Yeager the miracle dog: CSU veterinary team gives beloved lab another chance at life

They say that cats have nine lives, but a dog named Yeager has embraced that proverb for himself and his canine pals.

Yeager, a three-year-old American Pointing Labrador from Casper, Wyoming, has survived a bite from a rattlesnake and an encounter with a porcupine. He also once got a stick in the eye. But when he was hit by a car last July 4, his family thought his “nine lives” might be up.

Lex Dyer, Yeager’s owner, said immediately following the accident, he thought his beloved dog was dead. The animal’s face was split into two pieces, and he wasn’t breathing.

Yeager quickly regained consciousness, and Dyer and his family rushed him to Altitude Veterinary Hospital in Casper. There, Dr. Angela Bell stabilized the dog’s condition. She closed the wounds on his face with medical staples, and gave him fluids and pain medication.

Bell told the family that Yeager had lost his left eye due to the impact. “Your best bet is to take him” to Colorado State University, given the extent of his injuries, she said.

Three hours to Fort Collins

Dyer and his girlfriend, Katie Maloney, drove to Fort Collins with their dog the next morning. They were met by Dr. Rachel Acciacca, a resident with the Department of Emergency and Critical Care at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU.

“Yeager was not able to walk or use his hind legs well,” she said. But after conducting a CT scan, Acciacca and her team determined that he did not have any spinal fractures.

“He had the initial trauma and spinal cord bruising,” she said. Later, throughout the day, Yeager started walking, which was encouraging news for the family and clinicians.

Yeager gets a kiss from his sister
Yeager is “110 percent part of the family,” said Lex Dyer. Photo: Xavier Hadley/CSU Photography

Dyer, who said that Yeager is “110 percent part of the family,” describes himself as a ranch kid. He is also a former firefighter and emergency medical technician.

“I grew up being around animals, and having to put animals down,” he said. “That’s just part of life. But when it comes to dogs, “I’m the biggest softie in the world,” he added.

So saying “goodbye” to Yeager was not something the family would ever consider lightly.

It takes a village to heal Yeager

Acciacca said the extent of Yeager’s injuries was rare, an opinion echoed by Dr. Margie Smith, a resident in the Department of Dentistry and Oral Surgery, and Dr. Lauren Hamil, a resident in the Department of Small Animal Surgery. Residents are veterinarians who have completed a one-year internship and are pursuing advanced training in a specialty field.

Yeager had sustained multiple fractures in his jaw and on his face, said Smith, who served as the primary clinician on the case. He needed a blood transfusion and his left eye was completely ruptured. In addition, the inside of the roof of his mouth was split apart and no longer held together.

“He also had multiple crushed tiny bone fragments in his jawbone and nose, as well as some fractured teeth, she added.

The next day, Smith and Hamil operated on Yeager for nearly eight hours. Surgery for a typical fracture repair usually takes between two to four hours.

Dr. Sami Pederson, resident in the Department of Ophthalmology, worked on the dog for an additional hour, removing his ruptured eye and repairing lacerations on his upper eyelid, eyebrows and forehead.

Remarkable recovery

Pederson described the dog’s recovery as “amazing.” He went home with his family two days after the extensive surgery at CSU.

“It’s nice to have such a collaborative outcome with so many other services and residents,” she said. “I feel very proud that the primary people on his case are my fellow residents,” she added.

CSU faculty were involved with Yeager’s case as well; residents consulted with them throughout Yeager’s stay at the hospital, and ran decisions by them before moving forward.

Hamil said that this was essential, and it speaks to the expertise of veterinarians at the university. “Thankfully, we have faculty whether it be in dentistry, surgery or critical care that we can lean on and learn from,” she said.

During a follow-up visit to the hospital this week, Smith and Hamil checked on how Yeager’s nasal passages and bones are healing. Similar to a previous visit post-surgery, the high-energy dog’s tail wagged nonstop. Smith described him as “bouncing off the walls” and “happy as a clam,” as he greeted nurses, staffers and doctors who were involved in his case.

“The biggest thing that we discussed prior to surgery and among our goals was to ensure that Yeager got back to a good quality of life,” said Hamil. “He’s a pet and he’s a hunting dog. He’s not quite hunting yet, but as far as being a pet and being happy and healthy, we’ve achieved those goals.”

What’s a little snoring?

“As far as his healing, I couldn’t be happier,” said Smith. The only side effect from his traumatic injuries appeared to be… some snoring at night. “To have a dog that lost one eye and a little bit of mandible and just snores, compared to what he looked like coming in, it’s pretty awesome,” she said.

Dyer said that he and his family can’t say enough about the clinicians, veterinary technicians, students and staff at the veterinary teaching hospital. “Thank you so much for what everybody did,” he told Dr. Smith.

“I don’t want to say it’s a miracle but what the team did down here, with the bedside manner, the communication and coordination, it is outstanding that they were able to get it all done in one shot,” Dyer said of the lengthy surgery.

“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said before loading a happy but tired Yeager and the kids in the car for the trip back home to Casper.