Although Hannah the German Shepherd lived on her owner’s property in Buckeye, Arizona, she lived like the stray she was when she originally roamed onto the site some years ago. The dog’s owner went to Oklahoma and got sick about a year and a half ago and has been there ever since. He relied on friends, family, and neighbors to care for Hannah and her three puppies from a former litter while he was gone. However, the dogs were often left to fend for themselves in the large, fenced area.
On November, 12, 2020, someone shot Hannah at close range, leaving a bullet lodged near her spine. It’s not known exactly who shot her or why, but it doesn’t matter, because the bullet took Hannah down leaving her paralyzed.
The sheriff’s department was called and someone brought Hannah to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC) in Phoenix, Arizona, where she was slated to be euthanized unless a miracle happened.
That miracle came in the form of Trish Houlihan, founder of the nonprofit Saving Paws Rescue Arizona (SPR), who on November 13 was notified by MCACC that a German Shepherd was in desperate need of rescue. This type of call was not uncommon for Houlihan who in 2012 started the 501 (c)(3) as a resource for the abundance of German Shepherds as well as Belgian Malinois dogs found on the euthanasia list at the county shelter.
Watch Houlihan meet Hannah for the first time:
“She couldn’t walk and we did not yet know that she was pregnant,” Houlihan said. “She was in her enclosure not moving. So, where she had waste is where she laid.” Hannah had only until the end of the day before being euthanized. A microchip was found but it was not registered. And, MCACC did not have the means to care for a dog in her condition. The shelter was headed into a weekend and not fully staffed, so Houlihan was Hannah’s only hope.
Houlihan and Michelle Forster, a longtime SPR volunteer, rushed Hannah to VetMED in Phoenix. X-rays showed that not only was there a pellet bullet near her spine but that she indeed was pregnant. VetMED was not equipped to do the necessary surgery to save the dog, so Houlihan and Forster rushed Hannah across town to Veterinary Neurological Center where veterinarian Dr. Trevor Moore told them, “We’ve got to get the bullet out now.”
There were many concerns about the surgery especially due to Hannah’s pregnancy. She had already had pain medication, X-rays, was going in for a CT scan and would need sedation, and her upcoming surgery was scheduled with anesthesia. “What was this going to do to the puppies?” Houlihan asked the vet. The answer was that there was a 50-50 chance of losing the whole litter or part of the litter. “You may have some birth defects,” the vet told Houlihan, adding, “We honestly don’t know.”
But surgery was Hannah’s only chance of walking again.
Surgery was performed on November 13, and Hannah pulled through. On the following Monday, Forster picked up Hannah and brought her home to recuperate. Forster’s neighbor Tina Bennett came by twice a day to help with the dog. Then that Monday, Hannah had an ultrasound showing eight to nine puppies.
After the weekend’s surgery and surmising that Hannah had no owner, a man called MCACC about his “brother’s dog” but never followed up. Then a woman called and said, “I think you have my stepfather’s dog.”
MCACC notified Houlihan about the discovery. “I made it very clear to them that it was fine, but they need to know that she has an enormous medical bill,” Houlihan said. “She is not only pregnant, but we don’t know if she’ll ever be able to walk.”
The woman eventually realized her stepfather could not afford the medical bills and since he did not come forward during Hannah’s stray hold period at MCACC, he no longer had the rights to her. He also would have had to reimburse SPR for the medical bills that were upwards of $9,000, which included a rescue discount.
While under Forster’s care, Hannah walked with the help of a harness. Her back left leg was seemingly useless at first. Houlihan and her SPR team had no idea if Hannah would regain feeling in that leg or if she would be able to stand on it.
“For the next two weeks I made sure to get Hannah moving,” Forster said. “We went slow. I was always there to help her walk and get up. We did morning sponge baths and also in the afternoon if she needed it. I also worked daily on her legs using different therapy—we did bicycle movements, heat, cold, and pressure point. Each day she was getting stronger.”
Hannah’s first follow-up visit to the vet was on November 27. The vet explained that although she was doing well, Hannah had to continue on low active bed rest. Forster would need to support Hannah for at least four more weeks especially on walks and anytime she was outside. No running or jumping was allowed. “I made sure she got lots of great things to eat and her vitamins, anything to help her and her puppies,” Forster said.
Every day without fail Forster helped Hannah walk with the harness as the dog continued to get stronger—even using her rear left leg a bit and showing great improvement.
“One of the hardest things to accomplish because she was so heavy with puppies was getting a sling under her belly to help get her up,” Houlihan explained. “I think it made it harder on her to get up while trying to use her back legs and go potty.”
Thankfully, Hannah is a fast learner and sat up when she saw the harness, making it easier for Forster to get it under her belly.
Then on December 6 at about 10:30 a.m. Hannah gave birth to the first of 11 puppies. She had six live puppies: two females and four males including two breech; the rest didn’t make it. Forster and Bennett were there to help Hannah through the process that took most of the day.
Hannah has been a great mom. She continues to try to gain strength especially in her back legs. “When she first wakes up she struggles with the colder weather due to arthritis in her legs,” Forster said, adding that she is able to get up and go outside on her own, although she still nurses her babies in the whelping box.
To date, all six surviving puppies are healthy, eating, and seem to be taking queues on howling from Hutch, one of Forster’s own German Shepherds, who you can hear in the following video:
Along with raising healthy puppies, to date Hannah uses both her back legs on her own without the use of a harness. The only medical procedure she will need going forward is a spay surgery, according to Houlihan.
“She’s as good as she’s going to get,” Houlihan said. “As soon as the puppies are weaned off and adopted, I think she’ll get back to being more of a dog, but right now she’s pretty focused on being a mom.”
The puppies will be available for adoption and can go to new homes at nine weeks old and after their first shots. Potential adopters may fill out applications and will be screened. There is a home visit and introduction. Hannah will go up for adoption around the same time but won’t leave Forster’s home until all her puppies are adopted and after she is spayed. In the meantime only a dedicated team of SPR volunteers are able to work with all the dogs.
Thankfully, Hannah’s story has a happy ending. Two of her offspring, Alice and Duke, from the original property are now with SPR. Neighbors hope to take in the third dog.
Like many organizations SPR runs on donations, and this past year has been an especially tough one. “It has been probably one of the hardest years financially because of all the medical bills we’ve had, but I could not believe the support that day,” Forster said. “So many people just wanted to help Hannah. It was unbelievable.”
After everything she has been through, Hannah is very good-natured, sweet, and loves when people visit her.
“Even though Hannah’s owners left her and the other dogs and that she survived being shot, she has tremendous forgiveness and not one mean bone in her body,” Forster said.
And while it’s horrible that she was shot, Hannah got lucky that day in November. If she had given birth on her own the puppies may not have made it due to the cold temperatures, and the two breech puppies could have resulted in all their deaths. But somehow Hannah made it to SPR into the hands of caring volunteers who made sure her life matters.
“Hannah has showed us determination and the will to live,” Houlihan said. “The gift that we have at SPR is we’ve been here to hold all our dogs when they’ve taken their first breath, and we’re here to hold them when they take their last.”
Featured photos: Left: Hannah in her cage at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Photo by Michelle Forster/SPR. Right: Hannah and her puppies. Photo by Michelle Forster/SPR.