It was the fall of 2005 when the 40-year-old man decided he had enough. The suicide note said he was taking his best friend with him, a 75 lb. American Bulldog named “Wrigley.”
He backed his car near the front door and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into the single-wide trailer. Then he fixed Wrigley his last meal, a large mixture of meats and gravy, and the big dog with the big appetite must have thought he was in heaven…but not quite. Once Wrigley finished what should have been his last meal, the car was started.
Some time later, the man’s mother happened onto the horrific scene. She called for help, but the emergency crew could not revive her son. He was gone. But not Wrigley! Miraculously, he was pulled from the trailer, still showing signs of a faint heartbeat. Everyone at the scene rallied to save his life.
En route to the nearest veterinarian hospital, Clearwater fireman Doug Swartz, worked feverishly to keep Wrigley alive, but it was a struggle using the oxygen rescue equipment. What Wrigley needed most was a steady flow of oxygen, but a tight seal was impossible to accomplish because the oxygen mask, originally created for humans, kept slipping from the large dog’s snout.
Thankfully, Wrigley survived the trip to the animal hospital, but just barely. He spent several days in critical care before being transferred to the shelter. His diagnosis was still not good. The veterinarian said he could not see, hear or stand, that his brain was “soup.”
With those final words I called the deceased man’s mother to give her the bad news. She asked me to not allow Wrigley to suffer, to let him join her son, if necessary. I promised to personally say “good-bye” and to give the big dog a final hug.
I then made the long walk to the kennels. I considered all the possible outcomes that could have happened. Wrigley had been through so much. It was difficult having to say good-bye to him after he had put up such a tremendous fight to live.
Upon approaching his kennel, I said his name, hoping he would respond, even just the slightest. “Wrigley.” He wagged his tail. He could hear! I opened his kennel door and he staggered to his feet. He could stand! I helped him into the yard and, although he was weak, he managed to wobble towards me.
Suddenly, a butterfly appeared out of nowhere, as though its flight had a purpose. It swooped down and Wrigley wagged his tail and followed the flight of the butterfly. He could see! Wrigley was not done yet, he wanted to live! It was an amazing and inspirational sight to see.
Shortly after Wrigley’s full recovery, a former Safety Harbor City Commissioner suggested we provide animal oxygen masks to all Pinellas County emergency vehicles, a fundraiser inspired by Wrigley. He became the “spokesdog” and in a short period, nearly 120 emergency vehicles were equipped with properly fitting animal oxygen masks. The fundraiser cost nearly $7,000. Wrigley was a hero. And soon after, he found a permanent home of his own.
Fast forward four years later and I heard from Wrigley again, actually his owner Jessica. She had sent out a plea for help. Wrigley had been diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his right front leg. The leg would have to be amputated, and the veterinarians assumed the cancer had spread to the rest of the body, as it typically does under his circumstances. This disease is almost always fatal.
After consulting with several different veterinarians, the estimated cost for the amputation was $2,500. Wrigley’s owners could not afford it and feared the end was near for their beloved dog. Fortunately, we were able to find veterinarians, Dr. Elizabeth Baird and Dr. Ryan Gregory of Country Oaks Animal Hospital, who would do the amputation and cancer testing for half the cost. Once again, there was hope for Wrigley!
The five and half hour surgery to amputate Wrigley’s right, front leg was more of a challenge than the veterinarian originally thought it would be. She warned us that sometimes big barrel-chested dogs like Wrigley cannot stand on only one front leg. Miraculously, the next morning Wrigley was up and walking around the vet’s office. Five days later, Wrigley was sent home. And the cancer they feared spreading from the leg into the rest of his body? None was detected. He had cheated death once again!
Wrigley’s resurgence into our lives has rekindled the “Animal Oxygen Mask Project,” and we are working to re-supply emergency vehicles in Pinellas County with much-needed animal oxygen masks. Each set of masks (small, medium and large) will cost approximately $70. Suncoast Animal League is currently working on determining the exact number of masks needed. We are currently estimating approximately 100 sets of masks.
Wrigley’s medical bills have reached approximately $1300. We are also raising the funds needed to pay for his surgery. Please consider making a donation on Wrigley’s behalf for his medical needs and to help save animals all across Pinellas County.
Executive Director, Co-Founder
Suncoast Animal League