Mabel is a feisty 16-year-old Chihuahua whose bark is literally worse than her bite: She has no bottom jaw or teeth.
Mabel also has difficulty breathing due to oral nerve disfunction and an enlarged tongue, and requires lots of care from her owners, Chris and Mariesa Hughes. The couple runs the Mr. Mo Project, a senior dog rescue organization, out of their home in Clifton Park, New York, 20 miles north of Albany.
Recently, a late-night emergency had Mabel close to death and her owners in despair – until Dr. Jared Baum from the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) went above and beyond to keep the tiny, toothless hound alive and thriving.
Baum’s caring act has now led to creation of the Dr. Baum Compassion Award, created by Mabel’s owners and to be given annually.
“Thank you will never be enough,” Mariesa Hughes said. “I hadn’t asked for a miracle, but I had received one.”
In 2016, the Hugheses brought Mabel to CUHA to be treated by Baum, a small-animal surgery resident; Dr. Galina Hayes, assistant professor of small animal surgery; and Dr. Dominick Valenzano, D.V.M. ’15, a surgical resident who placed a cannula (breathing tube) in Mabel’s neck to help her breathe.
While this tracheostomy worked well for Mabel for almost three years, in June of this year she began having troubles again. One night, when Mabel was struggling particularly hard to breathe, the Hugheses called Baum, who advised they bring Mabel to Cornell.
Chris put Mabel in the car for the three-hour drive to Ithaca, but roughly halfway through the trip, Mabel stopped breathing, her tongue turning purple. Chris pulled to the side of the highway and, with Mariesa on the phone coaching him, administered mouth-to-trach resuscitation and light chest compressions. He revived Mabel just enough to get her to the closest veterinary hospital.
Clinicians there put Mabel on oxygen, but could do nothing else for her but to remove the problematic cannula. Mabel was unable to breathe outside of the oxygen incubator, and with no new cannula available to stabilize her airway, Mabel and Chris were stuck.
“I forced myself to come to terms with the fact,” Mariesa Hughes said, “that not only would she not be coming home, but that the last time I saw her was in fact the last time I would ever see her. For a mother, whether of a dog or a human, that reality is earth-shattering.”
Little did the Hugheses know that Baum and Hayes had decided to grab a temporary tracheostomy, an oxygen kennel and a tank of oxygen, and drive 90 minutes – at 10 p.m. – to get to Mabel. This extraordinary act of compassion was beyond the clinicians’ expected duties.
“Given what the Hugheses do every day for these dogs they care for, I just felt like I needed to do that,” Baum said.
“When Dr. Baum said he was on his way, I dropped to my knees in tears,” Chris Hughes said. “We never asked them to do this, we never expected them to, and at 10 p.m. on Saturday … it was just beyond anything we could have asked for.”
When Baum and Hayes arrived, they placed the temporary tracheostomy and got Mabel in the oxygen kennel. She rode all the way to Cornell, relaxing comfortably on Baum’s lap. Once at Cornell, Mabel was placed in an oxygen cage and had a peaceful night.
The next morning, Baum and Hayes inserted a differently shaped cannula that accommodated Mabel’s specific trachea issues. There was no telling how the fragile canine would survive another surgery, but Mabel recovered well, returning to her feisty self.
“Because one person (Baum) believed so strongly that what he was doing was the right thing, he changed the course of the events of [Mabel’s] life,” Mariesa Hughes said.
“There is nothing that we can say to truly show how grateful we are for the actions of Dr. Hayes and Dr. Baum,” Chris Hughes said. “There is the saying, ‘going above and beyond’ – and that is not even close to what these two did.”
To signify their thanks, the Hugheses created the Dr. Baum Compassion Award, a gift of $2,500 that can be awarded to anyone at CUHA who exhibits exemplary compassion.
The first award was given to Baum himself – presented by Chris, Mariesa and Mabel – this past summer at the college’s staff service award celebration.
“Dr. Baum, by taking that giant leap of faith, you restored our own faith in humans,” Mariesa at the ceremony. “You’ve created a path of compassion that others will walk down.”
Lauren Cahoon Roberts is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.