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Dog makes comeback with veterinary workers' TLC
Mix a little selfless compassion for a needy dog and its strong will to live and what have you got? A four-legged friend for life.

Well, yes and no. Wendy "Winnie" Johnson does have a friend for life in Lieutenant Dan, but he only has two legs. But that's the story: A dog that survived the odds, thanks to intervention by Johnston, who fortunately for Lieutenant Dan - named so after the character in the movie Forrest Gump - works at Ceres Veterinary Hospital.

Johnston stumbled across the canine cutie - which appears to be a chihuahua and dacschund mix - while at a recent church event on Father's Day. A girl brought the puppy to the Vacation Bible School in heart-wrenching condition. Johnston convinced the girl to hand over the dog - which was badly dehydrated because it was born without front legs and could not move around and the girl was not properly feeding it or giving it water - so that it could be nursed back to health. Johnson gave the puppy Karo syrup and water until its health returned. Its condition was so pitiful that it could cry out in pain when touched.

"We were to have it euthanized simply because it was in so much pain," said Johnston.

Johnston and coworker Kelly Wilson took the dog on as a rescue project.

"We simply gave it food and water and it took off," said Johnston.

Dr. Matthew Bettencourt at Ceres Veterinary Clinic also helped, giving fluids to the deformed dog.

"He has a very good temperament," said Dr. Bettencourt. "He doesn't get frustrated and is the friendliest dog. He has the best personality. He has a personality to match his disability. It's hard to describe. His back legs have grown and are getting stronger. He's an amazing dog."

Winnie, who takes the estimated 18-week-old dog to work with her every day, has rescued five dogs but find Lt. Dan the greatest challenge.

"He's very demanding. He think he's a normal dog. I have two other chihuahuas and he keeps up."

When he's determined to be held or when a treat is dangled over his head, Lt. Dan can be coaxed into getting up on his hind legs to stand up.

The disability doesn't hamper the desire to frolick with the other dogs and play fight.

"He likes to back talk when you tell him no."

While Winnie takes home Lt. Dan every night, the dog has become a sort of office pet. The staff tried fitting him with a three-wheeled cart but he quickly outgrew it and besides he found more pleasure in chewing on the front wheel than using it to walk. Bettencourt said once the bones are finished growing, a thermal plastic prosthetic may be crafted to attached to the front of Lt. Dan's body to allow free mobility. The dog is scheduled to see a prosthetist today.

Bettencourt said it's a rarity for dogs to be born minus limbs but noted most people would have put him down. But Lt. Dan has a purpose, the staff feels.

Johnston has inquired about using Lt. Dan in Madera Children's Hospital's therapy dog program.

"I would love to get him involved in this 'spot' program to show these kids through his disabilities and adverserties that he's a normal dog. But because he's a puppy and chewing we can't have him chewing on little patients right now."

There's also talk of finding him a permanent home. Bettencourt said there's talk of eventually giving the pet to a "very good home," particularly an older person who has the time to care for it and accommodate its special needs.

"He can get to his food and water," said Johnston. "He just needs someone to put the bowl in front of him."

Lt. Dan also needs to be carried to a place where he can do his business without causing a mess on himself.