College clinicians’ act of extraordinary compassion saves imperiled chihuahua

Mabel is a feisty, rambunctious 16-year old Chihuahua who might draw blood when she’s handled — if it weren’t for her lack of bottom jaw and teeth. Recently, a late-night emergency had Mabel close to death and her owners in despair — until Dr. Jared Baum from 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, Chris and Mariesa Hughes. “Thank you will never be enough,” said Mariesa Hughes. “I hadn’t asked for a miracle, but I had received one.”

Dr. Baum holding Mabel
Dr. Jared Baum holds Mabel

Aside from her lack of biting-abilities, Mabel also suffers from breathing troubles, and requires lots of care from Hughes and her husband Chris, who run the Mr. Mo Project, a senior dog rescue organization run from their home out of Clifton Park, New York. The Hughes had taken Mabel to CUHA to be treated by Baum, a small animal surgery resident; Dr. Galina Hayes, assistant professor of small animal surgery; and Dominick Valenzano, D.V.M. ’15, a surgical resident who performed a tracheostomy to place a cannula, or 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, the little dog began having troubles again. One fateful Saturday night, Mabel was struggling particularly hard to breathe. The Hughes called Baum, who advised they bring Mabel to Cornell for a different cannula.

Chris packed Mabel up into the car to begin the three-hour drive to Cornell. Roughly halfway through their journey, Mabel lost the ability to breathe completely and began to suffocate, her tongue turning purple. Chris pulled to the side of the highway, and with Mariesa on the phone coaching him, proceeded to give mouth-to-trach resuscitation and light chest compressions to revive Mabel just enough to get her to the closest local veterinary hospital.

There, they put Mabel in oxygen, but could do nothing else for her but to remove the problematic cannula. 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, 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,” said Mariesa. “For a mother, whether of a dog or a human, that reality is earth-shattering.”

“Dr. Baum, by taking that giant leap of faith, you restored our own faith in humans,” said Mariesa at the ceremony. “You’ve created a path of compassion that others will walk down.”

Little did the Hughes know Baum and Hayes had made the unexpected choice to grab a temporary tracheostomy, an oxygen kennel and a tank of oxygen, starting the one-and-a-half-hour drive at 10 p.m. to get to Mabel. This extraordinary act of compassion was beyond the clinicians’ expected duties. “Given what the Hughes do every day for these dogs they care for, I just felt like I needed to do that,” said Baum.

“When Dr. Baum said he was on his way I dropped to my knees in tears,” said Chris. “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 she was placed into oxygen and had a peaceful night.

The next morning, Baum and Hayes placed a new, differently-shaped cannula that accommodated Mabel’s specific trachea issues. There was no telling how the tiny, fragile canine would survive another surgery — yet Mabel recovered well — returning to her feisty self and breathing easy once again.

“Because one person believed so strongly that what he was doing was the right thing, he changed the course of the events of her life,” said Mariesa of Baum.

“There is nothing that we can say to truly show how grateful we are for the actions of Dr. Hayes and Dr. Baum,” says Chris. “There is the saying – going above and beyond – and that is not even close to what these two did.”

To signify their thanks, the Hughes created the Dr. Baum Compassion Award, a gift of $2,500 that can be awarded to anyone at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals who exhibits exemplary compassion. The first award was given to Baum himself this summer at the college’s staff service award celebration, where Chris, Mariesa and Mabel presented him with the gift. “Dr. Baum, by taking that giant leap of faith, you restored our own faith in humans,” said Mariesa at the ceremony. “You’ve created a path of compassion that others will walk down.”

By Lauren Cahoon Roberts