Zara, the seriously injured pit bull puppy that needed R30 000 for a charter flight to undergo lifesaving surgery, will be on the operating table today thanks to SAA Cargo.
After The Herald highlighted the plight of the 10-week-old East London puppy, SAA Cargo East London manager Leslie Human jumped at the chance to help – free of charge.
“We often have animals on board. We have transported everything from cheetahs to penguins, so it was not a stretch to have the dog on our plane at all,” Human said.
Chris and Gaelyn Cokayne’s puppy, adopted from Underdogs Rehabilitation Centre, sustained spinal injuries in a freak accident while playing with their bigger dog, Zeus, on January 9, less than a week after arriving at the Cokayne home.
The couple was told that if her condition deteriorated she would need to be flown from East London to Johannesburg to undergo emergency surgery at Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital in Pretoria .
At the time, Gaelyn jokingly remarked that it would be ideal if they had a plane on standby for when the need arose. Her unintentional wish came true in the form of SAA Cargo, a division of South African Airways that focuses on airfreight.
An animal lover himself, with eight rescued pets at his home, Human made a point of contacting the Cokaynes and getting approval for the trip as soon as possible.
On Thursday, Zara’s scans showed significant damage to her vertebrae and spinal cord.
“Our vet, Michaela Randall, and the specialists in Pretoria chatted and agreed the only people to treat her were at Onderstepoort.”
That evening, Gaelyn and Zara were on their way to Johannesburg on the cargo plane. “It was a bit of a mad rush but thanks to the amazing generosity of Leslie Human, Captain Phil Parsons and First Officer Marcus Hanekom from SAA Cargo, we were able to fly Zara up.
“I can’t tell you how many happy tears I’ve shed,” she said.
On Saturday, the puppy was walking although very unstable and had to be left at the clinic for the operation today and for rehabilitation.
The surgery – which has been dubbed “Zero or Hero” by the surgeon – is very risky and involves cutting through the dog’s neck to remove the broken pieces of bone pushing on her spinal cord.
Bone from her hip will then be used to make new discs.
If the surgery is successful, she will have seven to 10 days of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.
“It’s been the most wonderful relief knowing we could get her [there] for treatment. Although the costs are going to be exorbitant, knowing we were able to avoid the R30 000 flight costs means we are in a slightly better position to pay the bills,” Gaelyn said.
– Eleanor Douglas-Meyers