Zelda the fire dog recovers from surgery

Zelda, a fire dog in Fort Dick, is trying to overcome injuries to both its back legs. Zelda is a trained search and rescue dog that is popular among local residents.

A Fort Dick fire dog is recovering after the first of two leg surgeries.

Zelda, the 4-year-old chocolate lab-Chesapeake Bay Retriever mix, underwent the surgery at Oregon State University’s teaching veterinary hospital, according to Krystol Berry, Zelda’s owner.

“She’s doing really well,” Berry said. “We’re having a hard time keeping her down.”

Zelda has gained a bit of a following in Fort Dick, particularly among students at the Redwood School, where she visits for fire prevention assemblies and teaches students to stop, drop and roll, Berry said. Zelda’s training, though, is in search and rescue, particularly in unstable rubble.

“They type of search and rescue she does is structural collapse,” Berry said.

Lately though, Zelda’s been away from school assemblies and search and rescue training after an injury. Overuse tore ligaments in Zelda’s back legs, and they can’t heal on their own.

Instead, she has to go into surgery, which Berry estimates could run up to $10,000. Fortunately, the surgeries have a very high success rate, meaning Zelda will almost certainly be ready for more assemblies and rescues when she recovers.

“All of that should be just fine,” Berry said.

Still, that could take some time – Zelda has to wait at least eight weeks before she can have her next surgery to correct the painful torn ligaments. That surgery will require an eight-week recovery period, too.

According to Berry, Zelda has been training for search and rescue tasks for around three and a half years. Berry and her husband got the dog as a pet and soon discovered she took quickly to training for simple commands.

That got Berry’s husband thinking: He volunteers with the Fort Dick Fire Department, and thought Zelda might be a good fit to help with department operations.

So, he started training her on a few search and rescue skills, at times hiding items for Zelda to find in driftwood on the beach to simulate rubble from crumbled buildings. She was a natural.

“She’s very bright and she learns very fast,” Berry said. “He started doing the training with her and she caught on really quick.”

Zelda hasn’t been called to any structural collapse rescues yet, since they’re fairly rare in the area, but remains on a state list to be called if one is needed, and has made a name for herself as a popular school assembly guest.

Ever since Berry started a GoFundMe campaign to support Zelda’s surgeries, online at gofund.me/6a15201a, she’s received a lot of support from community members.

“We’ve had a lot of people in the community who knew her from the fire prevention assemblies,” Berry said. “A lot of people have helped out with the cost of (the surgeries) too, which is amazing.”

Zelda is helping teach veterinary hospital staff, too: After her initial evaluation, she was referred for surgery to the OSU Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Hospital in Corvallis, Oregon, which Berry said is known for the kind of surgery Zelda is undergoing. At that hospital, veterinary students observe and assist with surgeries as part of their study.

After a few days in the hospital, Zelda returned home last week. Berry and her family have had to keep her from working too hard so her injury can heal, but the dog’s progress has been positive, Berry said.

“She does hate the cone of shame, though,” Berry said, referring to the plastic cone-shaped collar fitted to animals after some surgeries.

Berry will continue to post updates about Zelda’s progress on the GoFundMe page, she said.

“I’m really appreciate of all the support that people have given us,” Berry said.

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