Mighty Moe finds a home after benefactors bankroll dog’s surgery

At the kennel they dubbed him Mighty Moe, given everything the buoyant but hobbled Newfoundland faced.

But perhaps equally mighty have been the humans who came to the ailing dog’s aid and, in this holiday season, changed his fate.

“I am just so grateful for all the people involved oh my gosh, everybody,” said Ashlee Parker, spokeswoman for the Wayside Waifs animal shelter.

It started in March with Moe’s original family, which surrendered the 10-month-old black and white Landseer — already weighing close to 100 pounds — to their veterinarian rather than take him to a kennel to be euthanized.

Other owners might not have kept a disabled dog alive.

Moe, at a rare young age, had developed what is commonly known as wobbler’s syndrome.

The medical name is caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy. It appears to be genetic in certain large breeds, such as Great Danes, mastiffs and Doberman pinschers, and occurs most often in older dogs.

Dogs with the condition wobble with an uneven gait and fall. Eventually, if the syndrome goes untreated, they can become paralyzed because of pressure on a misshapen and narrow spinal column.

Treatments can be lengthy, burdensome and costly: steroids, neck braces, MRIs and other diagnostics, spine surgeries and weeks of physical therapy.

“I think his original family just couldn’t afford the surgical procedure and care. It is like $5,000 and more,” Parker said.

The veterinarian turned Moe over to a rescue group.

“The rescue group contacted us and said, ‘We have this great dog. He needs help,’ ” Parker said. “So basically we took him in.”

Wayside Waifs — a no-kill shelter that this year will place a record 5,300 cats, dogs and other pets into adoption — doesn’t typically have the facilities or ability to care for animals with such significant special needs.

The shelter tried to find an adoptive family for Moe, posting what Parker described as the “darling, precocious, wiggly, awesome” dog and his photo on Wayside Waifs’ website and noting that he would need expensive surgery.

Some people expressed interest, but economic times are rough.

Then in May, Moe was shown at Wayside Waifs’ annual fundraiser, the Fur Ball.

“He is big and striking, stunningly gorgeous. Some of our guests just fell in love with him,” Parker said.

Three families stepped up. Together, they would pay for Moe’s surgery.

At the University of Missouri Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Columbia, Fred Wininger, an assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery, worked three to four hours, cutting into Moe’s back, “decompressing” his spine and widening his spinal canal in three prime locations. The staff at Wayside Waifs waited and worried.

“It’s challenging,” Wininger said. “The surgery is difficult, and the aftercare is difficult as well.”

There is no guarantee of a cure. Some dogs are fine for years. Others, saved from crippling paralysis, can remain unstable on their feet.

Shortly before his surgery, and for three months after, Moe was placed with a foster family, Alex Pirnie and his wife, Jen, of Pleasant Hill. Pirnie, 33, a locomotive mechanic for BNSF Railway, owns a five-acre farm and had other dogs.

But Moe was hardly running around. Thin before his surgery, Moe had dropped weight, down to about 95 pounds. His muscles had shrunk from lack of use.

“When I got him home, I had to help him walk — two or three steps at a time,” Pirnie said. “I don’t think it was painful for him. I think it was frustrating. He has a pretty deep bark. At the bottom of the stairs it was more of a yelp. I would have to get behind him and help his rear legs. They worked, but he didn’t know how to use them.”

Back at Wayside Waifs, the staff continued to search for an adoptive family. Calls came from as far away as Chicago and New Mexico. People would see Moe’s picture. Once they learned of his needs, they backed off, and the Wayside Waifs staff began to wonder whether Moe would be shuttled from one foster home to another.

Just before Thanksgiving, Parker wrote a story for the nonprofit’s newsletter. “Saving Mighty Moe” told the dog’s tale and appealed for an owner.

An employee at the Henry Wurst Inc. printing house was getting the newsletter ready to be printed when she saw the story. She called over Allison Wurst, who took it to her husband, Mike Wurst, the company’s chief executive officer.

“He said, ‘Let’s call,’ ” said Allison Wurst.

The newsletter hadn’t even gone out to its 20,000 subscribers.

What Wayside Waifs didn’t know is that the Wursts, who live outside Parkville in unincorporated Platte County, have owned three Newfoundlands in the past. The last died two years ago.

“It was time to get another dog,” Allison Wurst said. “We went and met him, fell in love and came home with him.”

Moe is hardly 100 percent. When he walks, his hind legs will sometimes just give out on him. Sometimes his front feet buckle at the knuckles when he tires.

“We don’t ever expect him to be normal or perfect, but we’ll do what we can,” Allison Wurst said. “We’re taking him to physical therapy right after Christmas.”

So should any readers of the “Scratching Post” newsletter happen to notice the Newfoundland on Page 4, they should know that Mighty Moe has found a home.

“We do see him as a real blessing,” Allison Wurst said, “and hope he feels like we’re a blessing to him.”