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First Class Treatment For Hurt Dog Flying To Sacramento For Surgery

January 2, 2013 - A German shepherd mix named Thor is smiling today, and that is a very big deal since it's the first time he's been able to open his mouth in at least six months. 

Thor, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska, won the hearts of many Alaska Airlines employees and scores of other fans after he traveled last week on an a flight from Fairbanks to Sacramento, Calif., for some much-needed oral surgery. 

Thor, who has an avid Facebook following with 18,000 "likes" through the page of the Arctic German Shepherd Rescue's group, underwent surgery for a locked jaw on Friday at a veterinary hospital in Sacramento.

Just one day after the surgery, his caretakers posted photos of Thor with an apparent grin on his face, eating from a dog dish and carrying a tennis ball, even while a surgical scar crossed his muzzle. 


Those basic dog activities and panting and licking had not been possible before. The condition was probably caused by severe abuse, according to the veterinarian who performed the surgery. The vet also removed several abscessed teeth. 

Thor's path to salvation started when Teresa Downing, his foster mom, saw an ad on Craigslist about a month ago stating Thor and his sister would be left at the local pound if no one came to get them ASAP in Wasilla, Alaska. Downing drove 600 miles to pick up the siblings. Thor was starving at only 46 pounds even though he is a one-year-old full-grown shepherd. Downing believes he survived by pushing bits of food into his mouth with his paw. She has since nursed him to a healthy 76 pounds. 

With the help of Carol Falcetta, the director of the Arctic German Shepherd Rescue group, Downing searched for a surgeon who could help Thor and found Dr. Robert Runyan of the VCA Animal Hospital in Rancho Cordova. Runyan had been in the local news for saving the life of Bodie, a Sacramento K9 officer, who was shot in the jaw and leg while on duty earlier this year. 

Runyan agreed to perform the surgery at a fraction of the normal cost if the group could get Thor to Sacramento. The group raised $5,500 for his travel and surgery expenses through Facebook.



Falcetta then contacted Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines' regional vice president for the state of Alaska, to see if the airline could help. After a Fairbanks veterinarian advised it would be dangerous for Thor to fly in the cargo hold, Romano and Tim Thompson, manager of public affairs in Alaska, waived the normal ban on large, non-service dogs in the cabin for the two-leg flight to Sacramento. They also waived the normal pet fees. 

Once the needs were communicated, Fairbanks employees and flight crews jumped into action with service and compassion to make everything go smoothly, Romano said. "Johnny Carrillo (customer service agent) is the guy who checked in Thor and Teresa in Fairbanks and he was wonderful! I mean he was really wonderful," Falcetta wrote. 

"I think Thor touched a lot of lives," Romano said. "Once we made the decision on how best to accommodate Thor, every employee who came in contact with him or helped with arrangements treated him and his foster mom with the best of care. Truly Alaska Spirit at work. This story has touched people all over the country and from Spain to South Africa. The work being done by Carol Falcetta and the Arctic German Shepherd Rescue is amazing." 

Upon landing in Seattle, Downing said the lightly sedated puppy behaved well and slept through most of the flight, except when the food cart went by. He was happy and playful at the airport, and patiently allowed young children to approach and pet him. 

As happy as he seemed with his locked jaw, the condition would have made life difficult for Thor, Falcetta said. "Thor is a survivor, but he could not continue his way of life much longer," she said. "Thank you to everyone who has helped him get where he is today!" 

Thor's recovery is going so well that Downing and Thor are expected to fly back to Fairbanks on Thursday, Jan.3 again in the cabin because of his surgical sutures, Romano said. They will have a four hour layover in Seattle. Once he has fully recovered from his surgery, he will be available for adoption, unless Downing decides she can't let him go. With a smile like that, there's likely to be a long list of potential loving owners.
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