During the COVID-19 pandemic, the dog pound I work for saw their lowest number of animals coming in than ever before. Our facility can hold over one hundred dogs and throughout the majority of the crisis, we had under twenty in our care. People were adopting like crazy, but we knew it was too good to be true. We wondered, where are all the animals who normally come to us? It was a mystery and it was eerie.
But now, since the country has opened up again, the volume of mistreated or homeless dogs coming to our doors is probably worse than it’s ever been. We have on average eighty to ninety dogs at any given time and new strays are arriving every single day. Dogs are coming to us aged around one or two, and the majority are not spayed or neutered. It’s countless; there seems to be an infinite number of abandoned animals who need a home.
I began working as a caretaker at the Mahoning County Dog Pound in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2017 but a couple of weeks ago we saw one of our worst cases yet. Our team was at home after a half-day working on Saturday, September 24, when we received news from the local police department that a dog had been found in a shed after being shot in the head.
Our deputy, Greg Donchess, went to pick up the dog from the north side of the city. He was pretty freaked out. We didn’t know if the animal, who we later named Bandit, was dead or alive or whether he would even survive the journey from the shed to the urgent care facility.
When Greg arrived, the state Bandit was in was heartbreaking. Members of the Youngstown police department were waiting with the homeowner who found the dog abandoned in his shed. This adult pitbull was curled up in a ball and looked extremely emaciated—we later found out he was just 35 pounds. Greg looped him with a leash and tried to coax him out, but he was a little growly. When he eventually managed to stand up, he collapsed and made a noise which sounded like a scream.
Bandit seemed to be in a lot of pain. He had been shot through the top of his head and the bullet had left out the back of his neck. Thankfully, it went through the tissue, rather than hitting his brain. The vet later said he had been shot days ago, but we have no idea how long he was in that shed. With no body fat to keep him warm, he was likely freezing and must have been starving and in pain for who knows how many days.
As Bandit was put on a stretcher, he alternated between growling and crying. He wouldn’t lay down, but eventually allowed Greg to carry him to the van. Unfortunately we don’t have an animal hospital in town, so Bandit was taken to MedVet Mahoning Valley Urgent Care in Girard for immediate assistance, where he received fluids and antibiotics for the infection in his wound.
Bandit was taken to our facility for the evening, where he was hand fed because he was so emaciated. One of the first things we wanted to do was get his picture out on social media, so people could start praying for him to survive. His care and transportation was paid for by a charity called Friends of Fido, who I volunteer for. So often, dogs come to us starved, hit by cars, with broken bones or needing major surgeries, which we are unable to pay for. The organization fundraises all year to give our dogs everything they need.
When the urgent care facility reopened the following day, staff monitored him again and gave him more medication. He was skeletal, dehydrated and vets discovered he also had a bacterial infection called Lyme disease and nystagmus, an involuntary repetitive movement of the eyes, caused by nerve swelling from the bullet in his head. At this point, he would not stand or walk. It could have been because of fear, but also due to weakness; he seemed to be nothing but bones.
On the morning of Monday, September 26, Bandit was taken to our local veterinarian surgery, where he has remained since his rescue. During the ride to the facility, he chewed the tip of his tail down to the bone. We don’t know whether it was because of anxiety or some sort of nervous response, but he will have to have surgery to fix it, plus an operation to remove the bullet fragments still in his neck and head.
By this point, he was walking a little and was more alert, but was very dizzy. By Wednesday that week, he still wasn’t very active, but he would eat and drink and go to the bathroom outside. However, he didn’t respond when staff or vets entered the room, so we guessed he may have been depressed.
However, by the Friday he had shown improvement. We had two other dogs being looked after by the vet and Bandit was reacting well to having company outside during walks. He began to stand up in his kennel and greet staff when they entered the room, he wagged his tail and seemed happy to see them. Now, he is walking, eating and drinking well, but vets are still monitoring him for infection, because his wounds were so old when we found him. They’re waiting for him to become strong and healthy so he can undergo surgery for his tail and to remove the bullet fragments in his neck and head.
My impression of Bandit is that he doesn’t know how good life can be. He doesn’t know that he has been saved yet and that things are better on the other side of the life that he knows. His little soul seems a bit broken. Hopefully with time and lots of love his body and mind will heal and he will never look back.
We don’t know what happened to Bandit. Nobody has come forward with any information about him yet, all we know is he was found on the north side of town. While many dogs who come to us are not in great shape, and we’ve even had others with bullet wounds, this is one of the worst cases we have seen.
Animals like Bandit are arriving weekly. We constantly have dogs come to us with horrible untreated mange, life-threatening heartworm or infections. What’s going on right now is kind of mind-boggling, these dogs are being discarded like garbage. It’s hard to comprehend how people could just dump a living creature like they don’t matter, starve them or even shoot them. It feels like people have lost their humanity and it’s every day. All day long, we receive messages and phone calls about injured, neglected or abused animals. It never stops and seems like it’s only getting worse.
Lots of people have shown interest in adopting Bandit when he’s healthy enough to find a home, but for the moment the vets are taking care of him and he’s in good hands.
While it’s crucial Bandit finds a loving family, there is always a lot of interest in the dogs with the big stories. Most animals come in with an equally sad background; they’re homeless and have been let down by humans time and time again. People gravitate towards the dogs with a tragic past, but people need to realize that every single one of these animals deserves a home.
Megan Zarlenga is a caretaker at the Mahoning County Dog Pound in Youngstown, Ohio, and a volunteer at Friends of Fido. You can visit their website here.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Monica Greep.