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This Puppy Was Minutes Away From Being Euthanized. Then A Rescuer Saw Her Legs And Told Them To Stop

The vet decided that it would be in the little pup’s best interests to put her to sleep. The poor thing was spread out on the floor and couldn’t even walk, so what future could she have? But before the doctor had the chance to lower their needle, someone caused them to falter.
The puppy in question is called Starfish, but she wasn’t given that name at birth. In fact, when she first came into the world, it didn’t seem like anyone cared for her at all. Starfish’s previous owner had actually left her alone to fend for herself.
They had dumped her on a beach, with only a cardboard box as shelter. To make matters worse, Starfish suffered from a disability, which is perhaps the reason her owner left her. She was sprawled out and unable to get to her feet.
The way the pup’s limbs were splayed was the inspiration behind naming her Starfish. When rescuers found her, the tyke was just ten weeks old. Fortunately, Starfish ended up in the California-based non-profit Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS).
When veterinarians first assessed Starfish, their initial impression wasn’t good. Not only was the pup unable to walk, but she had internal problems, too. To put it plainly, her organs were squashed. As a result, her vet concluded euthanasia should be the course of action.
However, the head of FAAS wouldn’t give up on Starfish so easily, and told the veterinarian as much. On April 28, 2018, animal news site the Dodo revealed the head of the organization’s reaction. Upon seeing the animal, this person reportedly said, “We’re going to get a second opinion, this is a different story.”
FAAS intended to find some way to save the puppy. To this end, the group took Starfish to an expert, who gave her rescuers the news they had hoped for. This second professional recognized the dog’s condition, and that it was potentially treatable.
To be more specific, it was established that a condition known as swimmer puppy syndrome (SPS) afflicted Starfish. This birth defect affects the adductor muscles of a young dog’s legs, making them weaker than usual. As a consequence, the dog can only flounder or wiggle on the floor.
The sufferer’s legs are spread like a sea turtle’s flippers, hence the condition’s name. Even experts on the subject are unsure quite what causes SPS. Some think an infection carried by the newborn’s mother may be responsible.
Despite Starfish’s syndrome, there was someone who fell in love with the her. A big-hearted woman called Leigh Anne Gray from California, near San Francisco Bay, saw the dog. And she couldn’t resist Starfish’s charms, later describing the moment they met to the Dodo.
“When I saw Starfish, I just attached so quickly,” Gray recalled. “You couldn’t pick her up like a normal puppy, you had to hold her sideways. She was flat like a pancake, but I just grabbed her and didn’t let her go.”
Under advisement from FAAS, Gray signed her rescue puppy up for a rehabilitation regime. And even though the pupper “moved like a swimmer,” as Gray put it, her determination was inspirational. It was like Starfish was driven by a desire to be with her new family.
“All we had to do was to get her feet up underneath her,” Gray said of Starfish. “And as soon as we got her onto the grass and she had a little something to hold onto, she’d just follow us everywhere.” It appeared that Starfish’s recovery was literally and metaphorically gaining traction.
Gray continued, “Starfish, herself, was so determined at every moment to do whatever she could.” The plucky pooch was the very definition of the word dogged. When she fell down, Starfish got right back up again, ready to give it another shot.
Take Starfish’s first try at going down a flight of Gray’s stairs, for example. “I mean, she practically tumbled down,” Gray told the Dodo. “But she still did it again five minutes later.” And with the pup’s indomitable spirit, her mommy deduced improvement was only a matter of time.
Sure enough, Gray was correct – Starfish was walking just two months into her rehabilitation. But the pup wasn’t facing her fight alone. She certainly had a lot of people in her corner cheering her on, including her rescuers at FAAS who wanted to see their underdog succeed.
“[Starfish] had all these other people around her,” Gray explained. “[Including] the animal shelter folks who wanted to get her over to the rehab clinic, and those people knew what they were doing! She responded to everything that they taught her because she wanted it so bad.” However, the pup suffered a bit of a setback six months after she found her feet.
According to Starfish’s GoFundMe page, veterinarians discovered the determined dog suffered from serious hip dysplasia. She needed surgery to fix it, and the procedure – plus her subsequent care – would cost a whopping $10,000. Once again, though, FAAS was Starfish’s guardian angel
FAAS’s appropriately-named Angel Fund and Starfish’s GoFundMe page helped pay for the procedure. Gray reported the operation’s success on the crowdfunding site in October 2018. But since then, Starfish hasn’t had quite the same enthusiasm for walking.
