The Miracle Dog
In 10 years of work as a veterinarian, in terms of the wounds inflicted, this was the worst attack on a dog that Dr. Zach Wilcox (he/him) had witnessed. A resident in Emergency Medicine & Critical Care (ECC) at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, he was on duty to treat Becket, a 30 lb. miniature Australian shepherd who arrived at Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals with injuries suffered from a coyote attack.
“Clinically upon presentation he was the most stoic, least affected that I’ve ever seen. The fact that he walked in after what he had endured was incredible,” says Wilcox.
Encountering a Pack of Coyotes
Stephen Harris (he/him) was walking with Becket and three other dogs in mid-January on conservation land in Dover, Massachusetts. “There is a known coyote presence, and likely a den in the woods that most walkers know about, but they continue to walk their dogs there,” says Harris.
When two dogs strayed from the group were not responding to Harris’s calls, he stepped five yards off the trail they were on and peeked into the woods. “I saw five healthy coyotes, each 40–50 lbs., just 10 yards in front me,” he recalls, with the two dogs between him and the coyotes. The dogs returned to Harris, as the coyotes began to retreat together into the woods. What happened next stunned him.
“To my surprise, Becket pursued the retreating coyotes at top speed,” Harris explains, in disbelief that his small dog decided to confront the coyote pack on their turf. “I assumed that he responded that way because he was protecting me and our dogs.”
After instinctively first chasing after all of them, when they disappeared from his sight, Harris reluctantly stopped. Prioritizing the safety of the three other dogs, he retreated to his car and put the dogs inside.
Continually yelling and whistling, Harris heard yelping and resigned himself that Becket would most likely be killed. He quickly hiked back to the area and ran toward the top of the hill, where he was startled again.
“I was overjoyed to see Becket sitting upright, patiently waiting for my return. Unfortunately, he was bloodied from his neck down and shaking, likely near shock. I picked Becket up gently but when I did, he yelped and scratched my face because of the pain he was in.”
Emergency care and surgery
Harris rushed Becket to the Natick Veterinary Emergency Hospital, where wounds on his neck and chest were cleaned and bandaged. When informed he would need surgery, Harris insisted they go to Cummings School.
“We own a horse and know the faculty and quality of care,” he shares. “I was impressed how quickly the team sprang into action.”
Greeting Harris and Becket, Dr. Wilcox notes that looking back, “The most amazing thing is when Becket walked into the ER, he looked no worse for the wear … he had a few lacerations and we clipped up some of the larger ones that we could see. We didn’t realize the extent of his injuries until he was in surgery.”
Becket had more than 30 puncture wounds from the coyote’s teeth and claws, a slight tear to his trachea, a laceration that went through to the diaphragm and into the chest, and a second laceration in his chest.
“We were very concerned that Becket wasn’t going to make it through the surgery,” says Dr. Amanda Johnson, V21 (she/her), an ECC resident who administered much of Becket’s post-surgical care. “He was opened from chest to abdomen, and up through his side,” she explains. “He had a medium sternotomy, a thoracotomy, and an abdominal explore.”
Wilcox adds, “We were very worried about his internal organs, but he did well through an invasive surgery.” Johnson and her colleagues admirably referred to Becket as ‘the miracle dog.’
“Post-surgery, he was pretty sick, minimally responsive, on oxygen, clearly septic and experiencing pain, but such a fighter,” Johnson explains. “He was a critical patient, and we were managing the consequences of his trauma, and anticipating that something might fail, trying to stay one step ahead of a potential issue.”
Becket had experienced significant skin damage from the puncture wounds. “Because most of the bite wounds were under his chest area, a lot of that skin wasn’t viable,” she says.
“We changed bandages twice a day and he let me clean his wounds and did not put up a fuss. He is such a sweet dog and would often give kisses. He’s my favorite patient so far.”
Wilcox agrees. “Becket never lifted a lip, despite all we were doing,” he shares. “I was dumbfounded by his resilience. Humans would not take this as well as he did. And he is such a happy dog. Becket has a unique ability to win people over.”
Although they were concerned that a difficult wound in his chest area may require another surgery, it healed well over the course of six weeks, so another procedure should not be necessary, according to Johnson.
Much credit also goes to Becket’s owners, according to Wilcox. “They took everything so well and never hesitated to do what was needed to help Becket.”
The Harris family greatly appreciates Becket’s treatment, and they are more aware of the threat that coyotes can pose. “We cannot say enough positive things about the care and attention Becket, and we have received at Cummings School, where they got to know and love Becket,” says Harris. “Most importantly we are now more educated on the risks of walking in or near areas known for coyote activity.”
In Massachusetts, the coyotes’ mating season ranges from late January through early March, a time when they become more active. Johnson advises, “If you are aware of an active den of coyotes, don’t walk your dogs in that area. If you do, keep them on a leash and bring something that makes loud noises to chase them from that area.”
Department:Foster Hospital for Small Animals