The doctors and staff at the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital are used to seeing and doing some amazing things.
But when one special patient came back for a check-up Monday after two surgeries and nearly three weeks in intensive care, a posse of veterinary staff, including two surgeons, packed an exam room to welcome their tail-wagging former patient and his very grateful owners.
Meet Billy, Philly wonder dog, gunshot survivor, and hero.
“He’s really almost a miracle,” said Rachel Williams, a veterinary surgical resident.
It took a dedicated veterinary trauma staff and an internet full of animal lovers to come through for this brave dog.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on Jan. 14, Felipe Sinisterra and his partner, Natalia Gomez, were walking Billy, their 5-year-old bull terrier, near their West Philadelphia home when they were confronted by two armed men.
Sinisterra, 25, fresh off a night shift at Royal Izakaya, a Queen Village sushi restaurant, handed over his cell phone. But Billy, a gift from Sinisterra’s grandmother for his 20th birthday, sensed that his people were in danger. He started barking.
“He was trying to protect us,” Sinisterra said.
The gunmen opened fire, hitting Billy in the chest. They fled the corner of 48th Street and Osage Avenue with an accomplice in a white Honda.
Fortunately, a police officer was nearby. With a police escort to clear the way, Billy was rushed to Ryan Hospital, where emergency services staff moved quickly to resuscitate and stabilize the canine — he had lost about a third of his blood — while surgeons Williams and Lillian Aronson set out to save his life.
“He really took a hard hit with that bullet,” said Aronson, a professor of surgery with Penn’s vet school.
The bullet that hit Billy tore through his heart, left lung, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and spleen before ripping out through his left side. He had to lose portions of some those organs during surgery. But he survived that surgery and a second operation as well.
During Billy’s hospital stay, about 30 people helped care for him.
“It wasn’t one person who saved this dog’s life,” said Aronson. “It really was a team.”
Billy’s people were there much of the time, too, with toys, treats, and love.
“There wasn’t a day they weren’t at the hospital,” Williams said.
But care for such massive injuries comes at a steep price. So Sinisterra started a GoFundMe account.
“Billy is my name. I’m a hero. I just need a chance,” the page stated.
Dog lovers from as far away as California have stepped up, raising nearly $22,000. Sinisterra said Billy’s bill is now up to about $48,000. The GoFundMe page is still active, and Penn Vet’s emergency fund will also help.
“Since Billy is a young dog, and his prognosis is good, our charitable care fund helps offset some of those costs,” said Penn Vet spokesperson Martin Hackett. “Billy’s GoFundMe page, our charitable care fund, and payments the family has made to date have significantly reduced Mr. Sinisterra’s out-of-pocket expenses.”
To Sinisterra, whatever it costs to help Billy is worth it.
“It’s immeasurable — to have my best friend back,” he said.
The men who shot Billy have not been caught. What Sinisterra focuses on are all the good people — the staff at Ryan, the many people who donated, and the still others who have offered their support.
“A lot of people have helped Billy — a lot of help and a lot of energy for his recovery,” Sinisterra said.
On Monday, Billy was pretty close to being his paw-shaking, tail-wagging, happy self, enjoying the love from the humans who saved him.
He’s still on antibiotics, but he barely flinched while getting over 100 staples taken out Monday. If anything, his owners have had to rein in his playfulness a bit. He’s enjoying his favorite home cooking again, not to mention his spot back in his owners’ bed.
And that’s just fine by them.