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Suncoast Animal League raising money to buy oxygen masks for animals

CLEARWATER — Wrigley is the American bulldog who refuses to die.

In 2005, his owner committed suicide by attaching one end of a hose to the tailpipe of his idling car and the other to an opening in his mobile home. His idea, according to the note he left, was to take Wrigley, his best pal, with him. But it didn't work out.

The bulldog was saved by Clearwater Fire and Rescue's assistant chief of health and safety Doug Swartz, who used a human oxygen mask to revive the animal.

Wrigley's story triggered an effort to equip all emergency vehicles in Pinellas County with snout-sized oxygen masks. More than 120 masks were distributed four years ago.

Unlike human oxygen masks, animal oxygen masks can be used more than once, but some of them have been mistakenly discarded. Consequently, the Suncoast Animal League is trying to raise money to buy 50 more animal oxygen masks to redistribute to rescue operations throughout Pinellas County.

As the first step toward that goal Thursday, the Animal League announced it was donating 12 of the masks to replenish the supply of Clearwater Fire and Rescue.

Wrigley, who has become the Pinellas County animal oxygen mask spokesdog, was on hand.

He has been through a great deal of trauma since he was first rescued.

Five months ago, Jessica Martin, 24, of Dunedin, the woman who adopted him, noticed a lump on the dog's front right leg.

The dog was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Because Martin was unable to pay $2,500 for surgery to amputate Wrigley's leg, the Suncoast Animal League contacted Dr. Elizabeth Baird and Dr. Ryan Gregory of Country Oaks Animal Hospital, who offered to do the required tests and operation for half the cost.

During the 51/2-hour operation three weeks ago, the dog's leg was removed at the shoulder. Although he came through the ordeal well, Baird was worried. She said sometimes large barrel-chested dogs such as Wrigley, who is about 9 years old and weighs 75 pounds, have trouble standing with only one front leg.

But the next morning, Wrigley was walking around Baird's office. Five days later, he went home — cancer free.

"This dog is the bionic dog,'' Baird said.

On Thursday, Wrigley appeared to be feeling fine and hobbling energetically on three legs around the Clearwater Fire and Rescue training facility wearing a red bandana and trying to meet everyone in the room.

"He's a big goof,'' said Rick Chaboudy, executive director and co-founder of the Suncoast Animal League.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Fast facts

How to help

The Suncoast Animal League is raising money for two causes:

Animal oxygen masks: Donations are needed to buy 50 of the masks to help replenish supplies for Pinellas County emergency responders. If interested in donating, call the Suncoast Animal League at (727) 786-1330.

Wrigley: The dog recently had to have a leg amputated because of a type of bone cancer. If you would like to help offset the $1,300 in medical bills, call the league at (727) 786-1330.

Suncoast Animal League raising money to buy oxygen masks for animals 02/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 10:31pm]
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