San Diego His name is "Scat." Sounds like the name for an annoying cat, but Scat is a dual champion Shetland sheepdog. Not only was he deemed worthy of the title as a representation of his breed, he proved himself worthy of the distinction in obedience trials as well. His partner and trainer is North Park resident JoAnne Griffin, who owns the Camera One Canine Actors dog talent agency. From a storefront office on 30th and North Park Way, where she also teaches obedience and trick-training classes, Griffin holds auditions, screens talent, stores photos and bios, and arranges a variety of jobs - from commercials and live appearances to movies and television - for her dozens of canine clients. Scat himself has worked as a feature actor in a TV ad for Cox Cable. Scat, at eight years old, should be in the prime of his career. But Scat's future is uncertain, in all likelihood his ability to compete or work in the entertainment industry prematurely taken away. Last February as Scat and Griffin worked in Morley Field, gearing up for the American Shetland Sheepdog Association's yearly national specialty show, Scat was ripped from his partner's arms by a marauding rottweiler. As he was twirled and shaken in the rottweiler's mouth, Scat's hip was dislocated, and the muscles of his abdomen and one flank were shredded.
In a pilot project, San Diego designated several areas in Balboa Park as sites where dogs are allowed to run free. One of these "leash optional" locations is a back-lot section of Morley Field, off Upas Street between the tennis courts and Florida Canyon. Other areas include a plot of grass west of Laurel Street and the west end of Grape Street beside the golf course. Before allowing unrestrained dogs in these sections of Balboa Park, the only places in the city where dogs were allowed to be off a six-foot lead were flea havens in the sand: "dog beach" beside the Ocean Beach jetty and Fiesta Island. San Diego seems unique in affording dog owners leash-free areas in Balboa Park, considering some North County cities don't allow dogs in parks, period. Dog trainers, however, have not welcomed the "leash optional" parcels with perfect relief. Many are hesitant to attempt to train in these areas. Most trainers have been disturbed by an off-leash dog being exercised by its (usually) well-intentioned owner. Such dogs may approach the trainer's dog either playfully or threateningly. The dog being trained is expected to ignore this type of distraction, but it can be unfair to expect attention to task when the trained dog may feel endangered. The loose dog, who is interrupting the trainer's work, ignores its owner's desperate calls to return. Worse, some owners think it's "cute" that their undisciplined dog is either seeking a playmate or expressing aggressive dominance.
Professional trainer Griffin usually drills her dogs on their routines in her storefront training center without disturbance. It is necessary, however, to help dogs who must perform in distracting locations to become accustomed to ignoring all manner of interruptions, from pungent hamburger booths to other dogs playing in an adjacent ring. So Griffin was in the practice of bringing her dogs to Morley Field once or twice a week. She trained weekdays in the mornings and presumed, usually correctly, that loose dogs would not be present in significant number at that time. Otherwise, she used to welcome distractions near her training area, as natural disturbances help her instruct and remind her dogs to pay sole attention to her.
But as demands at her canine talent agency grew, Griffin began training at Morley Field on weekends as well. On a February Sunday afternoon around one o'clock, Griffin was set up in the leash-free zone southwest of the Morley Field tennis courts. The area she needs to train is not much more than 40 by 50 feet, the size of a dog show ring. The parcel of leash-free lawn at Morley Field is considerably larger.
Griffin and Scat became aware of a loose rottweiler. Dogs read canine body language like neon signs, and Griffin is experienced enough that she recognized the danger signs of aggression in the rigid posture of the approaching male dog. With male dogs the concern for trainers is often that the visiting dog is going to want to urinate on the trainer's jumps. But it became apparent that urination was going to be the least of Griffin's worries. The rottweiler was interested in Scat himself. To remove her dog from the rottweiler's temptation, Griffin gave Scat his command to jump into her arms. Ordinarily this would defuse the problem as most domestic dogs have learned a healthy respect for human beings and won't try to assert their dominance against anything except another dog.
