Happy tails: Vet, orthopedist team up to save lives of stray animals

March 11, 2019

Tire marks on a rural property in South Georgia led to a black Labrador lying beside a fence. The young dog’s injuries were too severe for him to walk on his own. And with no owners to claim him, the dog’s future was bleak.

John Croft, an animal control officer for Moutrie Colquitt County Humane Society, took the pup to see the local veterinarian and the dog was given a name — Sheldon. But Sheldon faced being euthanized if he couldn’t have expensive surgery to repair two dislocated hips.

A trip to Atlanta was the only hope: Surgeons for Strays, a nonprofit combining the expertise of both orthopedic surgery and veterinary medicine, agreed to save Sheldon’s life.

“We’re using our expertise to help these animals,” Dr. John Keating, an orthopedic surgeon, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is why we all went into medicine — to do some good. To take care of something that’s hurt and needs help.”

Keating is a “human” orthopedist with a heart for helping animals. In addition to his practice in Atlanta, he’s in charge of orthopedic residents at Atlanta Medical Center. As a longtime surgeon, Keating has the expertise and tools to repair humans: the plates, the screws, the drills. But it’s his teamwork with a veterinarian, Dr. Michael Good, that makes the partnership unique. Good is involved in all of the surgeries on the stray dogs and cats.

“I have to be the grownup in the room,” Good said.

The doctors, including many of Keating’s residents at the hospital, perform the surgeries for free, and only stray animals are accepted. So far, the doctors have teamed up to save the lives of more than 70 animals. Once the animals are healed, they are returned to various rescue groups and adopted.

“This is truly a win-win,” Good said.

Sheldon underwent the first of two surgeries; he’ll undergo a second surgery in the coming weeks to repair his second hip, and is recovering at Good’s Cobb County clinic.

Keating, whose pets include four dogs and two cats, said it’s easy to get attached to the animals he saves, and that includes Sheldon. The animals sense that he and other doctors have helped them heal, he said.

“He’s just the best dog,” Keating said. “He just wants to love you. He wants to put his head in your lap.”

Saving the lives of animals that would likely face death is rewarding, the doctors say, and they hope to continue donating their time and expertise to the vulnerable four-legged population. But their efforts have also drawn criticism, including questions about whether doctors trained to treat humans should be involved in surgeries on animals, and whether such a practice takes business away from area veterinarians.

Keating is adamant he isn’t trying to switch to veterinary medicine.

“We understand that community vets might be skeptical at first blush, but none of the animals we treat have any other options,” Keating said. “Every single animal we have ever attended was homeless, without any resources, and the vast majority were on death row or languishing in rescues because nobody had the funds to fix them.”

When the animals are healed and adopted, their stories have happy endings. Plus, those pets will continue to need routine veterinary care, helping community vets continue to earn a living, Keating said.

Meanwhile, the Surgeons for Strays doctors get to give furry patients a second chance without having to deal with medical insurance claims.

“I can just go and do what I do and save lives,” Keating said.


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services