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‘Miracle’ dog fights to recover
after brutal beating

Jessica Robertson kisses Armani as she carries him to her car. Armani’s beating left him with multiple skull fractures, bleeding in and around his brain and brain swelling.

Armani, a cockapoo, was brutally beaten during an October burglary. He wore a “#1 Patient” hat made by his veterinarians.

Armani practices his physical therapy exercises to help him become stronger and relearn to walk. Although his veterinarians expected weeks of intensive care, Armani’s rapid recovery allowed him to go home after only 10 days in the teaching hospital.

Jessica Robertson remembers that day clearly. On Oct. 22, she came home from work and found her Boone County house ransacked. As she walked through the rooms, she discovered a horrible sight: Her dog Armani was lying on the floor, covered in blood.

Robertson said she can’t imagine the cruelty that led the burglars to beat Armani. The 9-year-old cockapoo is prone to anxiety and certainly doesn’t look imposing. But he’s a protector, she said, and he loves her other dog, Ammo, a 2-year-old German Shepherd who was kenneled that day. Given that Armani was found next to Ammo’s kennel, she said, he might have tried to protect Ammo.

Robertson immediately called Armani’s veterinarian, who rushed over and decided Armani needed to go to the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. There a CT scan showed multiple skull fractures, bleeding in and around his brain and a lot of brain swelling. By the next morning, Armani had lost the ability to swallow and had to be put on a ventilator.

Armani needed 24-hour intensive care for most of the first week he stayed at the hospital. During this time, veterinarians stayed by his side constantly to monitor him. He received a blood transfusion, had to be fed via a feeding tube, and was on several medications, including antibiotics to treat potential infection in the wound on his head, gastroprotectants to prevent developing a stomach ulcer while he was on the ventilator and anti-seizure medications to prevent seizures from the head trauma.

After the first few days, during which Armani was heavily sedated, his veterinarians began trying to decrease his sedation while still managing his pain. Armani would experience episodes of distress with an elevated heart rate and blood pressure when sedation was reduced, and it took about a week before he would stay calm without heavy sedation. Because he was very sensitive to noise, his doctors posted signs asking people to be quiet around him.

During his first few days at the hospital, Armani’s veterinarians weren’t optimistic about his prognosis, said Beth Tynan, DVM, a third-year veterinary small animal emergency and critical care resident. At best, he was probably facing weeks of intensive care and a long road to recovery.

But Armani likes to prove his doctors wrong.

On Nov. 1, just 10 days after Armani came in, a note on his kennel proclaimed: “Armani is going home today! He’s pretty much a normal dog now, so feel free to look at him and talk about how cute he is as loud as you want.”

Armani still had a long way to go. His head trauma had lingering effects. When he was discharged, he couldn’t see out of his right eye, though that could improve in time. He couldn’t walk, though he was able to stand for brief periods with help. Still, his veterinarians couldn’t believe how far he’d come in such a short time.

“Every few days we had to reset our goals (because he’d already surpassed them),” said first-year resident Christa Bernhard, DVM. “He’s been a miracle. Every day he’s steadily improved.”

Robertson said she avoided discussing Armani’s prognosis in the days following his attack because she wanted to focus only on his recovery.

“I just had to believe that he was going to make it,” she said.

Robertson attributed Armani’s rapid recovery to his stubbornness and the love and support he received from family, friends and his veterinarians. She said the care Armani received at the veterinary hospital was amazing.

“They worked 24/7 with him,” she said. “They were here with him through it all. Just to have them care about him so much made it easier to only see him twice a day. It’s just amazing how he has made it through.”

Armani’s next milestone will be learning to walk on his own. On the day he went home, his doctors warned that it could be a few weeks before he was up and about. As usual, Armani is already ahead of schedule. Within two days he was able to walk a little on his own, and he has steadily improved since then.

Given his progress, Armani’s veterinarians are optimistic.

“We’re hoping he can make a complete recovery and be back to normal,” Bernhard said. “Any time there’s a traumatic brain injury it’s impossible to predict when a person or an animal will be back to normal function. Fortunately with our patients he doesn’t have to do math or drive a car or go to a job; he just needs to go back to being his loving self.”

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Last Update: February 29, 2012