West Hartford Dogs Home, Healing after Traumatic Injuries

Charlotte (right) 'mothers' Rollo after the Portugese Podengo Pequeno pair are finally reunited Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Davidson

One of West Hartford resident Cheryl Davidson’s dogs was hit by a car, and the other then escaped its harness and was missing for a week during which he was likely attacked by a fisher cat and ingested rat poison.

Rollo (left) and Charlotte during ‘happy times’ in the summer of 2017. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Davidson

By Ronni Newton

Cheryl Davidson and her two Portugese Podengo Pequenos, Rollo and Charlotte, are together again in their West Hartford home, and although both dogs have a long road to recovery ahead, Davidson is hopeful that everything is finally on the right track.

An awful confluence of circumstances resulted in serious trauma for both dogs, and in a story that includes many “what else could possibly go wrong?” moments, a happy ending appears to be in sight.

Parts of the ordeal have been told incrementally on Facebook, where members of the “Neighbors and Friends in West Hartford” group have thrown their support behind Davidson as Charlotte underwent surgery for injuries sustained in the hit and run incident, and a search for Rollo lasted nearly a week. The posts have received hundreds and hundreds of reactions and comments, and on Saturday, as she waited for Rollo to undergo his second blood transfusion in as many days, Davidson shared the entire story with We-Ha.com.

Rollo (3), and Charlotte (1), are Portugese Podengo Pequenos, an ancient breed originally known for being ratters on Portugese sailing vessels. Davidson said she fell in love with the breed years ago, and got both dogs from Portugal. They are related – Rollo is Charlotte’s great uncle – and very attached to each other as well as to Davidson.

Davidson works at the Focus Center for Autism, at a residential facility in Barkhamsted where the boys enrolled in the program, who are all on the spectrum, are referrals from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and have a history of trauma or abuse. Rollo and Charlotte often accompany Davidson to work. “They are great therapy for our boys, an integral part of the program,” she said.

For about the past six months, Davidson said she has employed a pet-sitter who usually comes to her Buena Vista Road home when she can’t take the dogs to work with her. She said that she’s neurotic about keeping her home and yard safe for the dogs, with multiple layers of fencing and a kennel. One of her fears for the 12-pound dogs is that they would be attacked by a hawk in her yard.

Davidson was facing an 18-hour workday on Tuesday, Feb. 27, which including getting re-certified in CPR, and said that the pet sitter decided to take Charlotte and Rollo to her house for a change of pace.

“Around dinnertime she said she planned to walk the dogs to the Center. Charlotte isn’t good on the leash, so I cautioned her against that,” Davidson said.

“About an hour later I got a text from the pet sitter: ‘Call me, emergency. Rollo is missing,'” Davidson said. She dropped what she was doing to return to West Hartford.

Davidson said that the pet sitter was walking along Sedgwick Road with the dogs when Charlotte saw another dog. “She pulled, slipped out of her harness, and was immediately struck by a car. It was a hit and run.”

The pet sitter handed Rollo’s leash to someone else on the sidewalk so that she could tend to Charlotte, and Rollo, whom Davidson was told was traumatized by the situation, slipped out of his harness as well and took off running down Sedgwick Road.

“The cars were stopped in both directions. People were chasing him. He’s skittish on a good day,” Davidson said.

Rollo wasn’t far from home – only about a mile – but instead of heading in that direction he apparently headed for West Hartford Center.

As Davidson was racing back from Barkhamsted, her friends took to Facebook for help finding Rollo. “There were all of these sightings, but we kept missing him. He was traumatized,” she said.

In the meantime the pet sitter had taken Charlotte to an emergency veterinarian facility, and Davidson took a break from searching for Rollo to go see her other dog. “They told me she had two broken vertebrae in her spine, her hip was luxated, and her  heart was enlarged.”

Davidson was not happy with the care Charlotte was receiving, nor the grim prognosis she was given, so the next day, after spending all night searching for Rollo, she picked Charlotte up to bring her to Veterinary Specialists of Connecticut in West Hartford. “They said ‘good luck’ and thrust her at me,” Davidson said, an action that could have severed the dog’s spine.

Charlotte at Tufts Cummings Veterinary Center. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Davidson

Veterinary Specialists examined Charlotte, strapped her to a board to stabilize her spine, and told Davidson that the dog needed specialized surgery at Tufts Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, located in Grafton, MA, outside of Boston. A relative accompanied Davidson, who had already been up for days, on the trip and she left Charlotte in capable hands for the surgical procedure.

Back in West Hartford, the search for Rollo was continuing, and although there were multiple sightings, he continued to run. “I kept asking, ‘Do not call out. Do not chase him,'” because that would scare him off.

CT Dog Gone Recovery was helping. They’re fabulous people,” Davidson said. She said she’s grateful to all of the volunteers, particularly Paige Fleming. “She was committed to finding Rollo as if her were her own,” Davidson said.

