ORANGE PARK, Fla. - They are abused and neglected, rescued from unthinkable situations. In the most extreme cases of animal abuse, it can take months of recovery. But, with a team effort -- an effort you can be a part of -- these animals can heal and get a second chance at a happy and healthy life.
One of those extreme cases of animal abuse is Heath, a now-thriving pit bull at Clay Humane in Orange Park. When we met him, he was a bundle of energy, happy to see us and willing to soak up our love and attention. But, it wasn't always that way.
Heath was brought to Clay Humane in April with a broken lower jaw -- ripped down to his chest. His life was in danger and required emergency surgery to save him.
“It was heartbreaking to see what [Heath] looked like when he came in, but he was wagging his tail the whole time -- just absolutely unbelievable -- and that's the spark of goodness and life that he's not giving up, so we're not giving up,” said head veterinarian at Clay Humane, Dr. Christian Broadhurst.
In fact, Broadhurst told us he rarely gives up. He has a heart for animals -- especially ones that have lived through "hell."
“He had bites on his armpit, on the top of his head, on his ears, on his muzzle,” Broadhurst told us.
He said it was clear that Heath had been abused, used as a fighter in a vicious dog fighting ring.
“He had bites of different ages, and bites of different ages tell us that he's been in multiple fights before,” he explained.
But, Heath was clearly a lover, not a fighter.
“Even in his worst day, that first day, he was wagging, he just wanted attention, he just wanted someone to love him,” he said.
Heath had a team of staff and surgeons at Clay Humane, all committed to repairing his jaw and nurturing him back to health. He remains in their care and will eventually go home with a loving family.
When we asked Dr. Broadhurst what kind of people do come forward to adopt animals that have been through traumatic situations such as Heath, he responded, “Caring, compassionate people, absolutely. These guys are a work in progress."
Anastasia Regus-Houston is one of those who is caring and compassionate. She has fostered more than 200 animals, and she adopted three: Luna, Dodger, and Banks.
All three have their own story of abuse or neglect. Dodger became famous two years ago when his owner dropped him off on Interstate 10 in Macclenny. He was left with three other dogs. Two of them were killed by cars and the other two barely survived.
“They were literally the mangiest dogs I've ever seen. They looked absolutely terrible. Demodectic mange, skin infection and they were just literally waiting to walk out in the road and get hit by a car," explained Broadhurst.
Regus-Houston saw Dodger's story on Facebook and decided to foster him. She felt a connection with him early on, sharing with us the moment she knew Dodger was meant to be a permanent part of her family. It was while kayaking with her husband.
“When we were coming back, [Dodger] didn't even know how to swim. But, he was so excited to see us, he jumped in the water and almost drowned, but he made it all the way to the kayak and was just so excited to see us," she recalled. "I looked to my husband and I said, 'This is our dog.'”
Regus-Houston doesn't just open up her home to dogs, she also fosters cats. She values life and believes even the most neglected among us, deserve a chance at a better one.
“They don't have anyone else. If people don't jump in and help, then who do they have? So, we have the capacity to do it, and we have the space, and I'm an animal lover," she explained. "I think there's so many out there that could help."
Regus-Houston wants more people to understand the impact they could have with just one week of fostering or even adopting one of these animals. She said it starts with an open heart because these animals are no doubt worth saving.
To learn more about fostering and giving an animal a second chance, call Clay Humane at (904) 276-7729. You can also find more information online at ClayHumane.org.
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