Mark Justice “scrubbed” into surgery around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The local veterinarian had to work on a puppy that belonged to his daughter, Adley. The surgery wasn’t the typical type of surgery associated with a veterinarian. It wasn’t as delicate, or as extensive, as most animal surgeries. But, it was just as important. Because “XO” as the puppy is named, is one of his Adley’s favorite stuffed toys, and XO had a tear and was losing his stuffing.
“She had a little puppy that needed some suturing,” Justice said. “I brought it in on Tuesday before surgery and took care of it real fast. Adley was a little worried about it, so I had to take care of XO quickly.”
Justice took a picture of his work and sent it to his wife, Angela, with a message that he completed his first surgery of the day by 6:40 a.m. When Dr. Mark, has he is known, took XO home for lunch, he had an idea.
“I asked my wife to make a Facebook post of it and see if anyone has any stuffed animals that need some fixin’,” Justice said. “I figured we could just fix them up as we can.” By Wednesday, the “operating rooms” at Double J Animal Hospital were filled with all types of stuffed patients, elephants, horses, and dogs — oh my! Some patients were in “critical condition,” like Samuel’s T-Rex which had almost lost a foot, or Abigail’s baby squirrel which was missing a tail. Some were not so serious. A stuffed Luigi, of Mario Bros. fame, needed his overalls repaired. “Wednesday, we had lots of surgeries to do, both live and stuffed,” Justice said with a tongue-in-cheek grin. “So we fit them all in and the staff just loved it.”
The amount of patients required a quick trip to Hobby Lobby for some much needed supplies, stuffing, the appropriate thread, that sort of “stuff.”
“All these animals came in with different issues,” Justice said. “Oh man, we gotta have stuffing for this animal and an eye for that animal. We had lots of rips and tears. Lots of de-stuffings. A couple eye issues. I had to perform back surgery on a Koala bear. So far all of the patients have done well, all of them have gained weight. That’s the one thing everyone says. We add stuffing and the patients go home, and the owners said their animals have gained weight.”
On Friday Veterinarian Assistants Daisha McAdams and Will Parrish helped Justice perform surgery on a Unicorn named, appropriately, “Uni.” While some animals leave with attached limbs, one animal regained it’s voice. Double J’s other veterinarian Dr. Kyra Perry, had a patient with a rip on his neck.
“As she worked on the patient she found this box inside,” Justice said. “She pulled it out and we added batteries and the dog started barking. It was a miracle! So when the animal went home, the parents told us ‘we never knew it barked. It never barked since we have had it and that’s been 20 years!’”
Sometimes the work can be done a little too well, “Yeah, but I think I added too much stuffing to a donut with sprinkles and now it’s a bagel,” Justice said with a laugh.
All jokes aside, the patients are treated with the same TLC, whether they are real or stuffed. Each animal received it’s own medical tag with all the needed information.
“So the kids come in with their stuffed toys and we sit with them ask what are their stuffed animal’s ailments,” Justice said. “We get their name and information. When we are done with the surgery we stitch on a little red heart. That is our mark to know we are done. It’s a little extra love from Double J.”
Part of the overall care of the animal is the post-surgery conversation, where an explanation is given on how well the stuffed animal did during surgery. This responsibility of lies with Double J front-end employee Seilo Casillas, who takes his job kind of seriously.
“I will sit with them and usually say, ‘the surgery went really well. They are going to be a little bit drowsy at first because of the anesthesia,’”Casillas said with a smile. “If they have any bandages, they can be taken off in 2-3 days if there is no bleeding or anything like that. If they see anything wrong they should give us a call.”
Casillas said while the child’s parents understand the role play and humor of the discussions, the child takes on the responsibilities seriously and are so thankful his or her favorite stuffed toy is healthy.
“It’s so funny,” Casillas said. “One girl was so happy we fixed her toy and told me how she was going to manage his bandages. Her brother is the owner of the T-Rex and he was pretty excited as well.”
Unlike real animals, there is no charge for stuffed animal surgeries, although donations can be given to the Lea County Humane Society. Justice said the stuffed animal services will be available through March 31.
“This was something that I thought could be fun for everyone here, and it has,” Justice said. “It’s something really positive and it’s so fun to see the kids get their stuffed animals back all fixed up. And, if we get to help the Lea County Humane Society as well, that’s a double-plus from Double J. That’s all anyone ever wants, right?”