Oct. 28—A Chihuahua that survived being starved, shot in the head and shoved inside a bag to die is starting to regain his trust in humanity as he slowly and cautiously makes his way toward a happier fate than one he almost had.
The 10-pound dog, named Lazarus by shelter staff for the biblical character who cheated death, was discovered by chance during a traffic stop by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, said Kim Casey, manager of the Jackson County Animal Shelter.
Emaciated and struggling with extensive dental disease, the dog was one of two who were shot, presumed dead and tossed into the vehicle to be disposed of.
Waiting inside the dark bag with the other dog — which was deceased when the pair were discovered — Lazarus' luck shifted only because of a deputy deciding to conduct a vehicle search.
"It was a Jackson County sheriff's case. They pulled over a vehicle and, when they searched the vehicle, they discovered a bag which contained what the occupants told the officers were two dead dogs," Casey said.
"The people admitted to having shot the dogs and thought that they were dead. One was, in fact, dead. But one was not."
Casey, who said both dogs were Chihuahua or Chihuahua-mix seniors, said it was heartbreaking to think of the little dog being traumatized as he was shot by would-be caregivers and then tossed in a sack with "his dead friend."
"We took him immediately to (Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center) for an evaluation and initial treatment. He had an obvious wound to the top of his head. ... Whatever kind (of gun) it was, it didn't do what they had hoped it would do," Casey noted.
Casey said both dogs had medical needs "more than likely that somebody was opposed to paying for." Casey declined to provide details of the criminal case related to the traffic stop or discovery of the dogs, citing policies related to an ongoing investigation.
While Lazarus' case is sad, Casey said it denotes an ongoing increase in neglect and abuse cases as pet owners grapple with a regional shortage of available veterinary care and a struggling economy where people acquire pets despite a lack of resources or ability to provide proper care.
Last week, Jackson County officials rescued 32 animals from a property outside Rogue River after a neighbor reported a diseased and neglected dog tied up in the front yard of a property.
County animal control officers and sheriff's deputies were granted a search warrant based on the condition of the reported dog and later discovered two deceased dogs and a dead cat on the property. They rescued a menagerie of remaining dogs, cats and exotic birds on the property.
The suspects, Michael Lee Hamilton, 71, and Debbie Lee Hamilton, 61, both of Rogue River, were charged with three counts of first-degree animal abuse and 10 counts of second-degree animal abuse.
In late September, dozens of animals were found abandoned without food or water. The animals previously had been under the care of a Grants Pass-based business, Pawsitive K9 Solutions.
When animals are seized during investigation of a criminal case, they become evidence, and presumed owners must agree to surrender the animals to county animal services officials.
Lazarus was initially held as evidence — a status which can find dogs or cats in limbo for weeks, months or longer — until officers involved with the case encouraged the former owners to surrender the dog.
"We have animals who get stuck in that evidence situation, but one of the ways we can move forward with treatment is if they are surrendered by the owner," Casey said.
"We treat them for some stuff, anyway, because we have to. It's just easier to move forward with treatment and care decisions if the animal is surrendered."
Casey said there has been an overall increase in neglect and abuse cases, a sign of the times on the heel of pandemic restrictions and job loss coupled with limited veterinary care and a struggling economy.
"More and more frequently these things are happening. A lack of access to veterinary services is a huge part of it, people's inability to afford to care for their animals in general," Casey said, noting that, left untreated, basic medical needs can escalate to expensive emergency scenarios.
"Most of it is neglect, and not so much intentional cruelty. They can't afford to provide proper medical care, or there's not any access if they can afford it. In some cases, it's likely these are people who they are not even able to take care of themselves. I think these types of cases are reflective of people really struggling the last few years."
Casey said it's always preferred to have an animal surrendered to county officials rather than deprived of proper care.
"Our job is to be that safety net for people. That's what a shelter should be — a safety net for people who need someone to step in and help make sure their animal's needs are being met when they're unable to do so."
Lazarus is scheduled for additional assessments in the coming week and, Casey hopes, a reasonably clean bill of health, given his age, deferred care and a hole in his noggin.
Whether he's in for veterinary treatment or even hospice care, Casey said he'll feel cared for and not afraid during his final days, weeks or years of life.
"I named him Lazarus because he came back from the dead. We're just getting him follow-up medical care and hoping the vet doesn't say he has some huge, underlying issues. He has a horrible dental infection, and he was completely emaciated, but we hope that's the extent of it," said Casey.
"He's been maintained on antibiotics right now and receiving appropriate nutrition. When we introduce a feeding program to dogs who have been starved, we have to reintroduce proper nutrition very slowly so that we don't create other problems. As soon as we started the re-feeding program, he immediately ate. He was hungry and wanted to eat. It may not be comfortable for him to eat, but he's eating, and he's eating well."
At 10 pounds, Lazarus may gain a few pounds, Casey said.
Barring bad news at the vet, he'll be looking for some kind humans to claim him as their own.
"He just kind of hangs out, waiting to see what's gonna happen next," she added.
"He's been through a lot, but he's doing better and better every day."
For details on the different ways to support the shelter, including contributions to the shelter's medical fund, see fotas.org
Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal