‘Every little bit counts’: Middle Village family raising funds for life-saving surgery of rescue dog

Photo courtesy of Daniel Michel

When Daniel Michel agreed to foster Bones, a Belgian Malinois at risk of being put down, he immediately knew the pup was in worse shape than he feared.

Bones was only 24 pounds when he arrived to Michel and his girlfriend, Ally Apuzza, in Middle Village — whereas an average Belgian Malinois can weigh anywhere from 55 to 75 pounds. The pup, who is believed to be between 1 and 2 years old, had a host of conditions due to his abusive upbringing in Texas, including malnourishment and a hernia.

To address some of the immediate issues and give Bones some much needed pampering, Michel quickly took him to a vet recommended by New York Bully Crew, a nonprofit dog rescue organization.

“Bones continued to live with us as a foster for the next few months. Until we decided that we couldn’t part with him. We decided we would adopt him and make him officially a part of our family,” Michel wrote in his GoFundMe page.

Bones was doing better and getting along well with their dog, Freya.

Bones and Freya. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Michel)

But after a few months, Bones started to regurgitate saliva and, in some severe instances, all of his food.

They notices the regurgitation would occur more often when Bones he was excited or had anxiety — due to his past treatment, he had severe leash anxiety. They soon needed more help, so they took him to Animal Medical Center of New York (AMC), where they found out his hernia was never fixed and he had more major issues that required testing.

His regurgitation began to get worse in February, right before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed New York into lockdown. As a result, the consultations of up to $180 were conducted over the phone and Michel had to stay outside during the vet visits.

But Michel had more luck at AMC, praising their doctor for working with them as they navigated their pet insurance.

“His pet insurance declined me at first, then we appealed and it took about 60 days,” Michel said. “They considered it an ‘undiagnosed pre-existing condition.'”

This time, the hernia treatment and surgery worked.

Regardless of the insurance, the bills were piling up. But Michel didn’t want to give up on Bones. While Bones healed from his surgery, Michel sought out the best dog trainer in New York in order to address the psychological triggers to Bones’ regurgitation.

They found Tom Davis at the Upstate Canine Academy, who Michel said did wonders for Bones. They enrolled Bones in a two-week board and train program. Davis even made a video about Bones because of his extraordinary case.

“You can tell just in his body language … he’s constantly looking for an escape,” Davis said in the YouTube video. “He feels most comfortable on a wall because of his foundational past. He’s literally pinned up against the wall; I’ve never seen another dog do this in my entire career.”

Davis focused on treating his anxiety, leash pressure and building up Bones’ confidence.

The timing of Bones’ training worked out well for Michel, a full-time urban park ranger at Forest Park, as he had to take his annual two-week military training. Apuzza, a full-time school teacher working remotely, has helped take care of him and their other pets.

“Tom’s group of trainers, especially Kyle and Zack, did an amazing job with Bones in two weeks,” Michel said. “Yet, with all of their hard work on his severe anxiety, along with the prescribed medications, it still did not solve his regurgitation problems.”

AMC told them the surgery Bones needs a fundoplication, a surgical procedure to treat gastroesophageal conditions, which is very uncommon for dogs. Their estimate for the surgery came out to $6,229.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Michel

The New York Bully Crew didn’t help with any aid, and they are currently appealing their insurance company’s claim. Michel also hopes that AMC could find a grant to help with the expenses because of the rareness of Bones’ procedure.

Michel created a GoFundMe, “Another major surgery for our Bones-y boy…,” in order to raise funds for Bones’ surgery, believing they were financially obligated to give Bones the life he deserves.

This isn’t the first time Michel incurred debt to help his pet. Two years ago, his dog Freya needed a costly knee surgery. His family tends to point out that he’s always been drawn to the pets that are broken.

“You just gotta give him a shot. He’s a good dog, a little goofball,” Michel said. “The GoFundMe took right off when I first posted it … over the last week it’s slowed down. We’re in the middle of a pandemic so I can’t expect everyone to be able to. Every little bit counts. I’ll still do the surgery. I’ll find a way.”