The person who shot the miniature schnauzer, named “Runt,” sprayed dozens of pellets the size of BBs into Runt’s right side. Most of them embedded themselves into the dog’s muscles. One, however, by chance found the joint above Runt’s left front paw and shattered the bone.
“There’s the fracture,” says Dr. Jared Miller, pointing to the image. “It’s kind of hard to see.”
Miller recalls the day Runt’s owner brought the animal into the Bowdon Animal Clinic. Although in a lot of pain from his dozens of wounds, the dog was “a trouper,” Miller says. “He came in here wagging his tail.”
An X-ray may show the structure of a heart, but not the depth of heart in a dog that thumps his tail in welcome of humans, even after being hurt by one. That is a skill for people like veterinarians, who seemingly intuit what an animal is trying to say without words.
Miller is from Ville Platte, La., a rural town that is about as far outside Baton Rouge as his new home of Bowdon is from Atlanta. Like many from Ville Platte and the west Georgia community, Miller was raised around hunting and has hunted deer himself, practicing the hunters’ ethic that no animal is killed unnecessarily, and weapons should only be fired to dispatch an animal cleanly.
And yet, throughout the year, dogs and other animals like Runt are brought into the clinic suffering from gunshot wounds – almost all of them, Miller says, are the result of someone intentionally firing at them. And now that it is hunting season, veterinarians in the area may expect to see an increase in such cases.
“We’ll definitely see more (gunshot cases) during hunting season,” he says. “As far as high-caliber rifle, I think if we do get a gunshot it was on purpose. (A hunter) sees (a dog) running through their deer field or food plot or something like that, and people don’t want dogs running in there because they’re going to chase away the deer. So, I think as far as high-caliber rifle, I think it’s on purpose. It would have to be extremely bad luck for them to fire a rifle and hit a dog (accidentally).”
For the most part, however, Miller and the other staff at the clinic treat cases that are less disturbing, but no less serious: injuries from accidents, illnesses and the occasional delivery of puppies by C-section.
The clinic is owned by Dr. Matt McCord and is located in an old Sewell Mill building, one of several buildings at the end of City Hall Avenue that McCord acquired in 2007. McCord had previously had his clinic near his farm but relocated because the old mill offered more space, and a connection to city water and other services.
Miller, an undergraduate from LSU, earned his degree at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. McCord brought him to the clinic after he graduated, and he’s been here for two and a half years.
The facility is large and airy, with several examining rooms, diagnostic equipment, surgeries and space for animals to be boarded.
“We do mostly small animals: dogs and cats,” says Miller. “We’ll see a few ‘pocket pets’ – hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, birds, things of that nature – but we also do large animals, or at least I’m the only doctor that does the large animals, so I go out on farm calls; the whole nine yards.”
Being located in a largely rural area, Miller finds himself called out to farms to do on-site vaccinations and other duties, but especially dystocia – difficult birth – cases, including breech births and tricky calf pulls.
Exotic births are not confined to the barn, however. On the morning of a recent visit, Miller had just performed a C-section on a Chihuahua. Only a few hours after the surgery, the dog was back in the recovery area, nursing her new pups inside the new family’s cage. In another recovery cage, a woozy dog was shakily waking up to its new world of being an ex-male.
Elsewhere in the facility, some dogs being boarded, or recovering from treatment, put up a pretty loud racket, while others are content to shyly wag their tails and sniff the hands of a visitor. None of them, fortunately, had run across someone who had shot at them.
Dogs like Runt, which do encounter such people, do not understand property boundaries and only act on instinct or curiosity. It is up to their owners to control them.
Runt received a leg splint and an antibacterial bath to clean his wounds, but he will carry the little birdshot pellets with him for the rest of his life, just as some war veterans carry shrapnel as souvenirs of their encounters with violence.
“He’s doing great,” says Miller, who last saw the dog when he removed the splint. “All the wounds had pretty much healed up, scabbed up. Now if you would see this dog, you wouldn’t know anything had happened.”