NEW PORT RICHEY — Devon Detrapani wept when she saw the dog.
Someone had tied a rope around the dog's neck when it was a puppy and left the cord there. As the dog grew over the past year, the rope cut into its flesh. Now, there was a wide, open wound several inches deep. The dog's face was swollen to the size of a basketball. The smell of infection was overwhelming.
The 1-year-old dog either got loose or someone let it go. It had been seen roaming New Port Richey for days. People tried to catch it and posted notes on Craigslist.
On Dec. 27, someone spotted the dog at a Sunoco on State Road 54. The person searched for an hour but couldn't find it. Three days later, the dog wandered into a back yard on Avenal Loop, more than 2 miles from the Sunoco. A woman posted a message for help. She said Pasco Animal Control wouldn't come until the next day, and she thought the dog would die before then. She didn't have the means to take the dog for help.
Detrapani, 29, saw the message. She and her husband have a 6-month-old son and three cats. Both work full-time and they knew they couldn't keep the dog. Still, they wanted to help. So they drove to the woman's house.
"It made me sick," she said. "That dog didn't deserve to be treated like that. She endured months and months of abuse."
They called friends who are state troopers and a Pasco sheriff's deputy to see if they could help. They spent an evening calling their contacts in animal rescue. They finally got relief: The AA Animal Emergency Clinic in Palm Harbor said it could treat the dog and transport it to the Humane Society of Pinellas County. The Humane Society would pay the vet bill.
Detrapani got a cage and coaxed the dog inside. After being initially scared, the dog nuzzled against her. Despite all of the abuse and pain, it was still sweet. The couple drove to Palm Harbor. The dog was in surgery that night. The rope was removed, and the dog went to the Pinellas shelter the next day.
The staff named it Honey, because it's so gentle.
Honey should survive, but has months of recovery ahead before it can be put up for adoption, shelter manager Abigail Appleton said.
"This is the worst I've seen," Appleton said.
Honey, she said, is lucky. If it had gone on much longer, the rope could have cut into its esophagus. Honey is thin, but not malnourished — meaning that someone might have fed it but not treated the wound.
On Saturday, Honey snuggled in the thick comforter that shelter workers put in its cage. The antibiotics are going to work, and the swelling in its head has gone down. The rescuers thought Honey was a Shar-Pei because of its swollen head, but Appleton believes it is a pit bull mix.
"She's a good dog," she said.
Detrapani keeps calling the shelter for updates. Seeing that kind of abuse made her think the worst of people. But it also brought out the best — strangers who worked together to save a dog they didn't know.
"There are people out there with compassion," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.