After finding a caring home, a dog who lost part of his face can’t stop grinning.

A call that left Brittany Faske, a volunteer with the rescue organisation ADORE (All Dogs Official Rescue Enterprise of Houston), anxious came in January. A construction worker in Houston, Texas, noticed an injured Pit Bull with half of its face missing. According to the man, the dog hid in the bush and refused to allow anyone approach too close.

The woman was taken aback by the call and rushed to the spot. When she discovered the dog beside a ditch among the bags of food leftovers and old tyres, she realised he was in far worse condition than she had anticipated. The dog was in such horrible shape that she thought the best she could do was relieve his agony.

“This once-beautiful, big, and strong dog had been reduced to almost nothing.” He was so skinny that his ribs, hip bones, and backbone were clearly visible beneath his skin, in addition to his injuries. “He was covered in dirt and very weak,” Brittany explained to The Dodo.

The dog made a warning growl as she approached, but it didn’t startle her. She didn’t expect a different reaction from him, given the situation he was in and everything he had to go through and suffer through to remain that way.

After a while, the dog let Brittany to approach close enough to examine her injuries. The animal’s nose and snout were missing, and what was left hung in front of her face.

Brittany instantly realised it couldn’t have been an accident because the cut was so straight it could only have been made with a sharp instrument. So, that dog scenario was most likely the act of a human being, possibly the same one who left him lying there. In addition to the horrific sight of the wounds, the dog reeked of infection.

Brittany took Apollo, the dog she named, to the veterinarian after gaining his trust. Despite appearing to be in excruciating pain, the dog managed to relax and even fall asleep in the woman’s car. However, he was not yet fully safe.

The dog required immediate medical attention, and Brittany was unsure if he could handle the therapies that were to follow. However, when Apollo arrived at the clinic, he trotted around the waiting area, sniffing people and interacting with the other dogs.

Apollo had heartworm, a disorder that arises when parasitic worms move through a dog’s tissues to its heart and can lead to death if left untreated, in addition to his facial injuries.

Brittany and the vet placed food and water in front of Apollo to determine his quality of life and ability to eat properly. He could have a shot if he can do it.

Apollo ate two bowls of food and water without hesitation. Then Apollo approached the woman who had saved him and rested his head on her leg. “From that moment on, we knew he wasn’t just any dog,” Brittany explained.

Apollo eventually underwent reconstructive surgery. The dog’s exterior nose had been removed, but he still had a nasal cavity through which he could breathe. During the procedure, the veterinarian wrapped a skin graft around the exposed bone in Apollo’s nasal cavity to protect what was left of his nose. While the vet had to remove part of the dog’s top jaw and some teeth, he was still able to maintain enough of his mouth for him to eat and drink regularly.

Meanwhile, Brittany had not considered adopting the dog; she was simply concerned with the surgery and the dog’s recovery. She knew, though, that she and Apollo had formed a special link that was growing stronger by the day.

Brittany introduced Apollo to her other dogs, two males over the age of ten. “They were powerful breeds with volatile temperaments.” Two old men who are grumpy. I wasn’t sure if they could take another dog. “They were used to being just the two of them and were very protective of me,” she explained.

Once again, Apollo outperformed Brittany’s expectations. Apollo not only accepted the new dog, but he also adored the elder dogs. Another surprise element about Apollo was that he enjoyed being among others, which was unexpected given what he had been through. After that, Brittany made the obvious decision to officially adopt Apollo.

Apollo now lives a full life despite his facial injuries. His repaired nose functioned like any other dog’s nose, allowing him to breathe, smell, and sneeze normally. His reconstructed jaw does not prevent him from eating or playing.

Apollo enjoys cuddling up in the recliner with Brittany and watching TV, playing with his dog brothers, eating, and sunbathing. Furthermore, the dog received personalised training sessions at a Total Control K9 College K9 course, where he attends classes every Saturday and appears to like it.

Apollo was able to overcome his emotional traumas thanks to Brittany’s devotion, which also made him a very caring and affectionate dog. “I’ve never met a happier dog.” “You can see their trust and love in their eyes,” Brittany says.

Animal rescue volunteers launch Gaza’s first spay-and-neuter scheme

In the impoverished Gaza Strip, where most people struggle to make ends meet amid a crippling blockade, the suffering of stray dogs and cats often goes unnoticed.

Said el-Er, who founded the territory’s only animal rescue organisation in 2006, has been trying to change that. He and other volunteers rescue dogs and cats that have been struck by cars or abused and nurse them back to health – but there are too many.

So in recent weeks they have launched Gaza’s first spay-and-neuter programme. It goes against taboos in the conservative Palestinian territory, where feral dogs and cats are widely seen as pests and many view spaying and neutering as forbidden by Islam.

“Because the society is Muslim, they talk about halal (allowed) and haram (forbidden),” Mr El-Er said. “We know what halal is and what haram is, and it’s haram (for the animals) to be widespread in the streets where they can be run over, shot or poisoned.”

Islam teaches kindness towards animals, but Muslim scholars are divided on whether spaying and neutering causes harm. Across the Arab world, dogs are widely shunned as unclean and potentially dangerous, and cats do not fare much better.

Mr El-Er and other advocates for the humane treatment of animals face an added challenge in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. Gaza’s two million residents suffer from nearly 50 per cent unemployment, frequent power outages and heavy travel restrictions.

With many struggling to meet basic needs, animal care is seen as a waste of precious resources or a luxury at best. Mr El-Er’s group, Sulala for Animal Care, relies on private donations, which can be hard to come by.

Mr El-Er says his team can no longer keep up with the number of injured animals that they find or that are brought to the clinic. “The large number of daily injuries is beyond our capacity,” he said. “That’s why we resorted to neutering.”

On a recent day, volunteers neutered a street dog and two cats that had been brought in. There are few veterinary clinics and no animal hospitals in Gaza, so they performed the operations in a section of a pet store that had been cleaned and disinfected.

“We have shortages in capabilities, tools, especially those needed for orthopaedic surgeries,” said Bashar Shehada, a local veterinarian. “There is no suitable place for operations.”

Mr El-Er has spent years trying to organise a spay and neutering campaign but met with resistance from local authorities and vets, who said it was forbidden. He eventually secured a fatwa, or religious ruling, stating that it is more humane to spay and neuter animals than to consign an ever-growing population to misery and abuse.

Once the fatwa was issued, Mr El-Er said local authorities did not object to the campaign as a way of promoting public health and safety. The Hamas-run health and agriculture ministries allowed veterinarians to carry out operations and purchase supplies and medicine, he said.

The Gaza City municipality provided land for a shelter earlier this year. Before that, Mr El-Er kept the rescued animals at his home and on two small tracts of land that he leased.

The new shelter currently houses around 200 dogs, many of them blind, bearing scars from abuse or missing limbs from being hit by cars. At least one was adjusting to walking with a prosthetic limb. A separate section holds cats in similar shape.

The group tries to find homes for the animals, but here too it faces both economic and cultural challenges. Very few Gazans would keep a dog as a pet, and there’s little demand for cats. Some people adopt the animals from abroad, sending money for their food and care.

Over the past decade, international animal welfare groups have carried out numerous missions to evacuate anguished animals from makeshift zoos in Gaza and relocate them to sanctuaries in the West Bank, Jordan and Africa.

But there are no similar campaigns for dogs and cats, and Gaza has been sealed off from all but returning residents since March to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

Mr El-Er’s phone rang recently and the caller said a dog had been hit by a car. Volunteers from Sulala brought it back to the shelter on the back of a three-wheeled motorbike and began treating it. Mr El-Er says they receive around five such calls every day.

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