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One rescued dog, one inspiring story: M.J. the shepherd mix overcomes paralysis, distemper

Many readers have come to Dr. Heather Oxford for advice on animal health and wellness through Unleashed's Ask a Vet column. But when she's not answering your pet-health questions, Dr. Oxford is a practicing veterinarian at L.A.'s California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE), helping animals to bounce back from illness and injury. Dr. Oxford shares the story of one special patient who's fought both paralysis and distemper with the help of some devoted animal lovers. Here's M.J.'s story:

MJDog2 Meet M.J., an 11-month-old spayed female German shepherd-Doberman pinscher mix. 

Her story began at the shelter, where she was abandoned by her former owners at the age of 7 months after her back legs were paralyzed from being hit by a car. One rescue organization took her to a veterinary hospital for X-rays, which showed a displaced vertebra in her spine that most likely damaged her spinal cord.

The recommendation was to euthanize her.

The rescue organization took her back to the shelter where she would likely be put down. But the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation had other plans for M.J. that day.

The group rescued her and brought her back to a veterinary hospital, where she stayed for the following week. I went to the hospital to meet her and she had no feeling or control of function in her back legs -- but that didn't stop her from being extremely happy and full of life! I instructed the staff to do therapeutic exercises with her, but over the course of one week she developed a cough and diarrhea. She tested positive for distemper virus, which she had contracted two to three weeks before showing these symptoms.

Apparently, she had never received her puppy series of vaccines, which would have protected her from this deadly infectious disease. It seemed that M.J. was looking at a second death sentence.

The Heigl Foundation had her transferred to an isolation unit at another veterinary hospital, where she spent the next three months. Finally, the tests confirmed that she had cleared the virus from her body and she was able to come to CARE. 


She has been in rehabilitation for a month now and has regained sensation in both back legs and even her tail. Week by week she has continued to regain control of her back legs, and she is now able to stand on her own and walk with minimal assistance.

M.J. is an incredible fighter and we have been happy to help her improve over the last month. She will continue to stay at CARE until she is walking well enough to go to a foster home ... or forever home. Check back in the coming weeks for updates on this special girl!

-- Heather Oxford, DVM

Dr. Oxford received her bachelor of science degree at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. She also received a master's of public health degree in epidemiology from Emory University and went on to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She then went to the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine, where she received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree. She practices at California Animal Rehabilitation and is also certified in veterinary rehabilitation and acupuncture. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Wade, and German shepherd, Tess.

Check out more of Dr. Oxford's work in Unleashed's Ask a Vet column.

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What a great story! About people, passion and a phantastic dog. Best regards from The Netherlands.

It's wonderful to read about and know that veterinarians such as Dr. Oxford and facilities like CARE exist, especially here in Los Angeles.

But I wanted to also highlight the Heigl Foundation who've helped qualified non-profit (501c3) rescues who are now, in this economy, desperate for saviors themselves. Heigl has made donations on an almost weekly basis, it seems, and has been doing so consistently since their inception a few years ago. This is no small feat, given how many hundreds, even thousands, of animals are networked, rescued and treated at great cost and sacrifice regularly.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of caring networkers, local rescue groups, foundations like Heigl and facilities such as CARE, MJ is just one of many lucky animals.

Laura, your point is well taken! The Heigl Foundation has done amazing work for animals and is to be applauded!


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