Shelter Puppy Receives Rare Life-Saving Heart Surgery

Published by VCA Inc. in Dogs, Happy Tails, Lifesaving, Pets, Puppy, Shelters & Rescues, VCA Animal Hospitals November 29, 2016

As an animal behaviorist and trainer of animals, Cynthia Royal has worked with a wide variety of domestic and exotic animals from birds to zebra.

“While every animal encounter is an exciting, enjoyable adventure, only a few have captured my heart enough to make them a permanent member of my family.  Then, one night on the evening news, I saw a blur of energy disguised as a little ball of white fluff and immediately knew my already large animal family was about to expand, yet again.”

The shelter puppy Princess

A highly intelligent, confident, hyper-energetic breed best known for their success as circus performers, Princess is an American Eskimo.  The 2 month old puppy had been surrendered to the San Diego Humane Society with a life-threatening birth defect called a “patent ductus arteriosus”. This causes a leak between the major heart vessels and prohibited her heart from pumping enough blood.  While such a severe medical condition would normally have resulted in a dog being euthanized at most shelters, the San Diego Humane Society subscribes to the belief that every treatable animal they receive deserves a fighting chance at life, no matter the effort or cost involved.

So despite what is normally an incredibly cost-prohibitive procedure, the SDHS reached out to Dr. Sharon Huston, resident cardiologist at a nearby VCA Animal Hospital, to get Princess the life-saving surgery she needed.  As Dr. Cynthia Mitchell, medical director for the San Diego Humane Society puts it,

“Princess received this second chance at life” due to the support of the organization’s generous donor community.


Dr. Cynthia Mitchell, Medical Director, San Diego Humane / Photo Credit San Diego Humane Society

A connection of the heart

Yet, it was Princess’s defect and heart surgery – something that would have caused many potential adopters to walk away – that ignited Cynthia’s interest in adopting.  The procedure that saved the little puppy was the same used to place a stent in a compromised human artery. This is a procedure Cynthia had coincidentally undergone numerous times to correct heart damage from a rare, near-lethal bacterial infection.  So, as fate would have it, the two share a unique connection – a connection of the heart.

Also influencing Cynthia’s decision to apply was the realization the puppy would almost certainly need specialized rehabilitation.  Drawing on her own experiences with cardiac rehabilitation, Cynthia knew she’d be able to help. She would need to channel Princesses naturally high energy and extreme need for intellectual stimulation. She could do this by providing mentally and physically stimulating obedience and trick training.  This is the perfect outlet for the puppy to grow strong, emotionally balanced and ultimately to thrive.

A special adoption story

A month after surgery, now at almost 3 months old, Princess had recovered enough to be cleared for adoption.  But because of the puppy’s medical history, high-maintenance characteristics and widely publicized story, a special adopter was needed. One with the skill to meet Princess’s needs, who was also willing to showcase the puppy and her story at future SDHS events.  So a special application for the now celebrity puppy was created. They inquired about everything from a potential adopter’s experience to training knowledge – all areas Cynthia had elaborate plans for.  As Cynthia reports,

“Even SDHS President Gary Weitzman joked during a recent event that an application to Harvard probably would have been easier than the one I had to complete to adopt Princess!”

“So, after submitting my application, I waited and waited, for what seemed an eternity, as slowly my hopes of adopting Princess began to fade”, Cynthia says,  chuckling.  “Then, a call came late one afternoon that I’d made it to the top of a very long list of potential adopters.  And that if I still wanted Princess, she was mine!”

Early the next day, Cynthia and her family made the long trek from Fallbrook to the SDHS Gaines Street Campus, near Old Towne San Diego.  Filled with anticipation as they waited in the lobby for Princess to be brought out, Cynthia thought to herself, “What will she be like?  Will she like me?  Will we be a good match?”  The answer, it turned out, would be immediate and clear.

Princess, American Eskimo Dog, shelter puppy, San Diego Humane

Photo Credit San Diego Humane Society

Love at first sight

As Princess rounded the corner of a room far across the lobby, her eyes locked with Cynthia’s in what can only be described as love at first sight.  Then, with every muscle of her body engaged, the puppy made a bee-line toward Cynthia. She pulled hard at her leash like a mighty sled dog powering her way through deep snow.  Princess made her way across the lobby to Cynthia, leaping into her arms, all doggy cuddles and kisses.  Evident to everyone who witnessed the meeting, it was clear Cynthia and Princess are meant to be together.

Once home on Cynthia’s family-owned ranch in Fallbrook, Princess took to her new surroundings with the wonder and glee of a child’s first trip to Disneyland.  Dedicated to showing animals and their guardians how to have happy, collaborative relationships, the ranch was already setup as a playground and home to numerous animals.

Making New Friends

Cynthia had several rescued, indoor-only cats that had never been exposed to a dog. Through her understanding of cat behavior and training, which included the rehabilitation of a number of traumatized rescues and feral cats, Cynthia knew a happy canine/feline co-existence could only be achieved if it was done on the cat’s terms.  So for the first several weeks, Cynthia stayed with Princess in the central living area of her family’s house. She slept with the puppy on the couch in lieu of the comforts of her bed.  This allowed the cats sole access to the bedroom and a much needed sense of safety and control, both needs vital to introducing anything new to a cat. Over the next several weeks, Cynthia incorporated consistent training and steps to ease the puppy and cats into sharing space and resources.

Princess Meets the REALLY Big Dogs cropped, shelter puppy

Photo Credit Cynthia Royal / Discover The Magic Entertainment

Fortunately for Princess and her new family, her prior medical condition required no additional treatment after surgery, except occasional check-ups.  In the two and a half months that followed her adoption, this newfound health freedom has allowed her to experience a number of exciting new adventures in addition to meeting Cynthia’s cats.  She’s had a health checkup at the Acacia VCA Animal Hospital in Escondido.

The need for a housebreaking refresher immediately became evident, plus she’s started obedience training to prepare her for becoming a model canine citizen and eventual service dog.  She’s also enjoyed several appearances in her Animal Ambassador role, inspiring compassion at SDHS events, while allowing her to bask in the adoration of hundreds of people who’ve followed her story.  But the ‘King Kong’ of adventures came with a meeting of Cynthia’s ‘Big Dogs’ – several  liberty-trained trick horses, including a huge black one weighing in at a whopping 1800 pounds.

The happiest of endings

But her favorite things by far Cynthia reports are “running around the yard at rocket speed, pouncing on toys like a fox that momentarily becomes airborne before it leaps on it’s prey, and any invitation to play – no matter the species making the offer.  And her favorite spot?  Anywhere, as long as it’s next to Cynthia!

SDHS Animal Ambassador Princess with her human Cynthia Royal, shelter puppy

Photo Credit San Diego Humane Society

With this happiest of endings to what could have been a tragic story of another euthanized animal had Princess been surrendered to any other shelter, Cynthia says she is most thankful to Gary Weitzman and all the incredible, dedicated people at the San Diego Humane Society, who share her belief in the humane treatment of all animals.  She’s also thankful to the team at VCA Animal Hospitals for providing Princess’ life-saving surgery.

And she’s deeply appreciative for the unconditional love and enthusiasm Princess has brought into her life, adding,

“thanks to this wonderful organization and the generosity of it’s donors, Princess is now where she was always meant to be, healthy, happy and having the time of her life as she serves by example the life-altering, second chance a little compassion toward an animal in need can bring.”

As for Princess, it’s a safe bet she has a long life full of love and adventure ahead with Cynthia and other members of her new 2 and 4-legged family.


For more information, contact Cynthia Royal by calling 877-254-7889, emailing or visiting:
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