Rescuer Discovers Abandoned Puppy on the Street and Performs a Miracle Recovery

Feb 27, 2023

In May, Stephanie Smith-Justus received a call from a worried neighbor who had just spotted a dog in dire need of help and didn't know what to do.

Smith-Justus, who is employed at a municipal shelter and also manages the Buchanan County Humane Society in Virginia, quickly enlisted her husband and rushed to the end of her street where the neighbor had spotted the dog.

Despite scouring the thick woodland area, they were about to give up hope until her husband found the dog lying in a patch of weeds at the end of the road. "Stephanie, I don't think he's going to make it," he informed Smith-Justus, as she later recounted to The Dodo.

According to Smith-Justus, the puppy initially seemed to have suffered from scalding. However, upon examination, it became clear that the 4-month-old pup had a severe case of demodectic mange, which he most likely contracted from his mother. "It was pretty severe," she remarked. "Think of it like a second-degree burn."

Fortunately, a veterinarian had recently moved into a house down the street, so Smith-Justus and her husband promptly picked up the little puppy and rushed to the vet's house. "We didn't even knock," she recounted. "I just ran in with him to her home.

When the veterinarian, who later gave the dog the name Watkins after the street where he was found, examined him, she detected that something was amiss. "She said he was dying," Smith-Justus recounted.

They then transported him to the veterinarian's clinic, where they discovered that his skin was only the tip of the iceberg. He had been shot numerous times with a pellet gun. Weighing a mere 34 pounds, he had been without food for so long that his intestines had collapsed.

Due to malnutrition, the puppy's ankles had not developed properly. "His tendons had become inflexible," Smith-Justus stated. "He couldn't even stand on his paw pads. It was difficult to watch him walk because he would fall on his wrists."

As a result of the mange, his tiny body was on the verge of collapse. "He was literally oozing fluids," Smith-Justus remembered, describing an 8-inch wet patch that followed him wherever he sat. "He was just so swollen.

Smith-Justus was heartbroken by Watkins' condition and wanted to assist him, but her top priority was to do what was most humane.

"If he's in such a bad state that you need to put him down, I understand," she told the vet, "but I want to do what's best for him." "Let's try to save him," she insisted.

However, it was not an easy road for Watkins. Shortly after being taken to the clinic, his intestines twisted and he underwent emergency surgery, which the vet did not believe he would survive.

"She told me he wouldn't make it and that I should say goodbye," Smith-Justus said. "But he was still alive and kicking the next morning."

Unfortunately, a few weeks later, his situation deteriorated even further. He stopped eating, lost 34 pounds, and had to have a feeding tube inserted, which he eventually chewed off. Smith-Justus described his recovery process as "a series of errors."

After a challenging start in life, Watkins persevered through a 119-day stay at the vet's office and temporary residence at Virginia Tech's intensive care unit. But during his recovery, something equally touching began to occur.

As Watkins struggled to regain his health after a tough beginning, Smith-Justus started receiving words of support from people all over the world who had learned about Watkins' story and wanted to wish him a speedy recovery. Blankets and dog beds were sent from various places in the United States and even from other countries, and one family went on a journey across several states to meet him in person.

With over 12,000 followers, Watkins now has a dedicated Facebook page that documents his journey. "His photos and story must have resonated with people the way they did with me," said Smith-Justus. Thanks to his supporters and his own resilience, Watkins was able to finally return home with Smith-Justus on July 11.

Despite being at home, Watkins still had to regularly visit the doctor for an ongoing ear infection every Tuesday and undergo "puppy chemo" every Thursday to treat his demodectic mange. However, his resilience continued to impress everyone. When his legs still didn't function properly, Smith-Justus scheduled an appointment to have them examined. But just as she was about to take him to the appointment, Watkins surprised everyone by taking a giant stride forward and began walking as he should. "I can't explain it," Smith-Justus said.

Over the next few months, Watkins gradually improved, and while he is still in the process of recovery today, he is much closer to becoming a healthy and happy 10-month-old puppy than anyone could have anticipated.

Watkins never fails to reward Smith-Justus, her friends, and family with his progress. He used to be frightened of cars and weed eaters, but now he enjoys car rides. He has regained his confidence and has become stronger by running in the yard, something he only started doing a few weeks ago without crying.

"He is such a delightful and lovely puppy," she said. "He has grown stronger, his skin has improved, and his ears have improved."

In addition, Watkins has found a best friend in his toy lobster, which he keeps in his water bowl until evening and then fetches to snuggle with.

Despite his difficult upbringing, Watkins is surprisingly loving. When Smith-Justus recently took in a bunch of soot-covered kittens and their mother who had been injured in a house fire, Watkins immediately took them under his wing, washing them as their fearful mother looked on.

While Watkins still has a long road ahead of him and is now taking Prozac to manage the stress of his medical procedures, each day reveals more of the little dog that was hidden behind all of Watkins' early suffering.

"The doctors at Virginia Tech told me they hoped and prayed for him but didn't think he had much of a chance," she said. "He surprised us all. He really is a miracle."

If you would like to contribute to Watkins' ongoing veterinary expenses, you can do so here.