Belle might just be the walking definition of "lucky dog."

The 18-month-old standard poodle lives to play catch with her owners. But two months ago, the game nearly killed her.

In mid-May, Belle was speeding after a ball outside her home in Townsend, Del., when she impaled herself on a 2-foot-long steel rod. Nearly 18 inches of the rod, which had been attached to a scissor jack holding up a camper, was driven into her chest cavity.

"It ran right through her, but she didn't whimper once," said owner Lori Broome.

Broome's husband, Bobby, who had been throwing the ball, waited several minutes for Belle to return, then went searching. He found the poodle panting under the camper. Belle appeared stuck.

After pulling the poodle out, he saw the steel rod, six inches of it, protruding from her left side.

Cradling Belle in his arms, Bobby yelled for help.

Lori rushed out of the house.

"At first glance, Belle looked fine," she said. "There was no blood. I couldn't even tell she was hurt."

Lori burst into tears when she got closer.

"Oh, my God!" she remembers thinking. "I was sure I was going to lose her."

Bobby carried Belle to a friend's car, and the two sped off to a nearby veterinarian. After an X-ray, the vet told him there was nothing he could do but give her pain meds. If Belle had a chance of living, she would need extensive surgery — immediately — at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary hospital.

Bobby grabbed the X-ray on the way out the door. When he arrived in West Philadelphia an hour later, hospital workers were waiting at the entrance with a stretcher.

"We get quite a few trauma cases, but Belle's was quite unique," said Penn veterinary surgeon Chloe Wormser. "We were pretty certain we could save her, but it was hard to predict what we would find."

Bobby Broome, a pipefitter who was out of work at the time, was crestfallen after asking how much it would cost to save Belle: just under $8,000. The Broomes didn't have pet insurance. The hospital doesn't offer discounts.

"If we didn't have so much fun with her, the decision would have been hard," Lori said. Fortunately, she had some money socked away. "If we hadn't, Belle would have had to be put down."

The X-ray revealed just how deeply the steel rod had penetrated Belle's torso. The rod had punctured a lung but had just missed her aorta and diaphragm.

"She was very lucky," Wormser said. "There wasn't a lot of internal bleeding. It could have been a lot worse."

Belle was anesthetised, then a nurse shaved Belle's chest of its chocolate-brown fur.

A team of vets gathered around the operating table as one of the surgeons opened Belle's chest, splitting the poodle's sternum in two. The rod had speared a lobe of her left lung and had narrowly missed the major artery leading from the heart.

"The rod was pretty blunt, not a sharp skewer," Wormser said. "It would have been much different if it had a sharp end on it."

As one surgeon cautiously pulled the steel from Belle's body, another watched for any signs of new bleeding. With the rod successfully removed, doctors flushed her chest cavity with sterile saline solution and closed the incision.

Two hours later, Belle was in the hospital's intensive-care unit. Three days later, Belle returned to Delaware, where she recovered quickly.

The next weekend the Broomes went camping, and took Belle with them. Less than two months after her brush with death, Belle is back to being herself.

"Looking at her now, you wouldn't know Belle ever had surgery," Lori said.

Belle still plays catch, every day, Lori said.

"As soon as we get home, she runs right to the garage, gets the ball, and drops it at my feet," she said. "Then she starts barking like she's saying, `Let's get going!'."
215-854-2796 @samwoodiii