For the hour-plus drive east to Duke’s Animal Clinic in Mobile on Tuesday, Josh Avila sat in the back seat and ran his hands through Akela’s thick black and white fur while his mom steered their vehicle to their third veterinarian in as many days.
The 7-month-old Alaskan Malamute puppy was quiet except for the occasional uncomfortable moan. Heavily sedated after having his jaws demolished by a bullet Sunday, Akela’s case had been passed on by two area animal hospitals that didn’t quite feel comfortable with such a complicated surgery.
The last vet suggested Avila try the Mobile clinic as a last resort after the Hurley teen was previously told to consult with universities like LSU and Auburn.
Avila carried his puppy into the clinic with the potential outcomes bouncing around in his head only to be rewarded for his faith.
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“Honestly, it’s just a relief. We’ve been to three vets now and this is the first one who said he can do it,” Avila told the Sun Herald on Tuesday afternoon after receiving the good news. “Most importantly they said he’ll live.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders.”
Avila said the plan is to let Akela rest overnight — to observe the puppy while he eats and drinks to make sure there’s no nerve damage in his tongue — and then operate in the morning. Akela will then need months of rehabilitation and therapy in Mobile to fully recover.
‘Shot to kill’
The bullet, which a previous veterinarian said was a “shot to kill,” fractured Akela’s upper jaw, broke his lower jaw and knocked out most of his teeth.
The last vet Avila visited called Akela’s damage one of the worst they’d seen. Avila worried about his options if Duke’s Animal Clinic couldn’t come through.
“If there is nothing anyone can do, I will not have many more options,” Avila posted on his personal Facebook page Monday night. “I can’t thank everyone enough for all the donations and how much it actually means to me and my family, but I can assure you I will do everything in my power to make sure he gets the help he needs.”
Support from friends and strangers alike continues to pour in.
The original tweet about Akela’s condition has been shared more than 37,000 times.
To help with mounting medical expenses, Avila started a GoFundMe.com account Sunday. Donations as small as $5 have added up in a hurry and as of 4 p.m. Tuesday the account had raised more than $5,700, well past its original goal of $1,300; any extra money will be donated to the local animal shelters that first helped Akela, he said.
“I’m glad people can open their hearts like that to a complete stranger,” Avila said. “It means a lot to me. I’d do the same.”
The GoFundMe.com page is also filled with well wishes from beyond the Coast’s borders.
“I’ll be saying a prayer for him! Sending love from Florida,” one comment said.
“I hope the person who harmed this poor animal gets what they deserve. Just heartbreaking to know what people do to innocent animals. Much love from Texas,” another person wrote.
Avila discovered Akela had been shot after hearing screams from his 7-year-old niece. The dog was shot while romping through the woods near Cumbest Bluff, which sits off the Pascagoula River.
Avila said he originally discovered his dog had been shot Sunday evening when his 7-year-old niece called for Akela to come home after it had been romping through the woods near Cumbest Bluff, which sits off of the Pascagoula River. After some time, the bloodied Akela finally wobbled up to the home before collapsing on the deck.
Avila previously said Akela liked to roam the area with two other dogs. He said his dog is excitable like most other puppies, but said Akela has never been aggressive toward people or other animals.
Avila on Monday said he had not reported the shooting to authorities.
UPDATE (3/21/2018): Avila told the Sun Herald at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday that Akela made it through surgery OK. He said Akela's top jaw will be fine but bone graphing was needed for his bottom jaw.
Avila said he hopes to be able to pick up Akela on Friday.