The Will to Survive - Patrick's Story, Part 1

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Published: January 25, 2012
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How Physical Rehabilitation Aided Patrick the Pit Bull’s Remarkable Recovery From Abuse and Neglect

Part 1

It’s nearly the one year anniversary of the world’s introduction to Patrick the Pit Bull, a dog who’s sheer will to overcome unfortunate circumstances propelled him to notoriety as the sweet-faced poster boy for animal neglect and abuse.

Working for many years in emergency veterinary medicine, I have treated severely traumatized animals like Patrick before. The Pit Bull Terrier breed is highly desired by some people for its fierce appearance and tough reputation. When properly trained and appropriately treated, however, Pit Bulls are gentle companions to both dogs and people.

During my internship at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C., I encountered hundreds of urban dwellers who were incapable of sufficiently handling or being financially accountable for their "Pits." I really feel for the dogs in these situations, as they are the true victims of owner irresponsibility.

This was the regrettable case with Patrick. His owner, Kisha Curtis, was incapable of providing for his physical and emotional needs. Curtis faces felony charges of animal neglect and abuse for her alleged role in Patrick’s situation.

Through the help of countless humane advocates and health providers, Patrick has recovered and now leads a good quality of life. In the first of three parts, I will tell Patrick’s story from the point of view of one of his main caregivers, New Jersey based physical therapist Susan Davis, who, with Joycare Onsite, was substantially involved in Patrick’s treatment and recovery.


On March 16, 2011, a maintenance worker for the high-rise Garden Spires apartment building in Newark, NJ was emptying the garbage bin at the bottom of a 22 story garbage chute when he saw one of the trash bags move. What he saw upon looking inside was shocking: a dog that had been starved to near death, stuffed into a plastic trash bag and thrown down a garbage chute from over 20 stories. It was a staggering find, but the worker had the presence of mind to immediately call Animal Control.

This emaciated remnant of a dog was taken to Associated Humane Societies (AHS) in Newark, where he was assessed by Dr. Lisa Bongiovanni.  Dr. Lisa, as she is known, had to make a quick and critical decision to stabilize or euthanize Patrick, as he appeared to be minutes away from death.

While the simple choice may have been to relieve this dog from another minute of agony, Dr. Lisa must have sensed something that prompted her to believe that he had a chance of survival. She decided to prolong support for an hour or so to see if he would stabilize.

As the staff worked together to rehydrate the dog with intravenous support and increase his body temperature with warm blankets, Dr. Lisa’s sanguine call and this yet-unknown dog’s indomitable spirit worked together; within the hour he showed signs of improvement. Within two hours, he was being transported to Garden State Veterinary Specialists, a 24-hour facility staffed by critical care and emergency specialists. There, he was treated with a transfusion of dog blood, fluids, antibiotics, and other life-saving interventions.

(A photo of Patrick in his initial state, as well as updates on his progress, can be found on the Associated Humane Societies and Popcorn Park Zoo website. Caution: The images are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.)

By the morning of March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, it was clear that this dog might survive. In honor of the holiday, he was given the name Patrick. Within three weeks Patrick was medically stable, but still very emaciated and weak. He could barely walk, or even stand. His atrophied muscles would shake with fatigue at his every effort.

I was contacted to provide physical therapy for him through the AHS, an organization to which I have been providing pro bono services since 2008. As I prepared myself to meet Patrick, I recalled some of my experiences working with abused and neglected animals. I expected a lack of eye contact, possible aggression or timidity, tactile defensiveness, and other behavioral characteristics associated with abuse. I met not one of these symptoms.

Patrick was a lovely, friendly boy who wanted to be held and touched. As he made eye contact with me, his sparkling eyes seemed to say, "I know where I came from, but now I am eager to see what lies ahead." I knew then that this dog was extraordinary and I felt such gratitude to those who had given him a chance to pull through. I couldn’t wait to start Patrick’s physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Susan Davis with Patrick


Please return next Thursday to the petMD News Center for Part 2 of How Physical Rehabilitation Aided Patrick the Pit Bull’s Remarkable Recovery From Abuse and Neglect.

Top Image: Patrick / Associated Humane Socities