Lexington firefighters team up to cover dog owner's veterinary expenses

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 30, 2012 

Nubbin, a 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier, is back at home with his owner after two Lexington firefighters stepped up to split the cost of a complicated operation to repair the dog's badly broken leg.

"He's all I've got; I've had him since he was a little puppy," Jessie Brothers, 65, said Friday after an emotional reunion with Nubbin at the veterinary clinic at Locust Trace Agri-Science Farm in Lexington, where the surgery was performed.

Brothers, a retired laborer with several health problems, lives alone on Whitney Avenue in Lexington.

Nubbin, who'd been in a funk after his ordeal, immediately perked up Friday morning when Brothers arrived at the clinic. He joyously licked his master's face as Brothers gently wrapped him in a warm blanket for the trip home.

"I just want to thank everybody for everything they've done," Brothers said.

The story began Wednesday, when Nubbin somehow caught his left hind leg in a fence while pursuing a groundhog near Brothers' house. Nubbin's leg was broken in at least three places.

An anguished Brothers managed to get Nubbin to a nearby vet clinic, where he learned that surgery to repair the leg probably would cost hundreds of dollars, and that Nubbin would have to be put down unless the operation was performed.

That was money Brothers didn't have, and he collapsed in grief at the thought of giving up his beloved dog. Someone called the Lexington fire department.

Among the firefighters who arrived was paramedic Anthony Johnson, who found Brothers on the floor, unable to move and moaning "my dog ... my dog."

It turns out that Johnson is a dog lover. Once he understood what was happening, he decided he had to do something.

Johnson had met Dr. Barry Hays, the veterinarian at the Locust Trace clinic, during a fire inspection at the clinic last year. So, Johnson called Hays, explained the situation and said he would pay for Nubbin's surgery.

Hays agreed to take on the complicated case, and he performed the surgery Thursday afternoon at Locust Trace, which is operated by Fayette County Public Schools. It was a learning experience for veterinary science students, who were able to watch the delicate, two-hour operation.

The surgery was a success, although Nubbin still isn't out of the woods.

Brothers, who spent one night at UK Good Samaritan Hospital after collapsing, was driven to Locust Trace on Friday by a neighbor, Mary Sweeney, who said she'll help him look after Nubbin while he recovers.

"The dog is all he has; he has no family as far as I know," Sweeney said.

Johnson, the paramedic — he's called "AJ" by friends — also dropped by the clinic on Friday to see Brothers and Nubbin reunited.

"Mr. Brothers has several problems going on, but the most important thing to him was his dog," Johnson said. "I just couldn't walk away from him. I was involved in the situation, and I wanted to help in any way I could."

As it turns out, Johnson will have help paying for Nubbin's surgery.

Mike Tracy, a retired major with the Lexington fire department, heard about the case from his daughter, who works at Locust Trace. He has agreed to split the cost.

Hays said he thinks Nubbin has about a 75 percent chance of recovering, although complications could cause him to lose his leg.

"It was a difficult operation because we had pieces to deal with — the tibia was completely fractured," he said. "Part of the problem in a case like this is you can also have damage to the blood supply and nerves. If it doesn't heal, or the dog has paralysis in his foot, we still might have to amputate."

The next two weeks will be crucial, Hays said.

Brothers already faces more than a few worries. He has heart and back problems, plus other health issues. He is on Social Security and disability, and he said he's worried that he might be evicted from his home. He said he doesn't know where he would go if that happens.

For now, though, Brothers is just glad to have his little dog back.

"He's stayed by me; he keeps me hopping," Brothers said Friday. "He's the only thing I've got. If it wasn't for him, I doubt I'd even be here."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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