The little mutt called a hero after saving two children from being run down, but losing her upper jaw when she flung herself at an oncoming motorcycle, has been cleared by UC Davis veterinarians for a return home to the Philippines after eight months of care.
Most recently, surgeons removed two upper teeth, reconstructed an eyelid and closed Kabang’s open facial wound with flaps of skin from the top and sides of her head. They then reconstructed her nasal openings and inserted stents allowing new nostrils to form.
Kabang, now about 2 years old and weighing 30 pounds (about five more than when she arrived in Davis), will need only routine veterinary care after being reunited with her family Sunday.
“You might be a little disappointed that she is still not a pretty dog, but she’s a happy dog,” said Frank Verstraete, a professor in the School of Medicine and chief of dentistry and oral surgery service at the Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
On Monday, after a news conference, photographers crowded around as the shepherd mix, tail wagging, played with a squeaky toy in the grass and devoured bits of Kings Hawaiian Rolls, scooping the bread up with her jaw, then using her tongue to push it to the back of her mouth.
Her vet from Zamboanga City, a city of 800,000 in the southern Philippines, Anton Lim, said the bloody Kabang bolted after being hurt. She managed to survive two weeks, without food or antibiotics.
When Lim first treated her, her wounds were covered with puss and fevers flared any time he stopped giving her antibiotics. Her eyeball was “sort of popping out.” But Lim lacked the microsurgery tools and skills to do more for her.
About 3,000 people from around the world have donated the more than $27,000 needed to pay for Kabang’s care and boarding. Kids sent in their allowance money. And corporate sponsors, like Philippine Airlines, which flew her to California, gave, too.
Lim said he thought the way dogs can show unconditional love touched the hearts of Kabang’s more than 22,000 Facebook fans from more than 35 countries.
Said Karen Kenngott, a critical care nurse from Buffalo, N.Y., who led the effort to bring the dog to UCD, “Each of us feels at some point in our life that we’re a little bit of an underdog. I think she represents that. Everybody wants to root for that.”
The story of Kabang will continue to change how Filipinos view street dogs, Lim believes.
Her owner, Rudy Bunggal, who makes his living repairing tires, took her in as a puppy. It was two of his six children that Kabang spared from being struck by leaping at a motorcycle’s front tire when the girls, ages 6 and 7, ran into the road.
“The fact that she saved two kids made people notice that, you know, you don’t have to be an Akita to be loyal — a mutt can do that,” Lim said. “Immediately after her story became known, a lot of vets noticed a jump in street dogs being brought to their clinic for preventive measures, which normally is not done.
“That she was able to survive — there must be a bigger meaning to this. We’re thinking responsible pet ownership is what she can advocate. She can be an ambassador for that.”
Kenngott praised the team of 17-plus professionals that helped care for the dog, which also included Gina Davis, Kabang’s primary care doctor; Lisa Sullivan, an outpatient veterinary technician who guided the dog through her care; and surgeons Boaz Arzi and Bill Culp.
“These guys, you can’t hold a candle to them,” Kenngott said.
UCD vets had planned for Kabang to stay here for just six weeks. Upon her arrival in October, however, they discovered she suffered from heartworm disease and a type of infectious cancer that had caused a golfball-sized venereal tumor.
She needed treatment for both, including six chemotherapy sessions, before she could undergo dental surgery on March 5 and maxillofacial surgery on March 27. She also underwent spay surgery and received vaccinations.
Kabang’s care touched off arguments among veterinarians and the public alike, Lim said.
“When I was here (on campus), I was walking here and an old lady said, ‘C’mon, put her down.’ Then a man, just a few meters away, (pointed at the woman and said), ‘Why don’t we put her down?’ ”
Said Lim, “(Kabang) was happy. How can you put down a dog that’s happy and seemingly not in pain?
“The reason why I didn’t want to put her down is that she didn’t seem to be in pain, her function seems to be OK — she’s eating by herself, she can walk, she can run, she can see, she can smell. She was normal, except for the look. Just because you’re ugly doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to exist.”
Similar discussions went on inside the halls of the teaching hospital, Verstraete said.
“There were some of my colleagues who said, ‘This is beyond repair, euthanasia would be the more humane thing to do,’ and there were colleagues who said ‘You should try and do a face transplant.’ Clearly, the expectations were diverse and some of the expectations were unrealistic,” Verstraete said.
“The plan that we came up with was to provide a pain-free and comfortable situation for Kabang. … What we could improve on (was that the sensitive nasal structures were) exposed, which predisposes the dog to infection.”
Kabang first stayed at the Hallmark Inn in Davis. She was later moved to Woodland’s All Species Animal Care, operated by Dawn Gillette, a former teaching hospital anesthesiologist.
Gillette slept next to Kabang on an air mattress in her office on the nights after the dog received heartworm treatments. After facial surgery, Kabang, who also likes car rides and french fries, began playing with toys — resuming, Gillette figures, a long-interrupted puppyhood.
Monday, the UCD team packed treats, preventative medications and squeaky toys into a basket for their former patient.
They also added information about the microchip they’d implanted — though it’s not something a dog that looks Kabang will likely ever need.
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden