The puppy with the upside down paws story of recovery

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Milo the dog during a press conferece on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

For the most part, he acts like a usual eight-month-old puppy.

Milo seems to love the attention he receives from anyone who will give him some. And as a coonhound, Milo will have his nose to the ground exploring all the smells. He seems to be an average dog. The only thing off is his walk, his front legs seem stiff as he lumbers around.

It’s hard to believe that six months ago Milo had corrective surgery for his ‘upside down’ front paws at the Oklahoma State University Veterinary Hospital.

Milo’s owner, and the founder of Oliver and Friends Farm Animal Sanctuary, Jennie Hays, adopted Milo when his original owners realized the problem with his legs and were on the verge of what seemed like the only merciful option: euthanasia.

“I knew something was wrong with Milo before he ever came to our farm, I didn’t know the extent of it,” Jennie said. “I was afraid that there was not going to be anything to do and the thought of him not surviving, it is always an upsetting thing to think about.

"But I was hopeful. We managed some what I would consider miracles, so I thought there was definitely hope.”

Due to bones that were still in the process of developing, the family’s veterinarian, Summer Heatly, had trouble providing an initial diagnosis for Milo’s condition.

“We first saw Milo when he was just shy of four-weeks old and it was a pretty obvious deformity, but I hadn’t seen it before,” Heatly said. “When it first presented, his paws were just turned outward, they weren’t completely upside down yet, and it almost looked like an angular limb deformity. We took some x-rays at our clinic immediately but because his bones were not completely ossified, it was hard to tell what was going on.

"We then contacted OSU and got him set up to come up here for a referral.”

At OSU, Milo received the diagnosis of congenital dislocation of the elbow joints. This means that before or shortly after being born, Milo’s elbow joints dislocated, causing the forearm to rotate 120 degrees. And it only worsened when he moved his shoulders.

Erik Clary, OSU professor and the attending surgeon, was present when they first brought Milo in for his appointment.

“He’s a very hardy creature no doubt,” Clary said. “The best he could muster was what I would call an army crawl. In every other respect he was trying to be the puppy he is... and just entertaining. Just a real treasure of a patient, a lot of spirit, a lot of heart, but certainly just very debilitated.”

In his 27 years of experience, Clary had seen two similar cases like Milo’s. And there was a way to help Milo get his paws right side up. But would it work?

Clary and his team used a procedure that cut into Milo’s elbow and realigned the bones. To make sure the bones held while Milo recovered, a pin was put in place to keep the alignment. For two and a half weeks, Milo was put in an orange front body splint, complete with some Pistol Pete stickers for decoration, to stabilize the repairs made.

With the splint, Milo had to be carried everywhere by Jennie and her husband Jason. Any moisture on the splint would result in a medical emergency and for the Hays family living an hour away from Stillwater, that was a constant concern.

“The first couple of days there was a lot of tears on my part and on Milo’s part,” Jennie said. “Although I can say that Milo handled it a lot better than I did. He never lost his spark. He has always had a lot to say, that certainly didn’t change, but he’s always just been, honestly, awe inspiring to us and our rescue.”

During the healing process, the removal of the splint and pins was only the beginning of the next stage. Next came challenging rehabilitative care to get Milo walking and playing like a puppy.

“He didn’t have any strength, so as he moved around his legs would go outward,” Jennie said. “He had laxity in his tendons so (we were) constantly picking him up off the floor and worrying about an additional injury during that whole time.

"It was quite a difficult journey trying to figure out what he could do versus what he couldn’t do, and just trying, literally, to hold him back for his own safety.”

Heatly and the other veterinarians who treated Milo were there to help the Hays family as everyone worked to better Milo’s life.

“I was just there to answer questions when I could and provide support when I could,” Heatly said. “Lots of times when Jennie or Jason might be doing rehab at home, they would send me a video or a picture on how they were doing, to see if they were doing it correctly and most of the time they were. It was a lot of work at home for them initially.”

As he worked on getting stronger, Milo’s story spread across the world, reaching millions of people in the U.S. alone. His story brought attention to the clinic as well as the Hays’ rescue facility.

“It has been absolutely incredible,” Jennie said. “It’s hard to believe that there was a time before Milo was famous. It’s been huge for us. It really put our rescue and our mission in the public eye, which is absolutely necessary as a nonprofit.

"Our rescue mainly takes in special needs and medical cases, including livestock, and none of these endeavors are cheap. So his story has been really important to our rescue.”

Even as an internet sensation, Milo is still a mischievous puppy who likes to play in the pond, run, sniff everything and make sure he’s being heard with his barking and singing.

“He’s a good boy most of the time,” said Jennie’s son, Hunter.

Milo’s case resonated with people, as most rescue stories do, but the biggest impact rescues have is on their owners.

“Rescue can be exceedingly difficult," Jennie said. "A lot of the time we are not successful. Sometimes we do everything medically possible, it’s not a lack of try or veteranary ability, it’s just sometimes in rescue it doesn’t work. So that’s obviously the hardest thing about rescue.

"But watching Milo, no one was sure how well he was going to do. He absolutely exceeded everyone’s expectations and touch that many people. It has impacted me extraordinarily deeply.”