By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — First, the feisty little Pomeranian insisted on sitting on a reporter’s lap.
Then she barked, repeatedly, until he petted her.
At first glance, you’d never know how close to death little Teddie was just a few weeks ago.
But thanks to a loving foster family and a caring Buffalo veterinarian the little bundle of furry fun, already rescued from a Lockport puppy mill, has a new lease on life.
“It’s been pretty busy around here,” Cindi Stricklin said as Teddie, her mother Gracie and sister Sophie, all bounded about her Town of Lockport home about a week ago. “It’s nice to see them having fun.”
Stricklin said she and her family already had two adopted cats in their home, when they heard the news about a raid on a local puppy mill in early February. The SPCA of Niagara rescued 64 dogs from the squalid conditions of a Royal Parkway South home and whisked them away to their Lockport Road shelter in Wheatfield.
The large number of dogs created a serious overcrowding problem at the shelter and Sticklin asked a friend who was a volunteer there, if there was some way that she could help.
“She said to just go to the shelter, so we did,” Sticklin said. “They asked us if we could take a mom and her two pups home and foster them. They wanted to get the pregnant and nursing moms out of there.”
That’s how Teddie, and her family, arrived at the Stricklin home. But it wasn’t long before the Stricklins realized something was wrong with Teddie.
“We had her about two weeks and we just noticed that she wasn’t keeping up (with Sophie) and she was tiring quickly,” Stricklin said. “She would play with Sophie and begin to breathe heavy and rapidly.”
The Sticklins brought Teddie back to the SPCA for testing.
“They could hear a heart murmur,” Stricklin said. “And they said they thought it was a PDA.”
PDA is short for Patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital disorder in the heart where a value fails to close properly and creates abnormal blood flow. If it is not treated, it’s fatal.
“It was very scary,” Stricklin said. “I looked at my husband and there was panic.”
Stricklin’s 15-year-old daughter had taken on the job of caring for the dogs and her young son had become “very attached” to the puppy. At the SPCA, Shelter Director Amy Lewis said surgery to save Teddie’s life would cost $4,000 and could only be done at Cornell University.
The shelter’s board of directors said they would begin an immediate effort to raise the necessary funds.
“We were worried something would happen to her (before the $4,000 could be raised),” Stricklin said. “She melts your heart and we were falling in love with her.”
Just as the fundraising started, Lewis got an unexpected phone call. It was Dr. Claudia Gray from the Ellicott Small Animal Hospital in Buffalo.
Lewis said she had met Gray during her time at the Erie County SPCA.
“One of the volunteers came into the office and she said, ‘Dr. Gray is on the phone and she wants to do the surgery on Teddie.’,” Lewis recalled. “And I thought that was amazing. We had just started that day to do the fundraising.”
Gray said she learned of Teddie’s plight from one of the Ellicott Small Animal Hospital’s vet techs.
“One of them saw a Facebook post that the SPCA had put up,” Gray said. “She works with me a lot in surgery and she knew I did that kind of surgery (that Teddie needed).”
The vet told Lewis she had a better idea then sending Teddie to Cornell.
“I said I thought it was great if they wanted to take (Teddie) there,” Gray said. “But then I said we’d be happy to do it and donate (the cost).”
Lewis could hardly believe what she heard.
“It was just amazing,” the shelter director said.
Lewis sent a text message to Stricklin and the next day, Teddie was at Ellicott Small Animal Hospital to be examined. A week later, she was undergoing surgery.
“Working in the chest (of the animal), with the heart, there is a certain degree of risk. It’s tricky,” Gray said. “Most (veterinarians) don’t have a desire to it. But it has such a great prognosis if you have the capability to do it.”
Stricklin said she was amazed on the day of the surgery that Gray took time to text her updates and even sent her pictures of Teddie.
“I’ve never had a vet take that kind of time and care with me,’ she said.
Gray had let Stricklin listen to Teddie’s heart before the surgery. She could hear the rush of too much blood and could feel the murmur.
After the surgery, Stricklin listened again.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “It was listening to a new animal.”
Now, except for a healing scar. Teddie looks and plays like any other puppy. Gray said doing the surgery was a joy for her and the hospital staff.
“It’s amazing what doing something like this does for our office. Everyone was smiling and excited,” she said. “I think it was great that we were able to help and save the SPCA the money.”
For Stricklin and her family, the gift of a healthy Teddie is priceless.
“There is no way to repay Dr. Gray for what she did,” Stricklin said. “The gift she gave my son and daughter, how do you repay someone for that?”