that specialize in assisting with difficult animal cases.
A rescue shelter in Tampa responded to the call. The shelter will undertake the heart worm regimen and perform the surgeries.
“They have even lined up a foster home for him,” Townsend said.
With a light at the end of the tunnel, Townsend and her staff set out to build Orson’s strength for the trip to Tampa and the looming surgeries.
“We treated his pain, gave him antibiotics and steroids for the cough he got from the heartworms,” Townsend said. “We fed him, kept him comfortable and prepared him for the trip to Tampa.”
Last week, Orson finally made the trip, transported to his new home in Central Florida, a fatter, happier dog, on his way to recovery and a new home.
“As many animals as we get, this was just a special case,” Townsend said. “In these kind of cases, you have to tell yourself you are a humane society.”
The St. Joseph Humane Society was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from Pet Smart Charities targeting spay and neutering of dogs in the 32456 zip code.
“The purpose of the grant is to make the biggest impact,” Townsend said. “The purpose is to make a large dent in a targeted area.”
The grant will pay for the surgeries to spay and neuter dogs and to come up with a plan to address animal over-population in that zip code, Townsend said.
The vets on board for the effort are Dr. Hobson Fulmer and Dr. Albert Biaz.
“We’ve got a year to spend it and we are really focused on the areas of Oak Grove, Highland View and North Port St. Joe,” Townsend said.
Townsend said the grant was important because rural communities rarely have the resources to undertake such a program. Most of similar grants target more urban or heavily populated areas, but “they were impressed with our pitch to them.”
As for a long-term address of spay and neuter needs, Townsend said the grant provides the ability for the humane society to get out in the community to educate people on the need to spay and neuter pets.
“We are hoping to go into churches,” Townsend said. “We want to just educate people.”
Giving an unwanted or surprise litter away, Townsend said, does not address the problem as there is no telling where those dogs will end up and whether those offspring will be spayed or neutered. Passing on the problem, Townsend noted, does not address the problem.
“What happens to their offspring?” she said.
To download an application form to spay or neuter a dog in the 32456 zip code, visit sjbhumanesociety.org or fax the SJBHS at 227-1191. Application forms can also be picked up at the Humane Society shelter on 10th Street in Port St. Joe or at Bow Wow Beach downtown.
For additional information call the SJBHS at 227-1103.