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Late one night in February, a fire broke out in an upstairs bedroom at Victoria Gilchrist’s house in Northeast Washington. The cause of the fire was never determined.
Lucky, an 8-year-old, 70-pound mixed German shepherd was asleep next to Ms. Gilchrist’s bed. He was the first one to notice the fire and woke Ms. Gilchrist up. She grabbed some of her important papers, called Lucky to come with her, and stumbled through the smoke-filled hallway, down the stairs, and out the door, where she collapsed.
Fire-fighters arrived shortly thereafter, and it was at that point that Ms. Gilchrist came out of her shock and noticed that Lucky was not by her side. The fire-fighters would not let her return to the burning house to find her dog, but they went to look for him themselves. They found Lucky upstairs in the room of Ms. Gilchrist’s son.
“My son wasn’t home that night,” recalls Ms. Gilchrist. “I guess Lucky didn’t understand that. He must have gone into the bedroom to find my son, and he wasn’t going to leave without him.”
The fire-fighters grabbed the 70-pound dog and brought him outside. But the loyal dog, who was prepared to sacrifice his own life for the son’s, was gravely injured: the skin on Lucky’s back and legs was all but burned off. So as the Red Cross took Ms. Gilchrist to a hotel for the night, D.C. Animal Control brought Lucky to a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic. The next day, Lucky became a patient at the League’s Medical Center, which provides affordable care to pets belonging to the District of Columbia’s low-income residents.
Lucky’s burns were the most extensive that our Medical Center’s veterinarians had ever seen on a living animal. He had virtually no intact skin left on his back and left side. The pain must have been relentless and intense. Lucky was carefully bandaged over most of his body and given round-the-clock medication for pain. The dog’s nearly full-body bandage had to be changed daily—with anesthesia in the beginning—and Lucky wore a shirt to help him keep his bandage on.
Although Lucky had been deeply wounded on the outside, his inner self was unfazed. Always happy to see his caregivers, Lucky wagged his tail whenever anyone came to give him medications, change his bandages, or just say “hello.”
Lucky was slow to heal, even with all the attentive care. About a month after he came to the clinic, a veterinary surgeon who is especially good at repairing wounds was called in to do skin grafts. She donated her services.
One week after that surgery, Lucky was discharged and rejoined his family, then living at Ms. Gilchrist’s mother’s house. Because she lost everything on the fire, all charges for Lucky’s care were waived.