A dog’s incredible recovery—overcoming suffering, scabs, and neglect—illustrates the astonishing fortitude of animals and their power to mend when given care.

It’s almost unbelievable that beneath the hairless, sickly, and emaciated dog discovered by Stephanie Smith-Justus on her street in Virginia, there was a hidden puppy. But one thing was certain the moment she laid eyes on the puppy – he was fighting for his life.

As fate would have it, Stephanie is the president of the Buchanan County Humane Society, and she also had a stroke of luck – the veterinarian she regularly works with lives on the same street. From the moment Stephanie cradled the dog she named Watkins in her arms, his journey of survival and recovery became nothing short of miraculous.

Stephanie shared Watkins’ rescue story on Facebook, a narrative that tugs at the heartstrings: “On May 7, 2015, Watkins was found. Before this date, we knew nothing about him. He was found by my neighbor who alerted me to a ‘dog who was in terrible shape.’”

She continues, “My husband and I went to find him. He was found on the street where we live. He had been abandoned and severely neglected. My husband’s first words were, ‘He’s not going to make it.’”

Stephanie recounts their search efforts and their rescue mission to find the ailing dog who had crawled into an isolated ditch, presumably seeking a cool place to rest and, possibly, to die. Fortunately, Dr. Rasnake, their local vet, lives on the same street, and Watkins was rushed to her without a moment’s hesitation. He was then taken to her clinic, Appalachian Animal Health Clinic.

Stephanie describes Watkins’ initial condition: “He was in terrible shape. His skin was oozing from every pore. He winced in pain when we touched him. He had cried so hard for so long that he didn’t have a voice left to cry anymore. He didn’t have the energy to bite. He was only 4 months old.”

Watkins was diagnosed with Demodex, a type of mange he had likely contracted from his mother, and he was severely malnourished and dehydrated. He also had infections in his eyes, kidneys, ears, and a bacterial skin infection. The following days saw him lose every strand of hair on his body, and he continued to lose fluids and weight, leading to over 50 days in the ICU.

After a while, Watkins stopped eating, and his struggle for life continued. X-rays revealed a twisted bowel, leading to emergency surgery and a long night of prayers. Following the serious surgery, more prayers were sent for his bowels to function. Gradually, he started eating again, but another surgery was required to remove the “balloon” left in his stomach.

Watkins’ recovery was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but he ultimately began to gain weight. Despite reaching the lowest point in his weight, he “turned the corner” and began improving. After more than 60 days in the ICU, he returned home and continued to require weekly vet care. Watkins learned to be house-trained, socialized with other dogs, and embraced life’s joys.

Watkins still faces the challenges of his skin condition, but he responds well to treatment. He enjoys riding in the car, playing with foster puppies, and cherishing his various toys sent to him during his illness.

Watkins got his name from the street where his journey began, and it’s also where his vet and the person who first spotted him are located. It’s where his remarkable journey of survival and recovery unfolded, bringing joy and hope back into his life.

Watkins’ progress is indeed nothing short of remarkable, and his story is a testament to the power of compassion and dedication in nursing a helpless creature back to health and happiness.


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