WICHITA, KS â Two pups in Wichita owe their lives to a broken water pipe. A maintenance worker investigating the problem at an apartment complex made a disturbing find when he entered the putrid-smelling unit earlier this month. In a small plastic kennel in the corner, huddled down in ankle-deep feces and urine, were two 7-month-old puppies in obvious distress.
But the puppies â pit bulls from the same litter â weren’t yelping or whining, and that surprised him. A closer look showed they couldn’t open their mouths. An even closer look with a flashlight revealed something was wrapped around their muzzles. Their noses were badly swollen and red, and the maintenance worker was horrified.
He didn’t want to leave them alone, but neither did he know how to help them out of their miserable circumstances.
So he called a friend who fosters dogs with the Wichita Animal Action League, and she alerted her colleagues. She wasn’t sure how she should advise her friend, the rescue group’s executive director Sarah Coffman said.
Hold on, Coffman told her, the calvary is coming. She and animal control officers seized the dogs and took them to the vet. What they originally thought was wire turned out to be tiny rubber bands wrapped around their noses. The rubber bands were no bigger around than her thumb, Coffman told The Dodo.
As she was helping to bathe the two pups â named Wilson and Violet â the “what if” scenarios tumbled around in her mind, Coffman told Patch.
What if a random pipe break hadn’t brought the man called “Hero Wes,” the maintenance worker whose last name Coffman doesn’t know, to the apartment where Violet and Wilson were languishing? Would the pups still be suffering? Would they even be alive?
“The biggest concern is that [rubber bands] end up cutting off the blood supply to end of snout and the dog’s lips can fall off,” Coffman said. “They lose all that tissue and it dies, and then they’re not able to eat. It can certainly lead to death.”
They could have starved to death or aspirated on their own vomit.
“It’s a terrible, terrible way for an animal to suffer,” Coffman said.
Veterinarian Brock Lofgreen, who treated Wilson and Violet, told television station KAKE the rubber bands on the dogs’ snouts had probably been there for about 12 hours. Any longer, he said, and they might have suffered permanent damage.
“A lot of this tissue, if it would’ve come off here, if they lose the front part of their snout and their mouth, that doesn’t regenerate; it would be gone forever,” Lofgreen told the television station.
Wichita police are investigating. Coffman thinks the abuse the pups suffered warrants felony charges, but it probably won’t meet the threshold for the higher charge established in the Kansas animal cruelty law.
“Unfortunately,” she told Patch, “the way our animal cruelty statute is written, they didn’t go through enough to support a felony charge, which requires malicious forethought and intent.”
Police know who the identity of the owner of the two pits, “but that person has kind of disappeared,” Coffman said. “To my knowledge, if police are unable to make content they will issue a warrant on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.”
Wichita police did not immediately return Patch’s request for comment.
SILENCING DOGS â POSSIBLY PERMANENTLY
Though shaken by the trauma inflicted on Violet and Wilson, “I wish I could say this surprises me, but it doesn’t at this point,” Coffman said. “In my career, learned to accept it.”
Muzzling dogs is controversial, even when proper techniques are used. Most often, muzzles are used during training. Some people are reluctant to muzzle their dogs because the think it’s cruel, others because they think others will think their dogs are vicious because they’re wearing muzzles. It’s cruel only when the wrong type of muzzle or a makeshift muzzle â a rubber band or duct tape, for example â is used, according to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
Rubber bands are decidedly not a proper muzzle. They may have been put on Wilson and Violet’s snouts to keep them from barking. The original tenant subleased it, which also isn’t allowed, and Coffman said she’s been told they’ve all been evicted.
There have been other instances around the country involving people muzzling dogs with rubber bands and duct tape to keep them from barking. Animal lovers worldwide rooted for Caitlyn, a Staffordshire-bull terrier mix found wandering in North Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 with nine layers of electrical tape around her muzzle.
The dog broke free of a chain and bolted. After she was rescued, Caitlyn went through multiple surgeries, but still lost part of her tongue.
Last year, the dog’s owner, William Leonard Dodson, was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum under South Carolina’s animal cruelty laws, calling the dog’s ordeal “hell on Earth,” the judge said.
Also in 2015, neighbors in Houston, Texas, were alerted to a dog’s similar predicament when one of them noticed dog urine and feces were dripping onto his balcony from the one above it. When he wrote a Facebook post, the dog’s owner kept the dog chained on the balcony, put a diaper on the dog and a rubber band on his mouth to keep him quiet.
That same year, a poodle in San Diego, California, suffered permanent injuries when she was muzzled with rubber band. At the time, the county’s Department of Animal Services, said rubber bands caused deep, penetrating wounds on the left side of the poodle’s face and caused a cut across the bridge of her nose that wrapped around to the light side. The rubber bands had been on the dog for so long that she was cut down to the bone. Animal Services officials said at the time it may have been a “sick attempt” to quiet the dog’s barking, but subjected her to “horrendous pain.”
‘RUBBER-BAND PUPPIES’ WILL GET NEW HOMES
The “rubber band puppies,” as Violet and Wilson are now known, suffered the same horrific pain, but are more fortunate than the poodle in California. They have some minor scars on their muzzles, but suffered no apparent lasting damage, Coffman said.
The courts won’t need the dogs as evidence, so the pups can be adopted as soon as they’ve recovered from their gonadectomies â the collective term for the spay and neuter surgeries to remove their reproductive organs to prevent unwanted pregnancies and overpopulation.
“They’re fantastic!” Coffman exclaimed when asked how Wilson and Violet are doing. “They’re great!”
The dogs have been “affectionate since Day 1,” she said.
“When we took them outside for the first time, they were like, ‘What’s this green stuff that’s tickling my feet?’ ” Coffman said. “They’re just getting to do the normal stuff animals get to experience, and that has been kind of humbling.”
Wilson is “pretty mellow and laid back and kind of melts into your arms when you pick him up,” she said. “Violet is more personable than her brother, and when they’re wrestling, she has no problem taking him down and beating him up.”
SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
When pets are abused as Violet and Wilson were, animal lovers have a visceral response. Until she was called to the Wichita apartment complex on Sept. 12, she had reacted similarly, but from a safe distance.
“Any kind of national trauma â you see it on Facebook and it always happens to someone else â but you never think you’re going to be in a room that smells like feces and hasn’t been cleaned in a week, and you’re going to see animal abuse first-hand,” she said.
Social media and other digital forms of communication quickly spread the word about animal abuse, making it seem as if it occurs more frequently.
“I don’t know there’s any more than what my parents saw when they were younger,” said Coffman, 32. “But ignorance is bliss about what animal abuse leads to â child abuse and spousal abuse and serial killers. We’re much more cognizant, so it seems like there’s more. I personally think we’re just more aware of it now.”
The world needs more people like Hero Wes, she said.
“If you see something like this, say something to somebody,” Coffman said. “That’s the only reason they’re alive. The maintenance man saw something and didn’t just say it wasn’t his problem or his responsibility. He did the right thing. He decided not to ignore it.”
She added: “Be responsible. If dogs are not allowed in your apartment, don’t bring them home. Be responsible.”
Warning: This video showing the removal of the rubber bands, posted on the Wichita Animal Action League’s Facebook page, may be difficult to watch because the puppies yelp in pain.
Photo courtesy of Wichita Animal Action League