LINCOLN, N.D. — In just half a year, Zeus has gone from being a starving, sick and wounded dog on the verge of dying in the wilderness to finding a forever home, regaining his health and beating out 1,111 other dogs to win a national contest that guarantees him a full belly for a year.
A run-in with a porcupine last fall on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation left the mixed-breed with hundreds of quills embedded in his body, including one that punctured his left eye and one that punctured a saliva gland. He also was underweight and had severe mange when the Furry Friends Rockin' Rescue nonprofit shelter in Bismarck took him in last August.
"I fell in love with him. He was in really, really rough shape," said Fran Miller, who with her husband, John, has fostered dozens of animals for the shelter in the past four years. "I made arrangements to take him to the vet the next day. I wasn't too sure that we were going to be bringing him home."
The veterinarian estimated that Zeus had been living with the quills for about two weeks, which had led to life-threatening infection in his face. The dog eventually ended up at the University of Minnesota Veterinary School, where he spent three days and underwent 5 ½ hours of surgery. The eye and salivary gland were removed. Surgeons made four incisions in his face that they closed with more than 150 stitches. He was discharged on Thanksgiving Day.
The medical bills reached $7,500, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
"The only reason we did it was he's a young dog, and we knew the outcome on the other end of all this -- he would have a better life," Miller said. "That's the reason we put the money into it we did."
The shelter was able to raise about $5,000 in donations despite the difficulties of fundraising during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We had some very gracious people in the community who stepped up," Miller said.
She and her husband fostered Zeus, fell in love with him and adopted him. He's now about 1½ years old and has doubled his weight from last August. He's a gentle dog, never biting or jumping, and has just one simple need.
"He wants you to hold his paw," Fran Miller said. "When we first got him back from the vet, we knew he hurt so bad, I didn't want to touch him. I would just sit with him in the garage or the house and hold his paw and tell him he's OK. So now that's what he wants you to do, is hold his paw."
Miller decided to enter Zeus in the Fido Foster "Lucky Dog" National Photo Contest sponsored by Greater Good Charities and Halo pet food. His story of perseverance and survival earned him the grand prize -- a $5,000 grant and 5,000 pet meals for the shelter, a year's supply of dog food for him, a MyPetCandle candle with his likeness on it and free walks through the Wag walking service.
"I entered it not really expecting too much, but just to get the rescue's name out there," Miller said.
But then a judging panel named Zeus one of 25 finalists for a public vote, and "We did enough (social media) sharing and enough word of mouth, and we pulled it off," Miller said. "Every one of those dogs deserved to win."
The contest "is a time to not only celebrate amazing dogs that overcame adversity but to give back to the foster volunteers, adopters and animal welfare organizations that saved them," Greater Good Charities CEO Liz Baker said in a statement.
Though Zeus is recovered from his ordeal, he still has quills embedded in his body. Miller recently pulled one from his nose, and she believes another is working its way out.
"He's starting to sneeze again, and when he's starting to sneeze I know there's another quill working its way out," she said. "We may be dealing with quills for quite a while."
But Zeus is now in a position to live out his 13-14 years of life expectancy -- something Miller fully expects him to do.
"The next step is to get him outside, so he knows the great outdoors is a pretty great place to be -- on a leash," she said.