Vets and pet lovers step in to help cancer stricken man save his dog’s life
Rescue dog Harry Shellby, who was found abandoned at a petrol station, helped save his new owner’s life by comforting him through cancer treatment last year but then the heroic hound fell gravely ill himself. His devastated owner Neil Milliner took to crowd funding to raise the money needed for Harry Shelby’s urgent treatment and big hearted vets at Davies Veterinary Specialists stepped in to provide the complex surgery at half the cost.
Harry Shellby, a small mixed breed puppy was found lost and alone on a Shell Petrol Station forecourt in Bedfordshire. Neil Milliner, a retired counselling practitioner, had been on his way to a Remembrance Day memorial service last November and had stopped off for fuel when he spotted the terrified dog.
Neil remembers: “Despite the service station being packed with people the little guy only had eyes for me and, to be honest, I found him irresistible. Somehow we just seemed to ‘click’ and I offered to take him home.”
No one ever came forward to claim the dog and no owner could be traced, so Neil officially adopted him and named him Harry Shellby, in part after Neil’s old dog who had strikingly similar facial markings and in part in deference to the Shell petrol station at which he had been found.
Neil firmly believes that fate found him Harry Shellby because Neil had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and the loyal young dog went on to help support his rescuer through 37 gruelling sessions of radiotherapy.
“Having Harry Shellby during this period was amazing,” says Neil. “Perhaps he had sensed I needed him during this difficult stage in my life. He was so gentle and empathetic and was always there with a wagging tail after each treatment. When I was at my lowest ebb he carried me through the fatigue, the sleepless nights and the constant trips to the loo, ever present with his wagging tail and beseeching eyes.”
Then last month Neil noticed that Harry Shellby was not himself. “He had lost his appetite and his energy and he had stiflingly bad breath,” Neil recalls.
He rushed the dog to his local practice Vets4Pets where vet Maggie Doherty conducted an ultrasound scan and found that Harry Shellby was suffering with a diaphragmatic hernia. His intestines, spleen and most of his liver had pushed through a tear in the diaphragm, and were sitting in the chest cavity. It is likely that the injuries had been caused by an abusive trauma such as a kick when Harry Shellby was a young puppy, before he and Neil had met.
"When we conducted investigations into young Harry Shellby we were shocked at the extent of his internal complications,” said Maggie Doherty at Vets4Pets. “Outwardly, Harry Shellby was seemingly a bouncy and healthy puppy but he wasn’t thriving. I knew immediately that I needed to call on the expertise of the multi-disciplinary team at Davies Veterinary Specialists to ensure a positive outcome for this special rescue dog. The collaborative relationship we have with Davies provides a seamless interface between first opinion and referral veterinary medicine to deliver the first class treatment we strive to achieve for our clients.”
“It’s a testament to his courage and remarkable energy that he had managed his condition from November, when I found him, to June,” Continued Neil. “I had him checked over when I had him chipped and vaccinated in December and nothing untoward was spotted then.”
Neil was struggling to find the money he needed to pay for the treatment. Much of his Insurance cover had already been used to diagnose Harry Shellby’s condition. “Harry Shellby is my best friend,” said Neil. “He undoubtedly helped to save my life so I vowed to do all I could to help save his.”
Neil quickly raised £2,000 from kind friends, family and animal lovers via a crowd funding site and then Davies kindly offered the surgery at half the cost which meant that Harry Shellby could be admitted immediately.
Davies’ Soft Tissue Surgeon Carolyn Burton performed a ventral midline laparotomy and found a traumatic radial tear of the diaphragm. The entire spleen, stomach, duodenum, jejunum, omentum and 2/3 of the liver and the gall bladder were all within the thoracic cavity. Carolyn was able to retract all but the liver back into the abdomen but significant adhesions between the liver and the intrathoracic structures meant that she needed to perform a caudal median sternotomy. This involved direct transection of adhesions between the liver lobes, the cranial surface of the diaphragm, mediastinum and left phrenic nerve before replacing the liver into the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm tear was closed with sutures and the wound closed, with a drain inserted.
Harry Shellby needed a delayed lung re-expansion protocol to minimise the risk of re-expansion pulmonary oedema so 10ml of air was removed via a thoracic drain hourly until a seal was reached and the drain was removed.
Dr Carolyn Burton said: “Harry Shellby’s procedure was both complicated and high risk and involved a whole team of people here at Davies. But he has gone on to make a remarkable recovery and it should hopefully be the end of his problems now. We are all so pleased and proud to have been able to help save this heroic dog who has been such a support to his owner through very difficult times.”
Neil continued: “I will be forever in the debt of Carolyn Burton for her incredible surgical skills and of the financial directors at Davies for halving their fees. I am just so stunned and grateful for the support everyone has shown for Harry Shellby and me. Without their kindness there is no way I would have been able to afford the operation he needed. Such generosity lies in total contrast to the extreme cruelty that may have caused Harry Shellby’s injuries in the first instance.”
Two weeks on Harry Shellby is full of beans and eating well and Neil just can’t stop smiling.