Unfortunately on this day in this situation with this dog, the menace was not diffused. Instead it accelerated. The 70- to 80-pound rottweiler lunged to tear 25-pound Scat from Griffin's arms. She turned her back, and the force of the charging rottweiler pushed her to her knees. Struggling to her feet again, still clutching her dog to her chest, Griffin was still under attack by the massive rottweiler. He was bearing down on Griffin's back, growling directly into her ear. In fact, Griffin's neck was the only barrier between the assaulting rottweiler and his intended quarry. Griffin has been training dogs since she was a teenager; before that she trained for and rode her pony in shows. This was the first time in her life Griffin had been in fear of an animal.
Somehow the rottweiler succeeded in extracting Scat from Griffin's embrace. With the rottweiler's jaws clenched on one of Scat's thighs, the smaller dog was shaken and thrashed like prey. The quiet of Sunday morning at Morley Field was shattered not just by the thunder of a dogfight, but by the screams of the smaller dog being tossed and torn. Griffin managed to straddle the rottweiler and pull him off her dog. After dragging the rottweiler away from her writhing, injured sheltie, Griffin handed the rottweiler's collar to his owner who had, by this time, joined the fray. As she began to tend to Scat, however, the rottweiler broke away from his owner and resumed his attack on both Griffin and her dog. Griffin received a full, uninhibited bite on her shin - two canine-tooth rake-wounds three inches long that will permanently scar.
By the time it was over, a bleeding trainer and her canine partner were rocketing in a Toyota van to the veterinary emergency hospital in Mission Valley. Scat's thigh had been clenched in the rottweiler's jaws with such force that the bigger dog's canine teeth met somewhere in Scat's muscle tissue. He had a single open wound on the inside of his thigh and deep puncture wounds, but Griffin had yet to realize the extent of his injuries. Conscious, his searing pain only imaginable, Scat was walked up and down the halls of the emergency clinic until it was determined an x-ray would be germane. When films revealed a dislocated hip, he was anesthetized for surgery, but ordinary efforts to correct the dislocation failed. The hip would not stay in place due to the extensive damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the area. Further complicating the surgery, shock had probably taken a physical toll on the ordinarily sturdy dog. Under anesthesia, his breathing stopped three times. Luckily the emergency clinic had a canine crash cart; many standard-equipped veterinary clinics do not.
Scat was transferred from the emergency hospital to Broadway Animal Hospital in El Cajon, where he needed to recover enough from the trauma of the first anesthesia before he could face another surgery. The following Monday Scat was once again anesthetized and prepared for orthopedic surgery. This surgeon, likewise, found it so difficult to put the dog's hip back together, it was necessary to drill a hole in the socket and secure the ball in place with permanent suture material. During the procedure, the surgeon discovered the extent of the damage in Scat's thigh and groin; the wounds extended up to the abdominal cavity and the bowel. Neither was perforated - which would've caused enough complication and infection that saving Scat's life may've been impossible - but there was such a large interior area of injury that gangrene was already underway. The doctor could smell it. To save Scat's leg, the surgeon reported to Griffin, and very possibly to save his life, she would have to get him treatments in a hyperbaric chamber, the kind used for deep-sea divers and victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. The crisis was further complicated by the necessity to find a hyperbaric chamber and then make arrangements to make it available to a dog. These steps were up to Griffin.
Griffin mobilized a crew of her friends and associates, and a phone blitz was begun to locate a hyperbaric chamber and schedule its use for a dog. After the hastily assembled phone committee had, with a certain amount of disorganization, set about calling every hospital and diving school in the vicinity, Griffin discovered there are several hyperbaric chambers in hospitals in San Diego County; the quandary was finding one that might allow its use for animals. This issue was a problem based on fda regulations involving standards of cleanliness; among the regulations under the highest standards for most hyperbaric chambers is a code that does not allow for uncovered hair to be present in the chamber. Obviously this would preclude dogs from being admissible patients.
