The crippled and abandoned Chesapeake Bay retriever who captured the hearts of Tri-Citians after being rescued by a good Samaritan five years ago is once again facing a challenge.
Chocolate the dog was bitten July 4 on his right front leg by a venomous spider at his family's home in Pasco.
Within a few days, the bite festered into a full-blown, 10-by-3-inch open wound, forcing Chocolate the next day into the emergency care of Richland veterinarian Dr. Sharon Watson.
"We noticed his tail between his legs and he didn't want to do any walking, which was unusual for him," said his owner Sarah Weidner.
"The vet couldn't find anything wrong with his leg that day," she said. "After X-rays and blood work she sent him home with instructions to keep an eye on it and put cold packs on the swelling."
Two days later, a bare spot the size of a quarter appeared on his leg with what looked like a bruise in the middle, Weidner said. By the next morning the spot had spread and had a hole oozing blood and pus. Chocolate spent a week in intensive care and still must spend three days a week at the clinic for a daylong process of cleaning, flushing, repacking and rewrapping his wound.
He remains on antibiotics for the infection and painkillers to ease his discomfort, and Watson takes frequent cultures to monitor the spread of the infection, which seems to be ebbing, Weidner said. Watson could not be reached Friday about the dog's condition.
"Chocolate had to be sedated the first few times the vet worked on his leg because the pain was so great," Weidner said.
And though the wound is still partially open, it is healing, and that has the Weidners hopeful that Chocolate will make a full recovery.
It's unknown exactly what kind of spider bit the dog, though it could have been a hobo or brown recluse since those spider bites are known for causing serious tissue damage.
But Chocolate is a proven fighter.
Five years ago he was found by a Pasco woman as he wandered in a field off Highway 395 north of Pasco. His two front legs were broken, after possibly being hit by a car. His only companion was a grungy yellow ball that he carried everywhere.
The woman tried to find help for the injured and homeless canine in early 2008, and after the Herald wrote a story about him, an outpouring of community support and donations followed.
Sarah and Kurt Weidner adopted Chocolate later that year. The money and other donations totaled nearly $30,000, which was more than enough to send Chocolate to Washington State University in Pullman, where his front legs were repaired. About $4,000 remains in the fund for future care of his legs.
WSU doctors told the Weidners after Chocolate's surgery he would likely need more surgeries as he ages. That's why the money that remains in the account can only to be used for treatment related to his legs and not for the spider bite.
"He has a lot of soft tissue damage from the bite," Weidner said. "He spent a week in the hospital then we got to bring him home on July 12 for the weekend."
The Weidners are more concerned about the health of their beloved pet than the mounting vet bills.
"We knew what we were taking on when we adopted Chocolate ... ," she said. "We stand by that decision and take full responsibility for his vet bills."
More importantly, she added, Chocolate became a community-loved dog because of his sad past, so lots of prayers are needed for his recovery.
Chocolate is still a happy boy, despite having another tragic health issue.
And if he has any shortcomings it would his obsession with his toys. He hobbles as fast as he can across the lawn during fetch time, trying to beat his sister, Mojo the chocolate Lab, to the ball, Weidner said.
When the Herald first wrote about Chocolate's plight, a reader wrote to the maker of his favorite nubby balls and the company sent him a dozen of them in assorted colors. He always carries one in his mouth, though his favorite is still the original yellow one.
"We will do whatever we have to do to get Chocolate through this and healthy again," Sarah Weidner said. "He is his daddy's buddy but he is his momma's baby, and ain't no spider gonna take out momma's baby."
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal