When Turtle was rescued in 2013, the folks behind Underdog Rescue in Minnesota initially thought he had pneumonia. After all, he was a puppy mill dog, and it’s not uncommon for them for have health ailments. Soon, however, they realized his problems were much more complicated.
After Turtle turned blue his first night in his new foster home, the next stop was a veterinarian where he was placed in an oxygen tank while tests were run to determine the cause. Those tests didn’t reveal anything, so vets performed a fluoroscopy, which gave a greater picture as to what was happening inside Turtle. The test revealed a hiatal hernia.
“Basically, he had a hernia in his diaphragm area so his intestines and all the juices were up surrounding his lungs, so he was breathing fluid constantly,” says Michelle Kunz, Turtle’s adopter.
The hernia made it difficult for Turtle to breathe, so he spent two months in an oxygen tank. Still trying to be a normal puppy, Turtle wanted to play when he was out of the oxygen tank—but within minutes he would turn blue, Kunz says. During that time volunteers from Underdog Rescue visited him three times a day to help with needed oxygen and light treatments.
“He was always happy; his tail was always wagging [during treatments],” Kunz says.
Janis Pikal was one of the volunteers that regularly helped with Turtle’s treatments. Saddened by the loss of her own dog just a few months earlier, helping with Turtle gave her something to do and she didn’t think twice about the hour-long drive she made several times a week.
But spending time with Turtle and being so close to him was like a rollercoaster ride, Pikal says. “There were nights I’d come home feeling like, ‘We got this,’ and happy as I could be. Other nights I’d bawl all the way home thinking I wasn’t going to see him again.”
The cost of Turtle’s care before adoption was $11,000, so the rescue started a GoFundMe page for the puppy. A local cupcake shop stepped in to help, too. For one day in November 2013, Sweet Retreat Cupcake Boutique in Minneapolis donated some of proceeds from their turtle cupcakes to the rescue.
“It was great for awareness and raised a good chunk of money,” says Lacey Crispigna, assistant director at Underdog Rescue. She estimates that Underdog rescues about five dogs a year—like Turtle—that require extensive and expensive medical care.
Kunz had been fostering Turtle until he could be adopted, but she eventually decided she would be the one to give him a loving forever home. After helping the puppy through so much, she just couldn’t let him go. “I couldn’t imagine him with anyone else,” she says.
After adoption, Turtle had a very rare surgery to fix his hernia. It was so rare that Kunz says veterinary students from around the country came to observe it.
“It was nerve wracking because he was so tiny,” Kunz says. “They said they might have to put him on a ventilator, which increases the risk of him not being able to come off. I was waiting for the phone call.”
But Turtle pulled through the surgery and recovered. The Dachshund needs ongoing care for an eye condition and allergies, but overall, he’s now a healthy, thriving 3-year-old pup.
There were times when Turtle’s future was unknown, but Kunz and Underdog Rescue stuck by him the entire time. They never gave up hope. “We saw it in him every time we visited—we knew he wanted to live,” Crispigna says. “He was a fighter and never gave up, so we didn’t give up on him either.”
Elizabeth Xu is an Ohio-based freelance writer focusing on pets and travel.