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Service dog requires surgery

Posted: December 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Military veteran Doris Moffitt, 65, of Frazier Park, interacts with her service dog Duke, a rescued boxer who is trained to help the disabled senior with daily tasks. Military veteran Doris Moffitt, 65, of Frazier Park, interacts with her service dog Duke, a rescued boxer who is trained to help the disabled senior with daily tasks.
Military veteran Doris Moffitt, 65, of Frazier Park, interacts with her service dog Duke, a rescued boxer who is trained to help the disabled senior with daily tasks.

It’s often said that dogs are man’s best friend. Duke, a 5-year-old boxer and service dog, is much more than that to his owner, Doris Moffitt, 65, of Frazier Park.

Moffitt suffers from diabetes, lupus and severe arthritis. The former surgical nurse and military veteran has also endured several back surgeries since being placed on disability in 1993.

As Moffitt’s service dog for more than a year, Duke has performed tasks such as turning on lights in the middle of the night for Moffitt to use the restroom, opening the refrigerator door and picking up items that she sometimes drops.

“He’s my constant companion. My son lives with me, too, but Duke is there 24/7. I love him,” Moffitt said.

Now, her beloved dog is suffering after what Moffitt deemed a freak accident this November.

“Duke was scratching the ground after relieving himself and all of sudden, he pulled up lame. Duke was favoring his left leg the next day, so I took him to the vet. I was told he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament and would require surgery that costs between $2,300 and $2,500,” Moffitt said, her voice choked with tears. “I’m a widow, a disabled veteran on Social Security. I’m trying to get the money for his surgery, but I just don’t have it.”

Desperate, Moffitt applied for a medical credit card, but was denied. She also tried applying for a pet insurance policy for Duke, but was told he was not a candidate due to the pre-existing condition. Moffitt is anxiously waiting to hear back from nonprofit animal welfare agencies to see if they can provide funding for the expensive procedure, but to date has not been provided with any assistance.

Since the injury, Duke’s service has been limited. The linoleum in Moffitt’s kitchen is slippery, so Duke no longer opens the refrigerator door lest he injure his leg more severely.

Before the injury, Duke accompanied Moffitt everywhere — to doctor’s visits, to grocery stores — proudly donning his bright red service vest as she rolled alongside in her motorized wheelchair. Today, that service vest mostly hangs unused on the back of a chair in his owner’s modest living room, since Duke is on medically prescribed light duty.

“Duke sees the vest and he’s like, ‘Let’s go, Mom.’ He’ll nudge or pick up it up, looking at me as if to say, ‘Did you forget?’ Duke loves to work,” Moffitt said. “When I put the vest down and say no, Duke will go into my bedroom and pout.”

Moffitt looked lovingly at the brindle boxer, who likes to nap with her on the couch. “This injury impacts his life as much as mine,” she said. “If he doesn’t get the surgery, Duke would never be able to work again and I don’t have the money to get another service dog. He’s only 5 years old, and that’s too young to have him put down. There’s got to be something that can be done.”

At Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia, owner and veterinarian Evelyn Vega and her staff are doing something to help the duo. They have put up a donation jar for Doris and Duke at their reception desk. The plastic canister is slowing filling up with change and small bills, but needs much more support in order to facilitate Duke’s procedure, which will be performed at Happy Pets by orthopedic veterinary Dr. Jack Henry.

Dr. Vega explained the critical need for Duke’s surgery. “With a ruptured ACL, Duke has an unstable knee joint, which, if left untreated, will develop arthritis in that knee. Duke then risks rupturing the ACL on the opposite leg, since that is the leg that is carrying most of his weight now,” she said. “With Doris being in a wheelchair, she will not be able to help Duke if he has two injured knees.”

Duke especially touched Dr. Vega’s heart after discovering that he was adopted from a local rescue. The veterinarian is a animal welfare advocate. “Duke was trained to help her and Doris says he is the best dog she could have had for the job,” Vega said. “Doris is a disabled veteran and she needs Duke. I hope that anyone who cares about our veterans or dogs will be compelled to help. Together, we can make a huge difference for this worthy pair.”

Checks and credit cards, as well as cash, are accepted by Happy Pets Veterinary Center for Duke’s surgery. Donors can send checks to or stop by the center at 27550 Newhall Ranch Road, Valencia, 91355. Credit cards can also be accepted over the phone at 661-2965-9972. Please reference Doris and Duke when making a donation.


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