Calif. university to reconstruct 'hero dog's' face
Kabang, the dog saved two girls' lives when she threw herself in front of a motorcycle heading for the children
By Peter Fimrite
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — The heroic exploits and tragic difficulties of a dog in the Philippines named Kabang have touched hearts across the world and grabbed the attention of a team of Northern California veterinarians who are stepping up to help.
The mixed-breed female, which resembles a short-haired German shepherd, became a national hero in December when she reportedly threw herself into the path of a speeding motorcycle just as it was about to hit two young girls crossing a roadway in Zamboanga City.
The dog spared her owner's daughter and niece but sacrificed her snout and upper jaw, which were sheared off when she got tangled in the motorcycle's spokes. The horrific wound leaves Kabang, who by all accounts remains loving and loyal, literally with half a face.
It is a wonder that Kabang survived, veterinarians say, but the gruesome injury puts her in grave danger of developing an infection. At minimum, the gaping wound must be closed, a delicate procedure that is beyond the capability of any veterinarian in the Philippines.
An international donation campaign, spearheaded by a Good Samaritan nurse from New York and fueled by blogs and social networking, managed this week to raise the money necessary to bring the "hero dog" to UC Davis, where surgeons are planning to perform reconstructive surgery.
"She will be a future patient of ours," said Rob Warren, the spokesman at William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis, which is hoping to bring the dog to the renowned facility on Oct. 8. "We take great pride in the services we offer here, so we're really excited. This dog has become quite a celebrity around here."
The tale began nearly two years ago in a swamp near Zamboanga. Anton Lim, the local veterinarian, said Rudy Bunggal, 57, was collecting swamp cabbage during a rainstorm when he ran across an abandoned puppy in a paddy field.
Bunggal, who makes a living mending punctured tires, cannot speak English and could not be reached for comment, but he told Lim and others that he had often eaten dog and initially intended to fatten up the puppy and eventually serve him to the family.
Instead, his daughter, Dina, 11, and niece, Princess, 3, grew close to the dog, according to Lim and several Philippine news accounts. The family named their newfound friend Kabang, meaning "spotty" in their native Visayan language.
Bunggal fed the puppy coffee creamer because milk was too expensive, Lim said. As Kabang grew older, she became more protective of the girls, according to various accounts, and Bunggal kept the dog as a pet despite the family's perpetual food shortage.
The accident just before Christmas last year inspired animal lovers everywhere. Lim, in an e-mail to The Chronicle, confirmed published reports that Kabang came from nowhere and leaped in front of the speeding motorcycle, knocking it away just before it hit the girls. The girls and the motorcyclist were bruised, but otherwise unhurt.
The disfigured dog ran off after being disentangled from the motorcycle. Nobody knows where, but most people figured she had gone somewhere to die. Incredibly, she showed up at the family doorstep two weeks later, creating a national sensation. Local veterinarians offered to euthanize the faceless canine, but Bunggal refused.
"What is important to us is she saved our children and we cannot thank her enough for that," he told the Inquirer News, a national newspaper in the Philippines. "I believe she was God's gift to us."
Lim said the dog was not in pain.
"I was one of those together with Rudy who refused to put Kabang to sleep because she was coping well and not in pain. Except for her features she is OK."
Still, Lim knew, something had to be done about her injuries.
The problem was that the surgery alone is expected to cost between $8,000 and $10,000 and Bunggal, who originally emigrated from Malaysia, barely has enough money to feed his family. Warren said the hospital is not permitted to waive the fee. Transportation, hotel expenses, visas and other costs are expected to bring the bill up to $20,000.
Karen Kenngott, a longtime critical care nurse from Buffalo, N.Y., was moved to act in February after reading about the dog's plight online. She started a website, at careforkabang.com, opened Facebook and Twitter links on the site and began working with animal welfare groups to get Kabang treatment in the United States.
"The dog is a living creature who saved the lives of two little girls and she needs our help," Kenngott said. "It doesn't matter what she looks like. She should get care."
The trip to Davis seemed imminent earlier this year until it was discovered that Kabang was pregnant. The puppies were delivered on April 13 and Kenngott said she had to wait eight weeks until the pups were weaned. In the end, only one of the puppies survived - possibly because Kabang was not producing enough milk.
Meanwhile, Bunggal watched over an animal that he had apparently come to view as a guardian angel.
"He has been fiercely protective of her," Kenngott said. "He would not let her out of his sight."
Then more problems surfaced. The money that a nonprofit animal welfare group had promised did not come through, forcing Kenngott to begin her own fundraising campaign.
She said Friday that she has succeeded in raising $22,800, mostly through small donations of between $5 and $50 from concerned individuals in 18 countries.
Her grassroots campaign has been helped by bloggers and websites, many of which have considerable Bay Area followings, including DogHeirs.com, Dogster .com and Dogtime.com. Kenngott, who is now working as the U.S. coordinator for the Animal Welfare Coalition, managed to broker a deal for free transportation on Philippine Airlines and persuaded the Hallmark Inn, in Davis, to comp some of the cost of a hotel room while the owner is in town.
Prepping for operation
She is now working on obtaining a visa for Bunggal, who insists on staying by his dog's side.
"There has never been any other instance in my life where I felt so compelled to help an animal," Kenngott said. "Compassion has no boundaries."
Kabang was taken to Manila this week in preparation for the overseas flight to Davis, where staff veterinarians Boaz Arzi and Frank Verstraete are prepping for the operation. Although great strides have been made recently in facial reconstruction surgery, Warren said the best hope for Kabang is that enough function can be restored in her face that she can fulfill her life's mission as a family pet. The miracle, her many fans say, has already occurred.
"You kind of wonder if divine intervention hasn't got a hand in there somewhere," Kenngott said. "The irony is that Kabang has become an underdog by virtue of her heroism. We owe her reciprocation."
'Hero dog' will get surgery in Davis
For more information about Kabang and the fundraising campaign to bring the hero dog of the Philippines to UC Davis for reconstructive surgery, go to careforkabang.com.
Republished with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle
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