Saving Sadie
Left for dead, abused dog is reborn through acts of generosity and hope

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In the spring of 2012, Joal Derse-Dauer strolled into a Kenosha animal shelter to donate blankets. It was a regular stop for the avid animal lover, but this time an adorable dog caught her eye on the way out. There was just one caveat: The dog was a victim of a senseless shooting and was presumed to be on her deathbed. 

Just a few weeks prior, Sadie the dog had been found wounded and suffering in the mountains of Kentucky with one bullet wedged between her spine and a second  lodged between her eyes. She was driven to the no-kill shelter in Kenosha, but there was little hope for her survival. Sadie was fecal and urinary incontinent, moderately malnourished and paralyzed in her hind legs. It was unknown whether the dog could survive the extent of her injuries, but Derse-Dauer saw life in the dog’s brown doe eyes. 

“Her head was down a bit and she was different from the other dogs, but I thought ‘Oh she is so cute,’” Derse-Dauer, of Muskego, recalled. “I (thought) she deserved a chance.”

She convinced the shelter to allow her to take the dog to a veterinarian for a professional opinion. But, the doctor wasn’t so confident. Derse-Dauer said the first veterinarian asked her to “do the kind thing” and put Sadie out of her misery. 

Derse-Dauer thought otherwise. She took Sadie to a holistic veterinarian in Muskego and together the pair agreed that Sadie deserved a second chance. 

What followed has been a fantastic journey of faith and holistic medicine. 

By last summer, Sadie had endured surgery to remove the bullet lodged in her forehead. Unfortunately, there was too much shrapnel in her back to remove the second projectile safely, Derse-Dauer said. 

“At one time, we thought her left leg would have to be amputated,” she added. “She’s a very stubborn dog – but that’s what saved her life.” 

After placing Sadie on a raw food diet and giving her time to recuperate after surgery, Derse-Dauer opted for an “all-in approach,” creating an intense regimen of rehabilitation therapies that included everything from daily exercises and swimming, to acupuncture, aqua puncture, pet massage, aromatherapy and electrical stimulation. 

If the treatments sound a bit extreme, then the $20,000 in estimated costs for the treatments in the year since she has owned Sadie may sound even more so. But, Derse-Dauer waves off any judgment. 

“How could someone say this is too much? They’re like your children,” Derse-Dauer said. “I am plenty out of pocket. But, I think she is worth it.” 

So far, Derse-Dauer, who owns Luxe Homes Management, an in-home concierge service, has relied on her own wallet, as well as the generosity of volunteers and donors from across the country – and sometimes from around the world. Many people come across the dog on her website and social media pages, while others meet her in person through Derse-Dauer’s frequent meet-and-greets at Pet World retail stores in southeastern Wisconsin. 

And a year later, Sadie’s health is improving and she is going strong. On April 20, Sadie celebrates her “re-birthday” with a party open to the public at the from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sat., April 20 at Lincoln Warehouse, 2018 South First St., Milwaukee. Also in celebration of the event, Horny Goat Hideaway, 2011 S 1st St., Milwaukee, is giving away free beer if you mention Sadie.

I met Sadie at one of her donors’ homes in Brown Deer. With her big brown eyes, and shiny black-and-brown coat, she’s clearly well taken care of and happy. She sat loyally by Derse-Dauer’s side, her tail wagging.

When Sadie stood up to walk, she pulled forward with her forefeet and used her right hind leg to hop across the living room. A customized leg wrap protects the dog’s lame leg. 

Sadie has a modified doggie wheelchair, but Derse-Dauer said the dog doesn’t like the device. 

“My expectation is she may never walk normally, but she is mobile now,” Derse-Dauer said.

For now, Derse-Dauer and the rest of Sadie’s team are focused on nerve regeneration, rather than walking, said Sadie’s pet therapist Jessica Dragan, who demonstrated some of Sadie’s massage treatments. Sadie grumbled slightly, but lay still. 

“She’s paving the way for other dogs who’ve been through something similar,” Dragan said. “She’s defied the odds. But, we’re not done.” 

In the weeks since my visit with Sadie, she’s continued to improve, according to Dragan. A recent breakthrough occurred when her therapists noticed Sadie moving her left leg during a recent swim. Although the pooch isn’t crazy about the water, it’s proven tremendously beneficial to her recovery, Dragan said.

Since few veterinarians have had experience working with dogs like Sadie, her care team is “always tweaking the treatment, and we’re finding out new things every day,” Dragan said. 

In the future, Derse-Dauer would like to initiate conversations about federally funded pet therapies. She’ll also continue to advocate for animal rights.

Sherry Ramsey, director of animal cruelty prosecution for the Humane Society of the United States, said that cases like Sadie’s are not uncommon but often go unreported. Animal cruelty is so widespread – and perpetrators are so likely to target humans as well as animals – that a growing number of jurisdictions, including Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have prosecutors who exclusively or partially handle animal abuse cases, Ramsey said. 

“There are heroes out there who really want to save a creature that’s been horribly abused and give them a second chance,” Ramsey said. “Any time you use such a bad situation to educate the public, it will help to improve the condition of animals.”

The publicity generated by situations such as Sadie’s increases public awareness of abuse and encourages people to report it, Ramsey explained.

As for Derse-Dauer, she was only interested in saving the innocent dog that looked up with such hope and affection in her eyes. Despite the expense and effort, she’s never regretted her decision to give Sadie a second chance. 

“She’s taught me a lot,” Derse-Dauer said. “She taught me to savor everything … that life has to offer.” 

On the Web: savingsadie.com.

Sadie’s Re-Birthday Party ...

takes place from  11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sat., April 20, at Lincoln Warehouse, 2018 South First St., Milwaukee. To celebrate the event, Horny Goat Hideaway, 2011 S 1st St., Milwaukee, is giving away free beer if you mention Sadie.