The only thing veterinarians know for certain is that shortly after giving birth to her litter of puppies, the lovable mutt known as Sadie was shot in the head.
"Right between the eyes," says former suburban resident Joal Derse Dauer, the dog's savior and new owner.
Dauer, who now lives in Muskego, Wis., has Sadie undergoing a litany of therapies that include acupuncture, holistic laser treatments and use of a vibrating device invented in the 1960s to help Soviet cosmonauts overcome the effects of space travel.
It's been an odd trip for Sadie, and no one knows the fate of her puppies. An animal control officer found the wounded dog left for dead in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, and a host of animal-loving volunteers got Sadie to the St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha, Wis. Dauer, owner of a personalized in-home concierge service called Luxe Homes Management, stopped by the shelter on April 28 to donate blankets and pillows from one of her clients.
"I didn't go to see the animals," says Dauer, who credits fate for connecting her with Sadie. "It just happened that she was outside with a volunteer. I saw this dog and said, 'Oh, that's a cute dog. What's her story?'"
A longtime dog owner who first rehabilitated several rescue dogs more than a decade ago when she lived in Kildeer and Lake Villa, Dauer already owns a black border collie mix rescue dog named Sparky as well as Miss Kitty and Kit Kat, her two rescue cats. But the story of Sadie touched the woman's heart.
"Some dogs hit you, and some dogs don't," says Dauer. "And she really hit me."
When Dauer first brought Sadie home, the dog was incontinent and couldn't stand, her hind legs damaged by a second bullet still lodged in Sadie's back. But therapy is working. On Mondays and Fridays, Dauer takes Sadie to TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation center in Grayslake, where the dog receives Hako-Med bioelectric therapy, whirlpool treatments, chiropractic services and an underwater hydro-treadmill therapy. The staff recently fit Sadie for a cart that serves as a canine wheelchair.
"They have been so kind to her here," Dauer says of the Grayslake staff.
"Sadie is truly a lucky dog because she did fall into the hands of caring people," says TOPS veterinarian Lisa Starr. "She has a long way to go, but seeing improvements is what makes it cool for us."
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Sadie rehabs at the Animal Doctor holistic veterinary complex in Muskego for holistic laser treatments, acupuncture, an electrified acupuncture, shots of vitamin B-12, oil treatments, physical therapy and massage. At home, Sadie swims in a pool seven days a week, exercises with a Walkin' Wheels cart, receives Power Plate vibration treatments, takes therapeutic baths, undergoes electronic stimulation that contracts and expands her muscles and spends time with Dauer on an exercise ball in the shape of a peanut.
"With therapy seven days a week, I really push her. It's exhausting," Dauer says, speaking for herself as well as her dog.
"She still has an uphill battle for sure," says Jodie Gruenstern, the veterinarian at the Animal Doctor who removed the bullet from Sadie's skull during a June 4 surgery. "But I've really seen some cases over the years where miracles happen."
Even if the treatments might never get Sadie running again, they have "decreased her life struggle," the veterinarian says.
"We did think her left leg would have to be amputated," Dauer says. "But since she's been swimming, her leg is so much stronger. There's no way that thing is coming off now."
Even without counting the cost of Sadie's special food, transportation and equipment such as harnesses and protective footwear, Dauer figures she spends about $1,200 a month on Sadie's therapy. With the help of Marnette Bowen, Dauer's sister in South Carolina, they established the savingsadie.com website, which already has attracted well wishes and donations from as far away as Russia, Ireland, China, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, England, France and Australia, Dauer says. Donations can be sent to the Saving Sadie Fund, in care of Landmark Credit Union, 2775 S. Moorland Road, New Berlin, WI 53151, or any Landmark Credit Union.
Dauer had no formal training as a dog therapist, "but I do now," she says with a chuckle. "You are always picking up something on your journey. I didn't seek this, but they come to you."
She realizes some people will criticize her for spending so much time and money on a dog, when there are humans who need help.
"People have said that to me, but I just want her to have a chance," Dauer says of Sadie. "She's my dog now. She just makes me laugh. We have fun. I'm not here to save the earth, but she was just a dear, and I had to do something."
She says people find something cathartic at savingsadie.com.
"It's sharing the kindness of people," Dauer says. "I'm trying to help her, and everyone out there is putting in."
"She is a special lady and has an incredible heart to help dogs in need," Starr says of Dauer.
Sadie used to be somebody's pet, Dauer surmises, explaining how the dog recognizes a ball, but can't run after it. Food is Sadie's biggest motivation.
"She will fly down the basement stairs for cat food. She loves canned cat food," says Dauer, who generally carries the 45-pound dog up the stairs. She has a number of lifts and harnesses to help Sadie get into bed or move more easily. When Dauer works with Sadie on a doggy exercise ball, it gets the attention of her other pets.
"They all look over and watch. They have this innate sense of understanding," Dauer says. "It's amazing."
While Sadie sometimes greets strangers with a low growl and a bark, "she's really an absolute love," Dauer says.
"She has a fear of men in hats," notes Starr, speculating that it might have been a hat-wearing man who shot Sadie. The dog also isn't a fan of the gun club near the Dauer home.
"When they shoot, she high-tails it under the deck," says Dauer, who, despite all the progress and kindness she's seen, still has one nagging concern. "I'd really like to find the perpetrator who did this."
But for now, the focus is on Sadie.
"She's happy now," Dauer says, warmly rubbing Sadie's head with both hands. "I think she'll be happier when she's able to walk around."