It’s not every day that a stray dog gets flown from Iran to the United States to have a chance at adoption and to receive eye-saving surgery at VCA Eye Clinic for Animals in San Diego, California.
But the friendly stray Omid got lucky, thanks to one supporter of international animal rescues, a San Diego animal shelter, and a VCA team committed to the social responsibility that comes with veterinary medicine to help pets and people around the planet.
From Iranian-American to Animal Rescue Worker to VCA Ophthalmologist
The tale starts with Moloud Rabieyousefi in San Diego. Moloud has spent years supporting organizations in Iran that care for stray animals, which is how she heard about Omid.
Omid wasn’t just any stray dog; the puppy was the victim of animal abuse. A local volunteer found Omid on the streets after someone had splashed the left side of her face with acid, scarring her and burning away most of the eyelid on her left eye.
For six months, that volunteer in Iran cared for Omid, cleaning and monitoring the dog’s injury. But it appeared Omid had lost the use of her left eyelid. That meant it would be hard for her to keep the eye lubricated and healthy over time.
Moloud knew that Omid needed better care, which she might only get it in the United States. However, it’s not easy to move a dog here from Iran, so she had to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a lot of health certification hurdles. Since Iran doesn’t have easy access to rabies tests, Moloud arranged for a sample of Omid’s blood to be sent to a lab in Germany. Finally, Omid needed someone to fly with her from Iran to San Diego.
It took a full year to arrange all this, according to Monica Petruzzelli, who handles public relations for a local shelter that Moloud supports—Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego.
“When Omid finally got to us in March, she was 14 months old,” Monica says. “She was stable, and we all hoped we could find her a forever home.”
Animal Center staffers kept Omid’s eye moist with daily medication, but without that, Omid’s eye would be lost. Monica was so moved by Omid’s journey that she filmed and showed a short video about the young dog to an auditorium of more than 180 Center staffers and volunteers.
That’s when Omid got lucky again: In the crowd was Brittanie DeWitt, a registered veterinary technician lead for the Center. Brittanie previously worked at another hospital in town—coincidentally, the eye-focused VCA Eye Clinic for Animals.
Emails and calls back and forth between the Center and VCA got Omid in for surgery after just a few days.
“VCA was so amazing,” Monica says. “They have a busy schedule, and they made a point to get her in as quickly as possible for an initial assessment.”
Dr. Todd Strubbe, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the hospital, determined that the eye was still functioning, but confirmed that everyone had been right to worry. Dr. Strubbe explained that, without surgery, there was no way Omid would keep the eye in the long term.
Monica remembers hearing that bad news, but also the good news.
“Dr. Strubbe said, ‘We can build her a new eyelid,’” she says. “I cried.”
New Surgery to Keep an Old Eye
Omid had survived amazingly well in the months after the initial acid attack, but healing brought scars, and that scarring had damaged Omid’s left eyelid.
“The eye was left permanently wide open,” Dr. Strubbe says. Luckily, even with the damage, Omid’s tear ducts were still providing moisture to coat and protect the eye. But it just wasn’t enough with the eye fully open all the time.
Dr. Strubbe, with further examination, figured out that the muscles controlling the eyelid were paralyzed, so Omid wouldn’t ever be able to open and close it.
No problem, though. Dr. Strubbe had learned a technique that would allow him to surgically snip away the places where the skin was “stuck” in the top and bottom eyelid. That would allow the eyelid to partly cover the eye without completely closing. A successful procedure would preserve Omid’s vision out of her left eye and protect it in the long term.
For this delicate procedure, Dr. Strubbe uses careful scalpel cuts to make V-shaped incisions in the skin near the upper and lower eyelids. He then loosens the skin from the underlying tissue so the eyelids can be moved. Next, Dr. Strubbe closes the incisions in a “Y” shape, which pushes the paralyzed eyelids back to a partially open position.
Omid’s luck held. The procedure went off without a hitch, and she went home with animal rescue volunteers the same day.
“She’s a Sweetheart”
Dr. Strubbe saw Omid two-and-half weeks after the initial procedure and said she’s doing great.
“She’s a sweetheart and just wants to play with us,” he says. “This is a pretty rare surgery for us to need to do, and she was super cooperative before and after with examining and treatments.”
Now recovering nicely, Omid is waiting for just the right family to adopt her. Because of her experiences on the streets of Iran, she’s hesitant around other dogs and sometimes men, so the Helen Woodward Animal Center team is asking for applications and looking for just the right family that can be patient and spend lots of time with the friendly but nervous young dog.
“We’re asking only for applicants within a four-hour driving distance, so she can stay close to those who know her medical and behavioral history,” Monica says.
The left side of Omid’s face is somewhat scarred, but fur has grown back, and her eye is working great.
“She came out of that surgery a smiling girl,” Monica says. “She has an excellent temperament. We do talk a lot about her eyes, but she will be remembered for her radiant smile.”
VCA is proud to partner with rescue organizations across the country, ensuring all animals get the care they need. To learn more about some of VCA’s partnerships and how you can help, please visit the VCA Charities website.