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A New Leash on Life: Hibbie Learns to Walk Again

By: ALex Lieber

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With a slightly off-center gait, Hibbie runs up to greet a woman who has just entered the Aventura Animal Hospital, in Aventura, Florida. The 4½-year-old Pomeranian (or Pomeranian mix – no one is quite sure) is always there to welcome two- and four-legged visitors.

"He's our greeter," said Adele Karp, the hospital's manager and de facto mother to Hibbie. Indeed, the extroverted little dog instantly breaks the ice with his disarming friendliness, and a buzz of conversation – with Hibbie as the subject – inevitably follows among the hospital's staff and clients. He's the star of Aventura Animal Hospital and knows it.

Hibbie glows with the joy of a creature that knows he was given a new leash on life. He was brought in covered with blood, with his rear legs crushed, more than a year ago. Hibbie had been hit by a car. The young man who accidentally hit him was grief-stricken; he gathered Hibbie up and brought him immediately to the hospital.

The prognosis was not good. The dog suffered multiple fractures in the tibia and the pelvis. In other words, both rear legs had been crushed. He had already gone into shock from the loss of blood, and one of his front legs suffered a fracture as well.

Veterinarians on duty discussed whether they should euthanize him. In spite of the trauma, Hibbie was not crying or complaining. Even if his life was saved, they wondered whether the dog – they didn't know his real name or the name of the original owner – would ever walk again.

But Dr. Jon Rappaport, founder of the Aventura Animal Hospital, decided to make the attempt. After stabilizing the dog, Rappaport brought in a veterinary orthopedic surgeon to do what he could for Hibbie's legs.

The operations were party paid for by the hospital and by the Brandy Fund, a charity set up by Annmarie and Elliot Rosenzeig, pet lovers who were grateful for the help provided to their Lhasa apso. The fund helps people pay for necessary medical procedures if they are unable to pay entirely themselves.

Two separate operations were performed, and metal splints and pins were inserted in the injured legs. Afterwards, the staff could only wait as the dog recuperated in a special cage the hospital set up for him. Dogs must usually cage-rest for a minimum of 3 weeks while the bones knit themselves together. When they can, they may go for very short walks of a few steps until their legs gain strength.

Hibbie had to stay immobile for 3 months. The wait must have been interminable for him, because the Pomeranian is typically very animated, a sort of canine perpetual motion machine. "He wanted to walk right away," she said.

In the meantime, the dog received a new moniker: the initials HBC, which stood for "Hit By Car." This was turned into the name Hibbick, which was shortened to Hibbie. And the name stuck.

Adele had fallen for the little dog almost immediately. He bore his injury and operations without complaint, and exhibited a cheerfulness that lit up the hospital. When he was able, Adele took Hibbie on short walks, which grew in length as Hibbie gained strength. His legs will never fully recover (they are not straight, which gives him his distinctive sidewise gait) and are quite delicate now, but he has made remarkable progress.

When he was well enough, the hospital tried to adopt him out. The first person owned a large dog that was decidedly unfriendly; Hibbie was brought back. Another person tried to adopt him, but again Hibbie did not get along with the resident dog.

Perhaps it was fate, but more likely Hibbie wanted to go home. And that meant Adele, who wept each time Hibbie left the hospital. After his second return, she put her foot down: Hibbie can only go to someone who is mature, who lives in a place with no stairs, doesn't have a dog now, and can provide all the unconditional love and warmth that Hibbie deserves.

As it so happened, "that person was me," she said. Today, Hibbie is the unquestioned darling of the hospital. Besides being a consummate public relations manager, Hibbie is also a tour guide. He will take you from room to room, including his own, which is part of Adele's office, showing off the modern clinic (complete with closed circuit televisions in the lobby, which allow people to watch the procedures).

For waiting clients, Hibbie will even perform a dance, a type of sideways short hop. After learning how to walk again, Hibbie has become quite a traveler. From South Beach, in Florida, to Long Beach, in New York, Hibbie has become a minor celebrity.

But Adele said fame hasn't gone to his head. "He knows who rescued him," she said. "And he is grateful to everyone who helped him get better."

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