It started as a normal day for Valerie Eastwood, who works from home. She had let her seven year-old Australian shepherd mix Murphy out to their fenced-in yard in Granby, Connecticut, just before she was scheduled for a work call. After hearing what she describes as “horrible snarling and screaming sounds,” Valerie went outside to find Murphy hobbling back to their deck, with massive claw and bite marks on his body. 

Murphy was the victim of a bear attack, a rare occurrence for dogs – even in Granby where bear sightings are common. It was the beginning of a three-week-long fight for Murphy’s life, which was saved by the collective efforts of the hospital that administered emergency treatment and initial wound care, expert surgical wound treatment provided by VCA Veterinary Specialists of CT, and the loving care of his family.

Thankfully, by the time Valerie ran to the door to check on Murphy, the bear was gone. She said the sight of Murphy was shocking.

“His side was ripped open – he had chunks of flesh and fat hanging off of him,” says Valerie, recalling the horrific day. “I thought I might faint. The whole thing seemed unreal.”

The attack was surprising since bears typically run from dogs unless cubs are present and they feel threatened. Since she did not see any cubs around, Valerie thinks the bear and Murphy may have startled each other.

Valerie and her husband wrapped Murphy in a clean sheet and rushed him to Salmon Brook Veterinary Hospital in Granby for emergency and initial wound care. There, Murphy’s wounds were cleaned, dead tissue was removed, and initial wound closure and drain placement was performed. Knowing that he would need overnight care, Valerie’s primary veterinarian referred her to Veterinary Specialists of CT for continued monitoring. Although the wounds did well initially, infection began to cause the skin to break down, and Murphy was ultimately referred to Noelle Muro, DVM, DACVS (SA), a surgeon at Veterinary Specialists of CT.

Specialized Care for Murphy

Although Murphy had survived the brutal attack, the fight for his life was far from over. Murphy’s wounds would need daily monitoring and care for the next several weeks to ensure he healed properly and didn’t develop a life-threatening infection.

After anesthetizing Murphy, trimming away dead tissue and assessing the wounds, Dr. Muro used open wound healing techniques with Murphy. In his case, this involved bandaging and using calcium algenate to keep the wounds moist in order to help them to heal on their own.

“There are many ways to treat wounds, but the objective is always the same: to create a good environment for healing,” explains Dr. Muro. “My role is to help the body do its job.”

After a couple of weeks of open healing, Murphy’s wounds were closed, and a closed suction drain was placed. Two weeks later, the sutures were removed.

Although his injuries were extensive, Dr. Muro says Murphy was extremely fortunate his wounds weren’t deeper.

“Trauma to the chest and abdomen like Murphy experienced can quickly turn deadly,” she explains. “Although his wounds looked scary, we were much more optimistic about the outcome than if his he had experienced injuries to his lungs, for example.”

Care for the Entire Family

Valerie and her family were extremely pleased with the care Murphy received at Veterinary Specialists of CT.

“Dr. Muro is the absolute best specialist, and we feel very lucky to have access to that level of care, especially since we’re in a rural area,” says Valerie. “But we’re also very grateful for the compassion the staff showed us during what was a very difficult time for our family.”

When restrictions due to COVID prevented them from going into the hospital with Murphy, Valerie says Dr. Muro always took the time to come out to the car to discuss his care. When Murphy was an inpatient, Dr. Muro called to give the family updates in the morning and at night. The family was even able to set up a picnic blanket outdoors and visit with Murphy for an hour at a time while he was an inpatient.

“The staff understood how traumatic this whole experience was – for us and for Murphy – and they understood how important it was for us to see him,” says Valerie. “Their approach wasn’t just to treat Murphy, it was to treat the entire family.”

Recipe for an Optimal Outcome

Dr. Muro says that Murphy’s recovery was successful thanks to the collective efforts of everyone involved in his care.

“Cases like Murphy’s are the reason I wanted to become a surgeon,” says Dr. Muro. “This is an example of when everything aligned perfectly for an optimal outcome – great emergency and initial wound care, a team approach to Murphy’s wound treatment here at our hospital, and dedicated home care by his family.”

Thanks to the team approach to saving Murphy’s life, he is now back to looking and feeling like his old self.

“He’s back to doing everything he loves, including going for lots of walks,” says Valerie. “You would never know he went through something so terrible.”

As a result of Murphy’s brutal attack, Valerie was one of many voices urging Granby officials to put a stop to intentional feeding of wildlife, a factor that likely contributed to the bear’s presence in her back yard. The ordinance was passed this month. 

““This is an example of when everything aligned perfectly for an optimal outcome – great emergency and initial wound care, a team approach to Murphy’s wound treatment here at our hospital, and dedicated home care by his family.””