In the ER: Treating a Dog's Gunshot Wounds

Make My Day: What would you do?
By John Geller, September 2009

Many emergency veterinarians enjoy the challenge of gunshot wound cases, especially when we have a good outcome. It’s not very often, however, that a dog comes into our ER in critical condition from a gunshot wound, and survives, and the dog’s owner ends up dead from the very same thing. That is exactly what happened on the afternoon of November 2, 2003.

Mojo was a three-year old Miniature Pinscher, but did not deserve the “land shark” label many MinPins end up with, as he normally was affectionate and friendly. He did like to bark, however, and that tendency would lead to the demise of his owner.

Just before Mojo arrived at our emergency room, his owners, Diane and Richard, found him collapsed in their yard, struggling to breathe. His gums were pale, and he had a wound on the left side of his chest. Oxygen helped him breathe; a quick X-ray showed two bullets in his chest. One bullet was lodged right next to his spine.

As soon as Richard, Mojo’s owner, realized what had happened, he left the emergency clinic and said he was going home. He appeared calm at the time, but his wife noted a look of determination in his eyes she had not seen before. After Richard left, our team of emergency vets and techs continued to work on Mojo, administering IV fluids, pain meds and more oxygen.

When Richard arrived back at his home in the rural town of Ault, Colo., he grabbed a stick of lumber and immediately went next door to confront his neighbor. He knew immediately where the bullet had come from, because his neighbor sometimes complained about Mojo’s barking. The neighbor also ran a jewelry business out of his home, and bragged about the collection of guns he kept for security.

Richard’s neighbor was waiting for him, apparently sitting in a chair in his living room with a shotgun across his lap. When Richard knocked on the door, he shouted at the neighbor to come outside. Threats were yelled back and forth. When the neighbor refused to come outside, Richard broke the small view window in the top of the door. A shotgun blast tore through the open window and hit Richard in the middle of his chest. The wounds proved to be fatal. The shooter was released from county jail nine days later under the Colorado “Make My Day” law, where deadly force can be used to protect one’s self, family and property if they are threatened. The issue of why he could shoot Mojo without penalty was never addressed.

Meanwhile, efforts to save Mojo continued, and proved successful. He was taken off oxygen, moved out of intensive care and started on oral pain meds and antibiotics. Our success in reviving him provided some solace to Diane, Richard’s widow.

Several months later, Diane moved with Mojo to another state to try and put their nightmare behind them. As far as I know, they are getting along OK.

Further investigation revealed that the second bullet in Mojo’s chest was from a previous gunshot, and multiple pellets were also found in the side of the house where Mojo used to roam the yard and bark. He had been used as target practice by the neighbor, whose intolerance of Mojo’s barking proved to test the limits of the law and human civility.

Dr. Jon Geller is an emergency veterinarian and freelance writer in Fort Collins, Colo. His pets include Raindog, a somewhat dysfunctional, but water-loving, lab mix. You can follow all of Dr. Geller's "In the ER" blogs.