Driving down a country road in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, Liz Heatherly spotted something unusual out the window. It took a while to realize exactly what she was looking at, but when she did, it broke her heart.
A small, black puppy, barely 10 weeks old, was hobbling down the side of the curvy back road covered in fleas and ticks — a cable tie, or zip tie, had been tightened around his jaw.
“Once we walked back to the spot where we had seen him, he ran from us into a drainage ditch that was about 6 feet down,” Heatherly told The Dodo. “We had to slide on our bottoms to get down and my sister pulled us back up with a spare leash we had in the car.”
The family immediately snapped the nylon cord off the puppy’s mouth, revealing open sores and severe scabbing where the plastic had rubbed his skin raw, and rushed him to the nearby Cleveland Park Animal Hospital.
After a full medical exam, the vet, Dr. Bryant Phillips, determined the young pup was dehydrated, malnourished and suffering from intestinal parasites, but, in a stroke of luck, the zip tie had not caused any significant oral trauma.
Dr. Phillips estimated that the puppy had spent two to three days with his mouth clamped shut by the zip tie, according to Cleveland Park Animal Hospital.
The vet warned Heatherly that the damage to the hair follicles on the dog’s muzzle could be permanent, and, sure enough, as the scabs healed, a hairless white line appeared around the puppy’s mouth.
It didn’t take long for Heatherly to fall in love with the helpless puppy, whom she named Norman, but she worried about how her 4-year-old rescue dog, Jackson, would react to a new addition to her family.
Rescued from an abusive situation, Jackson had had a difficult history with other dogs, and enjoyed his status as an only child. “I honestly thought I would never be able to get a second dog while Jackson was still living because he HATES other dogs,” Heatherly added.
When Norman was finally ready to go home, to Heatherly’s surprise, Jackson warmed up to him immediately.
“I’ll never forget this, but when I walked in the backyard and Norman whined in my arms, Jackson jumped up to lick him and let him know it was going to be OK,” Heatherly said. “Jackson loves Norman and it makes my heart so full looking at them playing together.”
With the help of Jackson, and under Heatherly’s care, Norman has become a happy, trusting dog once more.
“He’s so resilient. He took a horrible situation and he didn’t let it get him down,” she noted. “I honestly thought Norman would have trust issues or be afraid to let people touch around his mouth, but he has none of those issues. He is a leaping bundle of black fur that I wouldn’t trade for anything!”
Whether it’s going for daily walks with Jackson, chasing his squeaky squirrel in the backyard or comfortably napping in the sun with his belly in the air, the little dog is committed to enjoying his puppyhood to the fullest.
“Norman is extremely friendly and full of energy. He should have been named ‘Firecracker,’ because that is how he acts,” Heatherly added. “His legs are so long and he trips over them all the time. He’s goofy and loves to play 24/7.”
It’s been nearly two weeks since Heatherly rescued Norman, and the white line around his muzzle is still a constant reminder of his difficult past. His mom is doing her best to heal the pup’s painful scars, and to her surprise, little hairs are starting to sprout. “The vet wasn’t sure [Norman’s fur] would ever grow back, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that it does,” Heatherly said.
“Norman is our little miracle,” Heatherly said, “and I wouldn’t change him for the world.”