It was a chance meeting with 15 year old Abbie Hicks and her mother Hazel who were on holiday from Spain visiting relatives in Hatherleigh, that has given Patch – a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross born with deformed front legs – renewed hope for corrective surgery.
For Patch’s owner, Russell French, to personally fund the cost of the essential surgery is out of the question, while his insurance company has refused to meet the cost too.
It was when sympathetic staff at the Tally Ho pub in the town suggested launching a ‘crowdfunding campaign’ that dog-lover Abbie sprang into action and offered to set up a ‘justgiving’ site to raise the much-needed funds for Patch’s surgery.
When you first meet Patch, tearing after his favourite well-chewed lead, to all intents and purposes he appears to be quite a happy, fun-loving and healthy puppy.
But when you examine him at close quarters, as he begs for fuss, you can see that his gait is rather odd and his front paws point inwards as he moves along on his ankle joints.
It looks uncomfortable, it looks decidedly painful, and it certainly doesn’t look right, yet to nine month old Patch it’s perfectly normal.
The condition known as Developmental Orthopaedic Disease can affect foals, dogs, cats and many other small mammals in their infancy and is quite common in immature dogs. It is caused by a disturbance in the process of endochondral ossification – one of the two essential processes during foetal development of the mammalian skeletal system by which bone tissue is created.
Russell, 29, believes that the cramped conditions in which Patch was confined when he bought him aged just 12 weeks old, along with four of his siblings from a farm near Hastings in Sussex, hasn’t helped.
“The mother and her eight puppies were crammed into a small cage, they were so poorly treated, it was disgusting. There were faeces everywhere, I don’t think they had ever been exercised, they were under-nourished, it was a scandal. They had no life at all. I gave the owner what I had in my pocket and took five of the puppies as that was all I could afford and reported the dreadful place to the RSPCA.
‘I kept Patch and gave the other four away to friends and relatives who I knew would give them a good home and look after them properly.”
Home for the pair today is an ageing camper van in which they spent time travelling around Scotland, Wales and Cornwall before settling on the outskirts of Dartmoor where Russell has now secured the tenancy of small woodland. Life is frugal, with no luxuries.
He makes ends meet by managing the smallholding and effectively living off the land by growing vegetables, selling duck eggs and of course, logs.
It was when Russell took Patch to the vet for his second course of injections that he noticed something was definitely not right with his loveable companion’s front legs, assuming he had somehow damaged them when jumping out of the camper van. The vet recommended consultation with a specialist orthopaedic surgeon.
The initial consultancy cost Russell £500 plus travel, which trebled after two further visits, then a further £1000 needed to be found for remedial treatment to the left leg only, which while helping to alleviate the damage, is not a permanent solution.
“I’m not quite sure what they did,” Russell admits, “the surgeon put Patch to sleep to take CT scans and after he manipulated the ankle joints Patch was already walking much better on his left side. It certainly helped but it’s a short-term fix as the bones still don’t line up properly.”
There is obvious swelling and bone deformity around the right ankle joint, but as Patch is a young dog there’s still flexibility at the moment.
As he gets older his bones will start to harden and it will never be able to be fixed so his quality of life will suffer accordingly as it gets worse which is why he needs surgery sooner rather than later.
Russell has to keep an eye on Patch’s weight too. “To prevent further aggravation to the ankle joints, Patch needs to be as slim as possible so I have to keep him under 27 kilos,” he added.
To fund the three visits to the specialist consultancy, Russell was forced to sell what few personal items of value he was left with after his mother had passed away.
It was only when the true extent of Patch’s condition was fully revealed and the cost of the specialist surgery, estimated at between £3000 – £4000 for each ankle, that Russell looked to his insurance company for assistance. His claim was denied on the grounds that it was a pre-existing condition before he had taken out the insurance.
Almost penniless and with no other means of income other than from his woodland management and smallholding endeavours, Russell was at his wit’s end as to he could how raise the £8000 to give his canine soul-mate a better quality and prolonged life.
But that evening in the Tally Ho pub, where Russell had arranged to meet someone to discuss a potential job, a ray of hope named Abbie Hicks beamed into his and Patch’s life.
As The Moorlander went to press, pledges on Patch’s justgiving site was already into three figures. Abbie’s plan is to keep it running until they have raised the £8000 needed to help Patch race after his favourite well-chewed lead for many more years to come.
You too can help Patch live his life to the full by pledging a donation at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/forpatchdonations