LINCOLNVILLE — When Terrie Kelly agreed to foster a litter of six orphan puppies for Maine Coast Animal Rescue she could not have imagined the ensuing turn of events. The experienced Labrador breeder and owner of Tucker Brook Labrador Retrievers had a mother dog just weaning her pups and Kelly’s good friend and Maine Coast Animal Rescue founder Danielle Blake had an urgent need.
The orphaned litter belonged to “Merkury,” a Great Dane mix who was in the car when a single-vehicle accident claimed the life of Merkury’s loving owner Sydni Barham, 31, of Rockport on April 26.
A badly injured Merkury survived the crash, fleeing the scene. The frightened dog was missing for a short while before she was located by good friends of Barham’s. Sadly, her spine and pelvis had sustained severe injuries rendering her paralyzed. Additionally, the majestic dog was pregnant and near full-term.
An agonizing decision lead Merkury’s guardians to surrender her to Maine Coast Animal Rescue, where six healthy puppies were delivered via Cesarean-section. After recovering from surgery, Merkury and her puppies were placed with a loving and very special foster: Molly McKellar.
Upon hearing about Barham’s death and Merkury’s plight, Molly said she felt compelled to help. Molly is the mother of Kristen McKellar, who was tragically killed when a boat struck her while she swam in Damariscotta Lake last August.
Kristen would have been 33 on May 1.
Molly told Blake that assisting in the rescue was partially prompted by Kristen’s birthday.
Merkury and her puppies enjoyed a special whelping setup at Molly’s farm courtesy of her neighbor Dan Jacobs, who learned of the situation and crafted an impressive whelping box from scrap lumber. Molly and her daughter Alison took turns sleeping on a cot beside Merkury so that the puppies could be kept clean (one symptom of Merkury’s paralysis was incontinence).
Merkury was a loving mother by all accounts and took excellent care of her puppies despite physical limitations. After several days it became evident that Merkury was increasingly uncomfortable. With multiple opinions from veterinary specialists in hand, the rescue made the difficult decision to end Merkury’s suffering as all opinions stated that no surgical option would have restored her function or provide a reasonable quality of life.
The strong, beautiful dog was euthanized on a beautiful morning at McKellar’s farm with Barham’s mother and best friend at her side.
All the while Blake scrambled to find a surrogate mother for the puppies. Natural milk from a nursing dog is nutritionally preferable to formula, particularly during the early lives of puppies.
Kelly was among Blake’s first calls and after some consideration, Kelly agreed to let the puppies meet Raisin and see if she would adopt them. The two-year-old Chocolate lab had birthed a single puppy in her litter and was already raising two lab puppies borrowed from another breeder. The orphaned puppies are considerably younger than Raisin’s litter, but the family dynamic came together.
Using her kennel monitoring camera, Kelly was able to observe the dynamic of the dogs and the care of the puppies and determine that Raisin had taken well to her her role of surrogate.
For approximately two weeks, Raisin nursed the orphaned puppies. Kelly reported on such milestones as the opening of the puppies’ eyes much to the delight of Tucker Brook Labradors’ Facebook fans.
Then, on Friday, May 18, Raisin’s health took an unexpected turn.
That evening, Raisin was playing with a ball and eating as normal. Kelly reported that just hours later Raisin had spiked a fever and could no longer walk. She was rushed to Mid-Coast Animal Emergency Clinic in Warren around 10:30 p.m. as she declined before the eyes of her family. Once at the vet, it was determined that she was suffering from gangrenous mastitis.
Additional symptoms Raisin exhibited prompted comprehensive bloodwork and it was determined that Raisin was also afflicted with the tick-borne illness anaplasmosis.
Raisin was admitted to the emergency clinic and aggressive treatment began, including three rounds of antibiotics, but Raisin continued to decline during her weekend at the emergency vet.
On Saturday, May 19, staff at the emergency clinic noticed bruising around Raisin’s mammary glands and on Sunday they called Terrie to report that Raisin had taken a turn for the worse. It was determined that the tissue around her mammary glands was necrotic and she had developed life-threatening sepsis. It was determined that a mastectomy was the only way to save her life.
A trip to Portland to visit a specialist was deemed too risky in Raisin's unstable condition, so the surgery was performed in Warren.
The significant surgical procedure was a last resort, and the option of euthanasia was even discussed. A dog lover first and foremost, Kelly knew that she had to try everything.
Early this week, Kelly was able to take Raisin to her reproductive specialty vet, who was amazed by the quality of the procedure performed in Warren. That operation very likely saved Raisin’s life.
With vet bills approaching $7,000 and climbing Kelly was prepared to do anything for Raisin. Recognizing that Raisin was heroically assisting Maine Coast when she fell ill, rescue board members asked Kelly if they could set up a fundraiser to assist Raisin. Any overage raised will be used to support Merkury’s six puppies.
Kelly was apprehensive at first, but reluctantly agreed and on May 22 a fundraiser was launched on Facebook through Maine Coast.
The goal? An ambitious but realistic $10,000.
Within hours almost $2,000 had been raised and by evening more than half the total goal had been donated.
At 6:45 a.m. Friday, May 24, nearly $9,000 had been raised from more than 210 individual donors.
Kelly and the organizers were amazed.
“The generosity of this community is beyond belief,” Blake said. Citing previous fundraising successes she has had during her decade in rescue work.
As for the puppies? They are presently with experienced bottle feeders, including Molly McKellar and neighbors Sharon and Jim Dean, and within a few weeks they can begin transitioning to solid food. In keeping with the community spirit of this rescue effort, Kelly reported that a fellow labrador breeder volunteered her nursing mom if there was still a need following Raisin’s complications.
Blake said that Maine Coast Animal Rescue will not begin accepting applications for the puppies until late June, however the organization has received a great deal of interest so far.
“The best thing interested adopters can do is to keep an eye on the Maine Coast Facebook page,” said Blake. “We will post updates there and applications will be reviewed very carefully. We will be performing home checks for each placement in addition to checking all references and vet records as is standard with potential adopters. With a situation like this the best peace of mind we can offer is knowing that the puppies are with exceptional families.”
To donate through Facebook visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/423596841789680/10216916897429082/
Jenna Lookner is a board member at Maine Coast Animal Rescue and one of the organizers of the Facebook fundraiser for Raisin
Reach Jenna Lookner at email@example.com