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Published March 11 2012

Publicity hound: After lifetime of struggles, Wahpeton poodle gaining admirers, new lease on life

How to help

To donate money for Millie’s surgery and care, make out checks to Wahpeton Humane Society and send them to the society at: PO Box 1251, Wahpeton, ND 58074. (Be sure to include a note that the funds are for Millie’s care.) For adoption inquiries, call Nancy O’Hearn at (701) 672-1676.


WAHPETON, N.D. - Even as the man walked out the door, Nancy O’Hearn knew she’d never see him again.

He had just surrendered a cream-colored toy poodle to the Humane Society of Richland and Wilkin counties after saying his family had been recently evicted.

He assured O’Hearn that he would be back shortly to give away a second animal, a cat, and to pay the $50 surrender fee.

O’Hearn, the organization’s secretary, knew better.

The man left behind one of the saddest-looking dogs she had seen in her four years with the Humane Society. The 6-year-old pooch, named Millie, had no use of her back legs.

Yet Millie somehow got around. Sometimes she dragged her back legs. Other times, she arched her back, tucked her curled-up, rear legs beneath her and ambled along on her front paws – almost like a gymnast walking on her hands.

And so began a story of an 8-pound pooch who, after a lifetime of disability and neglect, has gained a new lease on life and a slew of admirers.

“She adapted pretty well,” O’Hearn says. “She’s pretty smart. She’s a pretty tough little dog.”

Millie arrived Feb. 10 at the Humane Society. The man who brought her in told O’Hearn the dog had been this way ever since his family owned her.

“She was like this little dust mop on two legs,” O’Hearn says.

O’Hearn knew Millie couldn’t be adopted as she was. Besides her handicap, she looked like she hadn’t been touched by a groomer’s brush in years. She’d never had her teeth cleaned or been spayed.

“We were just happy to get her away from the owner,” she says. “We were worried she’d wind up in a snowbank somewhere.”

A Humane Society worker brought Millie next door to Dakota Veterinary Hospital to see if there was any hope. Dr. Tim Matz examined her and said, “This is going to be a work in progress.”

Born with knee defect

Matz quickly diagnosed the reason for Millie’s lameness. She has luxating patellas – a congenital defect in which the kneecap dislocates and moves out of its normal position.

In mild cases, the kneecap slides toward the inside of the knee and snaps back on its own. Many affected dogs live and move fairly normally.

But Millie’s case was so rare and severe that her hind legs couldn’t function. Her kneecaps had migrated laterally, or toward the outside of her leg, and were fixed permanently at her sides.

But veterinary staff quickly noticed the gentle nature and survivor’s spirit within her imperfect body.

“Her favorite thing is being held by someone,” Matz says. “What’s amazing is that even with her affliction, she was able to maintain this outgoing, sweet personality all these years.”

Maureen Lynott, kennel manager at the hospital, was one of the first to take on Millie’s cause. Lynott says she’s normally not a “little dog person” but was won over by the poodle’s cute face and big heart.

“I saw her and I felt really bad. So I decided we’re going to raise money for her,” says Lynott, as Millie sits on her lap and snuggles her nose into the crook of Lynott’s arm.

Millie needed dental work, a spay operation and multiple orthopedic surgeries to her knees. This doesn’t come cheap. One knee surgery alone can cost more than $1,000, Matz says.

So Lynott decided to turn Millie into a publicity hound. The local newspaper featured her in a story, and a Fargo TV station followed suit.

People around town began calling to ask about the thoroughly charming Millie. The veterinary office has collected $300 so far, while the society has received $800. One person sent a $200 check, earmarked specifically for Millie’s care, O’Hearn says.

An older man dropped by and offered to pay any medical expenses not covered by current donations. He also visited with her and bought her a dog bed.

Matz is donating most of the costs of the surgery, but Millie’s care and recovery will take considerable resources. He says it could take another six months of physical therapy until she’s at her personal best.

If donations exceed the costs of her care, the hospital will donate the remainder to the Humane Society, he says.

‘All she needs is a lap’

Despite all the hoopla, there have been no serious inquiries about adoption.

And Millie has a long way to go before she’s on her feet. She received her first surgery on her right hind leg March 2.

It was a complex, three-step procedure, which involved deepening the groove in which the kneecap rides, realigning ligaments and tightening soft tissues to hold the repositioned patella in the proper place. She also had her teeth cleaned.

All in all, Matz says it went extremely well.

“You feel sorry that she suffered with this for as long as she has,” he says. “We’re guardedly optimistic that this will give her the quality of life so she can finally run and play.”

She’s due for another surgery in three weeks, at which time she’ll have her second knee fixed and be spayed.

Millie now sports a bright pink cast on her right hind leg, a girly bow on her collar and the ladylike coif befitting a toy poodle.

She loves to hang out with her new best friend at the Humane Society, a black Chihuahua named Jack. She also gets along with cats and children, O’Hearn says. But she does get skittish around a lot of stimulation or noise.

Regardless of her physical limitations, Millie knows how to get her needs met, whether that meant nudging someone’s hand to encourage petting or pawing at someone’s foot so they’ll pick her up.

“All she needs is a lap,” Lynott says.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525