DURANGO, COLO. — A couple driving along Highway 550 in Colorado a few weeks ago watched as a young white dog with a spot over his eye fell from the back of a truck with a New Mexico license plate.
The husband got out of the car to take care of the wounded dog while the wife chased down the truck and talked to the driver. The dog's owner announced he no longer wanted the dog.
So the couple took the puppy to the La Plata County Humane Society, where he was treated for fractures in his leg. Shelter workers named him Rusty.
Rusty is one of five dogs at the shelter with leg injuries that require surgery and care. Shelter workers are trying to raise $5,000 to pay for the services.
Chris Nelson, the director of animal services, said he thinks Rusty's owner didn't want him because he had a previous untreated fracture.
"I think he's fallen out of the truck before," Nelson said as he looked down at the pitbull mix curled up on a blanket on the floor of a kennel.
Rusty's hind leg was wrapped in an orange cast and he lay next to a couple large stuffed animals and thumped his tail as he looked up at Nelson.
Rusty is leaving for Denver on Monday to have surgery on his leg. He will undergo two surgeries before he will be available to adopt. The first surgery will help the recent fracture to his left femur and the second surgery will fix the old injury to his right femur.
"Rusty probably won't ever be running any marathons, but he'll be able to get around," Nelson said.
Nelson said incidents like Rusty's are not uncommon.
"I have a pickup, but my dogs never ride in the back," he said.
He said even well-trained dogs could fall out of a truck if the driver has to slam on its brakes or go around a corner quickly.
"It's horrific and it happens very quickly," he said. "People don't think ahead of time that anything's going to happen and when it does, it's too late."
In the kennel next to Rusty, a 5-month-old German shepherd mix named Lt. Dan sat looking out at Nelson. When Nelson approached, Lt. Dan's whole body seemed to wriggle with excitement.
Lt. Dan is one of the other four dogs and he is the shelter's top priority. An Ignacio, Colo., resident found him dragging himself around the resident's property. The shelter initially thought he was paralyzed.
"It had been like that for a while," Nelson said. "He had some wounds on his legs from dragging himself."
During an examination, the shelter veterinarian discovered that Lt. Dan had feeling in his rear end.
"His legs try to work," Nelson said. "His tail wags."
While the shelter does not know if Lt. Dan will have surgery when he goes to Denver next week, the staff is still raising money to pay for his $400 wheelchair as well as acupuncture and possible hydrotherapy.
Outside on the shelter grass, Lt. Dan ran awkwardly around, sometimes dragging his hind legs and other times using them as if they were a single leg. Neither leg can bend, although that doesn't stop him from trying to scratch his ear.
Lt. Dan is not yet ready for adoption and Nelson said he hopes the puppy isn't adopted out of pity.
"I want to get him ready to adopt and have somebody fall in love with his personality," he said.
He also said whoever adopts Lt. Dan will have to be ready for medical expenses. And they should understand that he will never be completely housebroken and may have to wear diapers. Lt. Dan's size will also be a problem for potential adopters.
"If he was a tea cup poodle, it would be easy," Nelson said.
Finding adopters for injured dogs can prove to be challenging, as Nelson learned with Rocky, a black retriever mix who has a hip injury. Rocky has been at the La Plata County Humane Society for three months and was transferred there from Soul Dog Rescue. Rocky was surrendered to the rescue during a Shiprock spay/neuter clinic.
Andrea Ellis, the animal care technician, said the shelter originally did not know about his injury, but a volunteer noticed him lifting up his leg after a playing in the yard.
"It's like he got kicked by livestock or hit by something," she said. "We don't really know."
Rocky is currently up for adoption and the shelter decided it would help his chance at finding a family if his injury was treated. A specialist is going to visit the shelter this week to treat Rocky and two dogs with similar injuries — Fawn and River.
While it isn't unusual for the shelter to see injured animals, Ellis said it is strange to get so many in the same time period.
"These have been crazy how they are so bunched together," she said.
Nelson said they have already found a sixth dog with a leg injury that will need to be treated as well and then there's Story, a stray from the Durango area who has a bullet in her leg.
Nelson said if the shelter raises more than the $5,000 they plan to treat Lt. Dan, Rusty, Rocky, Fawn and River. Any extra money will go to help treat other injured dogs.
At least one of the five dogs, River, has a happy ending to her story. The shepherd-mix has already been adopted.
The staff is hoping the dogs get adopted quickly after their surgeries and one woman has already expressed interest in adopting Lt. Dan. As for Rocky, his friendly personality makes him a popular dog.
"He's one of the favorites here," Ellis said.
HOW TO HELP
Donations to help Rusty, Rocky, Fawn, River and Lt. Dan can be made at:
Visit: 1111 S. Camino de Real Rd. in Durango, Colo.