Over the course of days there were reports that Rollo had been seen at St. Timothy Middle School, at Wampanoag, on Bloomfield Avenue near the University of Hartford, and in the middle of the awful rain and windstorm on March 2 someone reported seeing him running down Farmington Avenue near the UConn Health Center. A man on South Road called and told her that a dog who looked like Rollo was sitting under the awning on his porch, but before he could get close enough the dog ran off.

Davidson was scattering pieces of clothing with her scent on them in an effort to attract the dog, and sent multiple photos of Rollo to anyone who thought they saw him. “He was pretty far from where he was lost, but he’s very distinctive looking,” she said.

She said she was confident the dog was still alive, and still on the run. She consulted a few psychics who agreed, and thought that Rollo likely thought Charlotte was dead and was blaming himself.

On Sunday night, March 4, Davidson got permission to set a humane trap began a “bacon burn” in a wooded area near Trout Brook Drive and Asylum Avenue where there had been more sightings. “No Rollo,” she said.

Her 18-year-old son thought he saw the dog, but she thought by then Rollo was unlikely to respond to anyone, maybe not even her.

Davidson was scheduled to leave for Tufts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6 to pick up Charlotte, and dreaded the thought of leaving the search, as well as bringing Charlotte home without Rollo being there.

Late Monday night Davidson said she was at the home of the friend who was going to accompany her to Tufts the next day, when she got a phone call from someone who thought she saw Rollo in Newington. Davidson was on the phone with Newington Police when she got a text from a friend who was staying at her house.

“My house guest texted and said, ‘Where are you? Rollo is home!'” Davidson said.

“I came racing home. It was 12:53 a.m., and there was Rollo in the kitchen, starving and thirsty and very panicky,” Davidson said.

This story, however, doesn’t have a happy ending. Yet.

She took Rollo to pick up Charlotte in the morning, and then brought Rollo to the vet for a check-up. “Suddenly there was blood on my lap in the waiting room,” Davidson said. The veterinarian shaved him and found evidence of puncture wounds from a fisher cat, a carnivorous mammal that often attacks in the area of the anus, Davidson said.

Rollo at the emergency room at Veterinary Specialists of Connecticut in West Hartford. Courtesy of Cheryl Davidson

The veterinarian treated the wounds, but on Wednesday morning, when Davidson woke up, Rollo was lying in a pool of fresh blood. She said she couldn’t believe that Rollo had come all the way home just to die.

Believing there might be internal injuries, the vet did surgery, and found and repaired muscle tears. Rollo appeared to be on the mend and recovering nicely, but on Friday morning, after initially being told he was fine, she learned that he had started bleeding again, and his neck was swollen and bruised.

The vet did a liver panel. “The only conclusion was that he had gotten into rat poison,” Davidson said. His blood was not coagulating properly, but the vet told her it was fixable with a blood transfusion.

Rollo had the transfusion and Davidson said he responded favorably, but at 6:30 a.m. Saturday he started to bleed again. “He was anemic, his blood was starting to coagulate but not fast enough. He needed another transfusion,” Davidson said.

On Saturday afternoon she was told that Rollo’s levels were better than expected. “My sweet Rollo is on the way home,” she wrote in a text.

“I’m just hoping it’s the end of this nightmare,” Davidson said.

She is so thankful to all who have helped by searching, praying, and supporting her in many ways throughout the ordeal. “The outpouring from the community has been heartwarming, so generous,” Davidson said.

The vet bills have been extraordinary, already at $16,000 and mounting, because Charlotte will need heart surgery, perhaps open heart surgery to fix what may be a congenital defect worsened by the trauma of being injured in the hit and run. The vet at Tufts hadn’t been sure that her heart was even strong enough to undergo the spine and hip surgery.

“If there’s a silver lining in all of this it’s that we’ve found out that Charlotte has a bad heart,” Davidson said.

One of her coworkers began a GoFundMe campaign to assist Davidson with the expenses, which could hit $20,000. The campaign’s goal is $16,000, and as of Sunday morning $4,626 had been raised.

“I’m not the type of person to ask for anything, but this is above and beyond,” Davidson said. “Anything is a help.”

She said she’s been getting texts and well wishes from around the world. “The Portugese Podango Pequeno community is very close-knit.”

She has had to take a leave of absence from her job to care for the dogs, but as soon as possible she will be back, the dogs in tow. Her co-workers have already agreed to turn their workplace into a part-time veterinary center, Davidson said.

Before this story could be written with a happy ending, Davidson texted on Saturday night and said the nightmare had not yet ended. “I just got out of the bathtub and found Charlotte crying and her hip is out of its sling so we are running to the emergency room only three hours after Rollo was discharged.”

Charlotte’s hip has pins in it, and she is supposed to be in a sling until March 22. On Sunday morning, Davidson relayed the positive news that Charlotte’s pins had held.

“Today Rollo goes for a quick blood test to check his count. Hopefully that is the end of things until we move forward with suture removal for both and consultations with a cardiologist for Charlotte for her upcoming heart surgery,” Davidson said.

The pet sitter’s decision to walk the dogs at dusk along Sedgwick Road led to an unbelievable ordeal, but the story now, finally, seems to be heading toward a happy ending.

Anyone interested in donating to the GoFundMe can click here for details.

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