OGDEN — Marc Payet could only hope for a medical and financial miracle as he walked his beloved dogs, pulling Willie in a wagon as Shorti trotted along to the side.
Willie, a three-legged German shepherd mix, had recently broken his right front leg, the only leg on that side of his body.
The day before Thanksgiving, Willie received a complex surgery from orthopedic veterinarian Dale Smith, of Salt Lake City. Now Payet, a devoted dog-lover, is hoping to raise funds to pay back the doctor.
“It was a challenging fracture,” Smith said. “Willie was a three-legged dog to begin with, and was going to need to use the leg almost immediately. Marc admitted he had no money to pay for the difficult surgery, and my initial response was I wasn’t going to be able to help him. But Marc just kept talking about his dog and his life, and how much passion he had for his dogs.
“As I listened to Marc, there was just something so genuine about him and his love for his dogs. It really gave me pause,” Smith continued.
Payet, a New Yorker who moved west two years ago, has a frenetic enthusiasm that makes it hard for people to turn away.
“People told me I should euthanize Willie,” Payet, 38, said early last week. “Willie doesn’t deserve to die. He’s got a quality life ahead of him. He just needs a break. We all need a break sometimes.”
Payet is a former New York animal control officer who traveled west with his rescue dogs, Mira, a husky mix, and her offspring, Snowbear and Blueberry. Snowbear died on the journey, and Mira died in spring 2011.
Payet said he wasn’t looking to add to his pack last fall when he saw the flier for Willie at Pack ’N Pounce, an Ogden thrift store that raises funds to help animals in need. But the dog-lover couldn’t look away because Willie, about 7, was missing a rear leg and was a mirror image of Blueberry, who lost a leg in an accident. Payet knew three-legged dogs don’t have an easy life.
So Payet decided to drive by the address on the flier. Willie, tied in the front yard, was malnourished, and had bad teeth and signs of possible abuse. Payet never got an answer about how the dog lost his leg.
“The people told me they were moving, and they planned to ditch on the rent and leave the dog tied on the property until the shelter came,” said Payet. “Willie was skinny and disoriented, and his teeth were black. I took him home.”
Payet gave Willie knuckle bones to chew, which helped clean the dog’s teeth. Regular meals brought Willie’s weight to a healthy level, and walks around Ogden’s 20th Street Pond helped build up Willie’s muscles. The dog still struggled to walk on three legs.
Life for Payet’s pack was good until Blueberry’s health declined from cancer, and she “went home,” as Payet prefers to say, on Oct. 30 this year.
“I was sitting in my yard crying the next day, when I heard a thump,” Payet said. “Willie had never learned to walk correctly on three legs. He lost his balance, and his leg had broken.”
Payet used his rent money to pay a vet, who operated to fix Willie’s front right leg, which broke below the elbow. The bishop at a local church helped Payet make the rent, but a week later, Willie’s leg broke again, just below the first repair. The local vet referred Payet to Smith, a specialist.
“Willie was down to two legs, which is not enough,” Payet said. “I decided I would try to raise the money for surgery through donations. There must be other dog-lovers out there who would want to help if they knew, right?”
During Blueberry’s final days, Payet had used a wagon to include her on the daily pack walks, so he used the same wagon to take Willie on walks with Shorti. Willie laid on a pillow in the wagon, licking the hand of any interested stranger who came within licking distance.
“He wants to get up and go so bad,” Payet said last Tuesday. “You can see it in his eyes. He’s not ready to be done.”
Kent Wolverton, of Ogden, met Payet and his pack at the 20th Street Pond.
“He’s got more patience than Job, caring for that dog the way he does,” Wolverton said of Payet. “In his eyes, that dog is his baby.”
Payet said he and the dogs also befriended a homeless family as they walked.
“The family fell in love with Willie and his story,” Payet said. “They wanted to give their last $5 to help get Willie’s leg fixed.”
Payet is paying all the money he can spare from his part-time job, and modest donations have been made by two animal rescue groups, Red Rover, of California, and CAWS (Community Animal Welfare Society), in Clearfield. The remaining bill is $2,500. Anyone who would care to donate money to help pay Willie’s bill at Smith’s Veterinary Orthopedic Service can send a check to CAWS, P.O. Box 160554, Clearfield, UT 84016. Please specify that the donation is to help Willie.
One of Payet’s friends has offered to help design Willie a wheeled brace like the costly models available through catalogs for handicapped pets.
Smith surprised Payet late last Tuesday, offering to do the surgery Wednesday, even with payment up in the air.
“It was a Thanksgiving miracle,” Payet said, adding Friday that Willie was home, and was eating and in good spirits.
Smith used two different strengthening systems to stabilize Willie’s leg, including one with a system of external screws that will be removed as the dog recovers.
“I’m still hesitant to be overly confident,” Smith said Friday. “I know Marc takes exceptional care of his dogs. Willie is a very friendly dog, and Shorti, the westie who is Willie’s companion, is also really sweet.
“If you sit and listen to Marc talk, there is something very special about him that not everybody’s got. He has a passion for his animals that won my heart over. Marc seems to be struggling in life, and he deserves something good.”
Payet admits he sometimes feels more at ease with dogs than with people.
“People here are laid back,” he said. “I’m pushy. But it helps me. Willie is worth fighting for. It could be a New York thing. We take challenges.”