By Robert Tomlinson
CENTREVILLE — When St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Jeremiah Abnet and Deputy Joseph Hughes responded to a call on Oct. 7 of a dog lying down on the railroad tracks a quarter mile south of Featherstone Road outside of Constantine, they immediately assumed the worst had occurred.
“He got hit by a train, he had a big split on his forehead, and then his foot was on one side of the track, and his leg, he was laying between the two railroad tracks,” Abnet said. “He was knocking on death’s door, that’s for sure.”
The situation, Abnet said, was called in by a couple of high school cross country runners who had come across the dog while they were out for a jog practicing. The two officers initially deemed the dog to be in such bad condition that they went to grab a body bag out of their squad car. At that point, the dog had not moved for the 10 minutes the officers were out there assessing its condition.
But then something unexpected occurred.
“We went back to get the bag, came back, and the dog was sitting up looking around,” Abnet said. “So, we had to get back to the car to get a blanket, because we weren’t going to put a live dog in a body bag. We just wrapped him up in a blanket, put him in a squad car and took him to a vet.
“We didn’t think he would let us, because he was kind of – we thought he was going to die on the tracks.”
They say that cats have nine lives, but the dog that was rescued by the deputies, fixed up by a local veterinarian, and eventually adopted could certainly be described as having multiple as well.
Chester, the young adult hound mix that got rescued off the tracks, got that second chance at life thanks to the actions of the deputies, the vet, and the local family that adopted him. Their actions were celebrated in a ceremony held at the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department on Friday, Jan. 27.
“A lot of times, these guys are dispatched to things that are uncomprehendable. That’s something nobody wants to see, nobody wants to be dispatched to something that, but they still were able to do their job and do it the best they could, and it’s a perfect outcome,” Sheriff Mark Lillywhite said. “A lot of times, our deputies come across things that aren’t so nice and are just a bad scenario all the way around, and this one had a happy ending.”
Chester’s condition at the time he was found was borderline gruesome: Along with the forehead split, the dog had a badly injured back left leg, what was described as “scaly” skin, and was just 46 pounds, light enough where you could see the dog’s spine and ribcage. Some of the hair on his neck was gone, which the officers suspected was because of a bark collar or shock collar put on the dog.
Once the officers got Chester into the car, he was taken to Dr. Susie Lee at Lake Area Veterinary Clinic in Sturgis. The clinic has helped out the Sheriff’s Department in the past with injured animals, and Chester was no exception. Lee said in an interview Tuesday Chester had lost “a tremendous amount” of blood with his injuries, was in shock, and “covered in fleas.” However, she said they got right to work on trying to save Chester.
“We started IV fluids and supportive care, antibiotics, pain medication, everything we could to try to help him,” Lee said. “He was pretty gravely injured. I didn’t know if there was a chance to save him or not. We sure decided we wanted to try to give him every chance. He seemed like such a good boy and had been through so much. We decided to give him every chance we could.”
Lee said through the treatment they did, over the next 48 hours Chester was able to regain enough strength to eat by himself, and on Oct. 10, three days after he was brought in, he stood up for the first time. He started walking a few steps at a time on Oct. 12, but the decision was made, due to the injuries he sustained, that the back left leg needed to be amputated.
“We eventually got him to where we felt like he was strong enough and stable enough to handle having the injured leg amputated. There was no saving anything there at all. Eventually we were able to get him to surgery and get that amputated,” Lee said. “The leg was badly infected, it was starting to develop gangrene, and it was going to make him sick if we waited longer.”
The next day after the amputation, amazingly, Chester was up and about eating, drinking and walking on his own, seemingly in little to no pain whatsoever. Lee said Chester’s recovery was akin to a “miracle.”
“That was amazing,” Lee said. “I’ve been in practice for 35 years, so I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but this I can honestly tell you, this will be one I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. To be badly injured and be able to recover like that, he’s got a lot of inner strength. Dogs are a lot tougher than us people, and he was not willing to give up, so neither were we.”
Now with a dog that was recovering and needed a home, Lee had the perfect candidates for who could take care of him: George and Rita Phillip of Mendon.
The Phillips have adopted a number of animals in the past, including dogs and cats, and the month before had adopted a golden retriever that was found by the Sheriff’s Department running along U.S. 12 and that had hip dysplasia. That adoption came after they had lost a dog of their own to old age.
So, when they came in for one of their golden retriever’s appointments, Lee brought up Chester.
“Susie said, ‘I know you guys were looking at rescuing a dog from Colorado that doesn’t have the use of his back legs, but I have another one in the clinic,’” Rita Phillip said. “She told us his story, and I said, bring him in. He was just the sweetest. So, they brought him in, and we’re like, give us a day or two to talk about it, because we just adopted the golden.”
After talking about it among the two of them, they agreed in early November, just a month after he was rescued by officers, to adopt Chester as one of their own. Lee said it felt good to see Chester go to a family like the Phillips.
“That’s always the thing: We sure wanted to save him, but we wanted to make sure he had a good place to go after he was healed from everything. I couldn’t ask for a better family for him. They’re the best pet owners I know, so Chester lucked out. He hit the jackpot with them,” Lee said.
So far, the Phillips said they have had plenty of fun having Chester in their family, and has pretty much settled in to his new home.
“He’s bonded with George, which is good because the golden bonded with me, and George works out in the garage doing woodwork and working on cars, and he wants to be out there all the time with him,” Rita said. “He’s such a good fit. Sometimes our cats annoy him, but he’s like, he likes playing with them more, but he’s not aggressive or anything. He’s a great fit, he’s a good dog, happy, and he’s just starting to come out. He’s finally gotten to the point where, I’m okay, I’m not gonna be moved. He’s got a good diet, a lot of love, and great toys.”
Chester has recovered well in the months since he was adopted, now weighing 56 pounds compared to 46 pounds when he was initially found by police, and the only signs that he had anything happen to him, besides the amputated leg, is a small scar above his nose.
George mentioned that originally the dog’s name was not going to be Chester, but rather a darkly humorous name, given his situation.
“The girls [at the vet clinic] initially named the dog Thomas for Thomas the Train Engine, and we’re like, no, no, we’re not naming him Thomas,” George said, chuckling.
“We’re like, I know we have a sick sense of humor, but we are not calling him Thomas,” Rita added.
“I go back, and we were picking up meds for the golden, and the girl asked if we’ve picked out a name, and I said we’ll name him Chester,” George continued.
Either way, Rita said she and George were not the heroes of the story for adopting Chester, but rather it was Abnet, Hughes and Lee for their efforts to save the dog’s life. Rita said she considered her family as the “cleanup hitters” in Chester’s journey.
“Everybody that comes before us, you guys, Dr. Lee, the people that called you, they’re really the ones, I think, you guys are the heroes that do it, because if it wasn’t for you, he wouldn’t have gotten to us,” Rita told the officers.
However, Hughes had a slightly different perspective on who to thank.
“It should be the two high school kids that called, they should be the ones [considered heroes]. They could’ve easily kept on running,” Hughes said.
Abnet summed up the situation and the dog’s tenacity throughout the entire ordeal with one simple phrase.
“Obviously, he’s a fighter,” Abnet said.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.