One prominent hyperbaric chamber treatment center is at ucsd Medical Center in Hillcrest. A nurse at ucsd's center told one member of Griffin's phone committee that she already had received several other calls that day asking for use of the chamber for an injured dog. Wondering who this special dog might be, the nurse joined the blitz of phone calls and, with the help of her program director, located a chamber available for dog treatment. The hyperbaric experts at ucsd had found a "class C" chamber - one that isn't regulated by the highest fda requirements for sterility - in storage at Hyperbaric Management Systems Inc. in National City. It was a brand new, one-of-a-kind model, smaller than would be used for human hyperbaric treatments, designed only for training and research. When the company president, Ted Gurnee, was made aware of Scat's life-and-death struggle (as every hospital, emergency facility, fire department, navy submarine unit, and deep-sea diving store had likewise learned, due to the committee's tireless phone efforts), he not only made the new chamber available for Scat, he arranged for the chamber's delivery to the Broadway Animal Hospital and provided technicians (from ucsd) to operate the chamber for Scat's treatments, which amounted to five sessions of 90 minutes each. Gangrene (or gas gangrene) is a bacterium that requires the presence of no oxygen in order to live and spread. It typically occurs in internal injuries and where blood supply to the injury is entirely or almost completely impaired. These two conditions create a zero-oxygen environment, the same as conditions in Scat's leg. What may seem like a rather bloodless injury, a puncture wound can be very grave for exactly this reason: The canine tooth of the attacking dog punctures the skin, tears up the muscle under the surface, then withdraws, leaving bacteria in an internal injury, protected from oxygen in the air by the still-intact skin; the wounded tissue is also no longer provided with blood oxygen because of a devastated blood-supply system. The hyperbaric chamber produces an oxygen rich environment. The body inside is in a high-pressure condition, not just breathing pure oxygen, but saturating all tissues with it. Possible side effects include death from brain embolism, seizures, deafness caused by the high pressure to the eardrum, and temporary blindness. There are additional risks for an injured animal in the chamber due to the inability to immediately stop treatment if a problem arises. Suspending the hyperbaric conditions in any way other than gradually would be like bringing a deep-sea diver to the surface too quickly - they call it "the bends."
Ordinarily, when people are treated in hyperbaric chambers, the chamber is big enough for a medical professional to remain with the patient, so if a difficulty arises, the technician or nurse can attend to it without necessitating immediate termination of the treatment. Scat, however, had to be alone in the chamber; it would not only be difficult to tell if he was experiencing adverse side effects, there would be no way to stop him from creating some side effects of his own. Most significantly, he could disturb or damage his sutures, his IV, or the drain inserted into his deepest puncture wound.
To alleviate this possibility, Scat was put into the chamber wearing a big Elizabethan collar - those plastic funnels put around dogs' necks to keep them from biting or licking other areas of their bodies. But the first collar was too big; Scat couldn't move at all in the chamber, so Griffin switched to a smaller collar before the treatment was started. When the treatment began with the smaller collar, however, Scat notified observers outside the glass door of his chamber that the collar was now too small - by immediately ripping the drain from his puncture wound. During another session, Griffin noticed that Scat's IV tube, when disconnected, had been capped but not secured with tape. She sat for 90 minutes fearing the pressure would blow the top off the cap and cause uncontrolled bleeding.
Griffin says that the technicians agreed the small chamber would have to be redesigned for veterinary use to allow a person to accompany the dog or cat during sessions. Scat's treatment was, according to the attending veterinarian, very likely the first use of a hyperbaric chamber to treat an animal in San Diego County. As such, the chamber has already served as a research tool. Griffin says the company now plans to look into designing and manufacturing hyperbaric chambers for veterinary practices (and even zoos). Scat did survive his bout with gangrene. After weeks spent confined to insure he would rest, then weeks carrying his rear leg in a sling, he now daily, and slowly, walks the length of a single block. From here his rehabilitation will include swimming, walking farther each day, then eventually being allowed to trot - on grass. Someday maybe he'll be able to jump, but there's no indication yet whether his recovery will ever be that complete; likewise there's no answer yet as to whether he'll ever compete again or be able to star in another commercial.