Pet Care

Specialized Surgery Helps Dogs Like Billy Breathe Easy

Billy, a distinctive-looking five-year-old Bulldog-mix, was among 10 Bulldog-type dogs discovered living in unsanitary conditions inside a New York City apartment on December 4, 2022. NYPD officers removed the six males and four females, ranging in age from seven weeks to six years, and brought them to the ASPCA Animal Hospital for medical evaluations and care.

What the veterinarians discovered was concerning.

“Abnormal medical findings identified in this population of dogs resulted from poor breeding,” says Dr. Laura Niestat, an ASPCA Forensic Veterinarian. “The conditions included obstructive airway disease and respiratory difficulty, foot and skin disease and dental disease.”

“All the dogs had dirty, dull, flakey, foul-smelling hair coats from living in an unsanitary environment with prolonged contact with urine and feces and a lack of adequate grooming,” she adds. “Some experienced pain and discomfort from these conditions.”

Kris Lindsay, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Recovery Center (ARC), where the dogs were cared for, puts it more bluntly. 

“These dogs were severely medically compromised,” she says.

Breathing Badly

The most complicated medical issue facing this population of dogs was airway disease, including labored and noisy breathing consistent with Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), a common disorder for brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boxers and Pugs. 

“These are all breeds with shortened noses and skulls—pushed-in faces,” says Dr. Niestat. “Because of their extreme conformation, brachycephalic breeds are susceptible to multiple health issues.” 

“Their conformation, or overall shape and structure, significantly affects their quality of life because they can’t breathe normally,” says Dr. J’mai Gayle, Director of Surgery at the AAH. 

Billy, whose squatty physique, severe underbite and bulging eyes are obvious, suffered from small nostrils and dried-out, crusty nasal passages that led to noisy breathing. He also had painful pododermatitis—inflammation of the skin on the bottom of his feet—and ulcerated cystic lesions between some of his toes. The hair on his back was thinning, and his nails were overgrown. He also had dental disease and, at 29 lb., was underweight.

Time for Surgery

Dr. Gayle performed surgery on the dogs to correct their obstructive airways and improve their quality of life.

“This surgery is a combination of procedures that helps to increase the size of the airway and to allow for more normal airflow,” says Dr. Gayle. “Many of these dogs had an overlong soft palate, which prevents the normal movement of air, so we shortened this excess tissue to increase room for airflow. We also widened the very small openings to the nose to help increase airflow.” 

While surgery could help correct the dogs’ airways, other complications remained.

“These dogs were very high risk for anesthesia as they’re prone to aspiration pneumonia and respiratory emergencies,” explains Dr. Gayle. “Anesthetic protocols are designed to help reduce this risk and maintain control of the airway for as long as possible.”

The protocols included admitting the dogs to the ICU for 12 to 24 hours prior to surgery where staff administered prokinetic medications—medications that promote the forward motion of food from the stomach through the gastrointestinal tract—to minimize anesthetic complications.

“Brachycephalic breeds are very high maintenance,” Dr. Gayle adds. “Owners should be prepared for extensive veterinary bills. Complications associated with difficulty breathing can be fatal, especially during hot, humid weather. Surgery to correct BOAS is not curative and the airway will continue to deteriorate as these animals age. In addition to breathing difficulties, these dogs have extensive skin and orthopedic problems which contribute to high medical costs.” 

Recovery and Placement

Following their BOAS surgeries in early March—during which they were also spayed and neutered—the dogs recovered in ARC. Billy lived in the office shared by Melissa Alejandro, Manager of Admissions in ARC, and Karina Sayers, ARC’s Floor Manager.

“Before his surgery, there was no missing Billy,” says Melissa. “He snorted loudly and struggled to breathe. After surgery, there was a huge difference in his breathing. He was more active, playing ball and running around the office. He seemed much more alive.”

Melissa adds that Billy was carefully monitored because he “gobbled” his food. 

“Our team prepared his food into small, manageable meatballs because he would otherwise eat too fast while trying to breathe and then regurgitate,” she explains. “We hand-fed him one at a time so he could swallow without any airway distress. He had a great personality and was one of my absolute favorite office fosters. I looked forward to seeing him every day.” Soon, Billy reached 47 lb.

Some of the dogs required treatment for conditions including skin allergies, secondary skin infections and pneumonia.

Despite their many medical issues, most of the dogs were social, friendly and easy to handle, according toMaria DeLeon, Senior Manager of Behavior, ARC. 

“They enjoyed playgroups with each other and didn’t require extensive behavior modification,” she says. 

On April 2, Katherine Good, Senior Manager of Placement Partnerships, arranged a meet and greet for Billy with The Good Life Dog Rescue (GLDR), an all-volunteer, foster-based non-profit organization and ASPCA placement partner. GLDR foster caregiver and board member, Melissa Star, fell in love with Billy, who was transferred to GLDR for placement. Melissa changed Billy’s name to Bobbi, since her dog is named Billie.

“The ‘Bs’ really hit it off,” says Melissa, who, along with her husband, Zach, helped housetrain Bobbi and took him to dog-friendly restaurants.

“Everyone wanted to hang out with Bobbi,” says Jennifer Bristol, Co-President of GLDR. “He was a good advertisement for adoption. But he came with medical needs that can be pricey, and we wanted to find the right adopters.” 

A Life ‘He Should Have Experienced All Along’

When Doris G. first saw Bobbi’s photo and bio on Petfinder, she knew she wanted him.

“I loved him before we even met him,” says Doris, who, with her husband Patrick and son Brandon, adopted Bobbi on June 10. “He needed us.”

The family includes a 14-year-old German Shepherd named Braxton and a four-year-old French Bulldog named Ruby, who suffers from skin allergies like Bobbi and gets weekly baths. All three dogs hit it off instantly.

“It’s gone much better than I anticipated,” Doris says. “Bobbi is such a sweet addition to our family, a bundle of joy.”

The family lives and works on their Pennsylvania property, which houses an auto repair shop, so the dogs are rarely alone.

“Bobbi’s new life is the one he should have experienced all along and the one that drives The Good Life’s mission,” says Jennifer. “It’s a perfect fit.”

“I look at Bobbi and he makes me smile,” says Doris. “He’s adorable—but then again, I am his mom.”

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