Behind the scenes with Angel surgeon

Early in the new year, an amazing story broke about an 11-year-old boy whose golden retriever, Angel, saved him from a cougar attack in rural British Columbia. The story was picked up by Canadian and American news outlets and the boy and his dog were famous for a day.

But what happened behind the scenes? The veterinarian that treated Angel was Jack Anvik, DVM, hospital director of AAHA-accredited Sardis Animal Hospital in Chilliwack, B.C. Anvik said the dog was brought in by a friend of the family a day after the attack due to bad weather and other factors.

Radiograph showing Angel’s fractured frontal sinus. (Courtesy Jack Anvik, DVM)

“Their examination of the wounds just showed some puncture wounds and the dog did not seem critical enough to them to get it to us right away,” Anvik said. “When Angel walked in she had a limp and some bloodstained fur on her head that the owners had trimmed and cleaned up, but the dog was in surprisingly good spirits, but hey it’s a golden retriever!”

Angel was attacked when Austin Forman, 11, was gathering firewood at his home in Boston Bar. A cougar charged out of the woods near his home, but Angel jumped in harm’s way as the cat pounced. Austin ran into the house as the animals fought, and he called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). An RCMP officer came within minutes and shot the lion, which had Angel pinned under the porch. Angel was exhausted but had survived.

Anvik described the extent of Angel’s injuries in his clinic’s newsletter. He said when Angel was brought in, she had numerous puncture wounds and severe bruising on the right side of her face and around her right ear. She also suffered from partial facial paralysis and a deep penetrating puncture in the frontal sinus.

“The big cat’s fang had fractured through the top layer of the frontal bone over the sinus and broke off the plate of bone that covered the sinus,” Anvik said. “Fortunately, the fang did not penetrate the bone at the bottom of the sinus. A puncture through the bottom or just behind the sinus would have penetrated the brain case and we would be telling a much sadder story.”

This image shows the extensive bruising around Angel’s mouth, as well as punctures scrapes and scratches, and the latex drains Anvik placed in the wounds. (Courtesy Jack Anvik, DVM)

Angel was anesthetized and put into surgery. Anvik spent about an hour and a half in surgery. He said they repositioned the fractured 3-cm bone fragment and secured it in place with stainless steel wire.

“The remaining puncture wounds were cleaned and flushed and several latex rubber (penrose) drains were placed in the wounds and at the surgery site,” Anvik said. “A three-inch surgical incision over the sinus was closed with stainless steel staples. Angel handled anesthesia well and woke up shortly after the procedure.”

Media onslaught

The surgery was the easy part; the hard part was handling the onslaught of media attention that came down on the clinic after the incident. The day Angel arrived, three different film crews were in at the clinic, Anvik said. He had barely finished surgery when he found himself being interviewed live on the evening news. Most of the media attention focused on whether or not the dog was going to recover. The journalists asked if goldens were normally so protective, and he said the reporters seemed fascinated with the amount of fan mail Angel received, “including pictures and best wishes from other golden retrievers from all over Canada and the USA.”

Jack Anvik, DVM, hospital director of Sardis Animal Hospital in Chilliwack, B.C. poses for a picture with Angel after her surgery. Angel fought a cougar to save her 11-year-old human friend Austin Forman. (Courtesy Jack Anvik, DVM)

Anvik said the practice staff was “totally amazed and somewhat unprepared” for the sudden media attention. However, he offered some advice to other veterinarians who might find themselves in a similar position.

“It’s your show, not theirs,” Anvik said. “You have a job to do and focus on your priorities. Remain calm, be polite and professional at all times, remember - the world is watching. You represent not just yourself and your hospital, but the entire veterinary profession.”

Anvik said he has seen Angel to remove the latex drains, and she is recovering well.

Tails from Chilliwack

Angel’s case was not the first cougar attack on a pet that Jack Anvik, DVM, has seen.

“We treated a housecat a few years ago that was grabbed by a cougar in its back yard just a few miles from our hospital,” Anvik said. “The cougar was on the owner’s back porch with the family cat in its mouth. The owner threw a crescent wrench at the cougar and hit it in the head. The cougar was momentarily stunned and let the little cat go. The cat ran in the house, the cougar took off into the adjacent woods. The cat was badly scratched but had no deep punctures and recovered. Also a neighboring practitioner had a dog mauled by a cougar a few years ago, also near our town.

It, too, recovered.”