Galicia Virgen does her best to fight back the tears when she recalls the sight of her dog Kai as he clung to life just hours after being struck by a car near his home in Benton City, Washington.
“To see your dog like that,” she said, “that was just so difficult. That image is stuck in my mind.”
While the memory remains fresh and painful, it is easier now that Kai is back home, thanks to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. For 10 days, Kai received life-saving treatments and had his badly mangled leg repaired by WSU veterinarians.
Kai, now almost 5 years old, was an unplanned addition to the family. Galicia’s husband, Dibier, had always wanted a pit bull, so when he saw a litter of pit bull mixes at the flea market, he couldn’t help himself.
While the breed is often unfairly characterized as aggressive, Kai is anything but. He’s a gentle and playful dog, who cherishes his time cuddling with his favorite people.
His partner in crime is Hazelnut, a 3-year-old goldendoodle, so it was no surprise when the pair slipped outside after discovering the wind had blown open their home’s front door in the early morning hours of July 13.
Fortunately, Galicia’s son heard the door creak open at about 4 a.m. and went to investigate. He spotted Hazelnut in the front yard and coaxed her back inside, but he failed to notice Kai’s absence. It was 7 before the family realized he had escaped and began a frantic search.
Galicia’s phone rang an hour later. The call was from a nearby veterinary clinic.
“They said you just need come down right now — my heart sank,” Galicia said.
A good Samaritan had found Kai injured near the road. His injuries, Galicia would learn, were extensive, with the most urgent being the internal bleeding. The clinic stabilized Kai, but they recommended transferring him to a facility better equipped to handle the severity of his condition.
Galicia called countless clinics, and each had a similar response: Get him to Pullman. She followed their advice.
In addition to the many scrapes and bruises, Kai suffered multiple fractures to his right front leg, broken ribs, a lung lobe collapse, and air and fluid were building up around his lungs.
Kai’s new care team at WSU updated the Virgens with daily phone calls. Those caring for him, like the Emergency and Critical Care resident Dr. Emilia Terradas, sprinkled in text messages and photos.
“What really warmed up my heart is that Dr. Emilia would take him outside on a gurney just so he could get fresh air and people watch,” Galicia said. “She would send me pictures and it just made me so happy they cared so much to do that.”
After a week in the ICU, Kai was finally stable enough for surgery to repair his leg. The procedure, led by orthopedic surgery resident Dr. Marjorie Owen, was more complicated than was initially anticipated and required hours of intensive surgery, a pair of locking plates and a pin to stabilize the bone.
A few days later, Kai returned home.
“When we picked him up, I had never seen him so happy,” Galicia said. “He was crying, and it was so cute. I think he knew he was going home.”
Kai’s home recovery went well, and today, Galicia said, “he’s back to his old self,” minus some “battle scars” and a limp.
Galicia is grateful her family was in the position to provide Kai the care he needed and for the financial assistance from WSU’s Good Samaritan Fund and Frankie’s Friends, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping pets.
She’s also grateful to WSU.
“So many students and staff at WSU helped Kai. I wish I could remember all their names, but I always made sure to tell them that I really appreciated their time and how they treated him. It was a blessing that he could be there,” Galicia said. “WSU forever has my family’s heart.”