In fact, the recovering dog has found she enjoys swimming more than standing on her feet. Not only is it apparently easier for her, but it’s good for her muscles, too. It seems like Starfish’s name is just as appropriate now as it ever was.
Though it was the Gray family who rescued Starfish, they themselves believe the pupper gave just as much back. She makes an excellent companion for Gray’s 5-year-old son, as they’re growing up together. And as Starfish’s mommy puts it, they’re at “similar stages of development.”
In addition, Gray’s dog provides her and family’s lives with an enthusiasm she feels was absent before. And she’s reminded of it every time she sees the puppy walking. As she told the Dodo, “It makes you want to drop to your knees, like, ‘is this real?’”
Gray continued, “She has a tremendous well of inspiration. For us, this crazy family in San Francisco Bay area, we need something grounding. And that’s Starfish… That determination, that excitement for life, was missing for me, and I feel lucky that she came our way.”
As recently as 2013 experts widely considered SPS to be uncorrectable. And as it almost did with Starfish, the diagnosis usually led to animals being put down, aside from in a few cases. But thankfully, it now seems like more sufferers survive the condition if they’re given a chance.
Starfish isn’t the only dog to benefit from recent advancements in SPS rehabilitation. Willow the Neapolitan mastiff is another example of an animal successfully treated for the condition. And her story shares some comparisons with Starfish’s own, in that Willow’s rescuers found her just before it was too late.
Willow was born in July 2015 among a litter of puppies that a breeder intended to sell for profit. Her Neapolitan mastiff breed fetches a price tag of anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. But this was not true of Willow herself, because she was obviously different from her siblings.
Three weeks after birth, while all her other brothers and sisters were learning to walk, Willow was not. Instead, she was left lying flat on her chest with the characteristic swimmer’s spread limbs and wriggling motion. She was more expense than profit to the breeder.
Before he took any further action, though, something led Willow’s owner to post about her on social media. Apparently, he announced his intent to throw the “defective” pup away. Many people shared the post, until it reached someone who could help.
Thankfully, a woman called Jennifer Williams saw the announcement. Williams is an animal lover and is the president of a group called 2nd Chances Rescue, based in Norco, California. She immediately replied to the post before Willow’s situation could escalate.
Williams described the situation on a YouTube video uploaded on March 8, 2016. “The breeder wanted her gone,” she revealed. “So we drove to a neighborhood in Fontana, Bloomington area and I see these five perfect little puppies running around the yard.”
“I could see the one I needed to get,” Williams continued. “She was just floundering around in the yard, flat on her stomach.” Not only was the poor pupper unable to walk, but Willow couldn’t get food or water, either.
But Williams had an ace up her sleeve in the form of Gina Gould. As an Animal Acuscope Therapist, Gould was familiar with treating SPS. And she determined that Willow’s case was a particularly bad one.
“As soon as I saw [Willow] I knew I needed to get started right away,” Gould recalled. “It was pretty severe. Once she came to me, I immediately grabbed her chest to keep the chest from being flat.” Then the therapist got to work on the puppy’s spine.
Acuscope treatment involves using electrotherapy to repair damaged tissue. Gould used this method on Willow in an attempt to accelerate her healing. And the results, which occurred several days later, spoke for themselves. Willow’s condition improved to the point that she was able to walk.
Willow’s recovery didn’t stop there, either. After months of Gould’s therapy, she learned how to run. And just like Starfish, Willow discovered that she had a natural affinity for water. Now, it seems like nothing can stand in her way.
“She’s a very, very special young puppy,” Williams expressed. “She’s very self-assured, and that’s probably what helped her to survive. Because she knows what she wants, [so] don’t get in her way!”
Of course, Willow was by no means alone on the road to recovery. Indeed, she owes her improvement partially to the help and support of her rescuers. And for their part, they found the experience of aiding the mastiff particularly worthwhile
“There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a dog that nobody wants and making them into a dog that everybody wants,” the 2nd Chance Rescue president said. “That, to us, is the whole meaning of rescue.” An apt point in the case of both Starfish and Willow.
Thanks to her therapy, Willow was permitted the opportunity to mature from a puppy into a grown-up dog. And without knowing the full story, there’s little chance now you’d guess that she was once unable to walk. She’s truly a beauty, and Gauld, speaking in the video from 2016, revealed that this reflects Willow both inside and out.
“Willow has come so far, she’s just amazing,” the therapist concluded. “She’s developing and growing just like a normal puppy would at her age. And she’s beautiful! I mean her coat, her eyes, her spirit… she’s a survivor.”

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