'He's a miracle dog': Gabriel the pit bull, who suffered severe burns in August, recovering at foster home in Fort Myers

Brittany Carloni
Naples Daily News

Editor's note: Here’s a look back at people, issues and even animals that made headlines in Southwest Florida in the past year.

Gabriel sauntered outside as a cool breeze shifted through the Fort Myers backyard. His fellow rescue dogs Eva and Addison wrestled in the grass nearby. 

Gabriel, a young pit bull mix, lounged on pavement outside the lanai. A small red wound and a series of multi-colored buttons stood out against the white fur on the left side of his torso. 

Just months earlier, Gabriel arrived in Southwest Florida in a horrific condition. About 40 to 60 percent of the dog’s skin was missing due to severe burns. He suffered from infection. He had fractured legs and broken hips. 

Gabriel looks out of the window on Wednesday, December 12, 2019, at his foster mom Samantha Kellum's house in Fort Myers.

The pit bull mix was surrendered in Miami-Dade County, according to Victoria Frazier, the founder of Love is Fur Ever dog rescue. The Southwest Florida nonprofit brought Gabriel across the state in August. 

More:Gabriel the pit bull suffered severe burns and broken bones. A Bonita Springs vet and a dog rescue are giving him a second chance.

More:Rescued dog recovering from burns at vet clinic in Bonita Springs

Gabriel has taken steps towards recovery over the last four months with the help of Love is Fur Ever volunteers and staff at Advanced Veterinary animal hospital in Bonita Springs. 

It hasn’t been easy, but the dog has made progress.

“He’s a miracle dog,” said Samantha Kellum, Gabriel’s foster mom. “From that scar, how he healed, It’s amazing.” 

From left to right, Eva kisses Gabriel as their foster mom Samantha Kellum scratches Gabriel's head on Wednesday, December 12, 2019, at their house in Fort Myers.

‘An easy dog’

In September, Gabriel left the kennel at Advanced Veterinary and settled into his foster home in Fort Myers. 

He has made himself at home with Kellum’s family and three other dogs. 

“He’s an easy dog,” Kellum said. “He’s very laid-back.”

Gabriel’s best friends are fellow Love is Fur Ever rescues Eva and Addison. He loves dog cookie treats, going on walks and lying in the grass in Kellum’s backyard.

He likes to sleep in and he loves people, Kellum said. 

“He loves everybody,” said Frazier, the founder of Love is Fur Ever. “His spirits are good. He’s eating, drinking and playing.” 

Medical treatment

It took nearly 2½  months for Gabriel’s infection to clear, said Dr. Thomas Jackson, Gabriel’s veterinarian. 

His normal skin started growing again. The veterinary staff performed a skin graft surgery on Gabriel in early November. Some of the skin didn’t take, Jackson said. 

“He threw a clot, which made one of the skin flaps decay and fall off,” Jackson said. 

The setback took some creative thinking, the veterinarian said. 

“We’re stretching the rest of his body and skin in ways kind of unheard of — with technicolor buttons,” Jackson said, referring to buttons that keep Gabriel's stitches closed.  

Next steps

Now that Gabriel's condition is manageable, Jackson sees the dog about once every two weeks. 

“We’re turning the curb of not needing to see him very much at all,” Jackson said. 

Gabriel’s skin still needs to mend. Jackson said he plans to insert a tissue expanding device — such as those used in breast implants — on Gabriel’s back leg to continue extending the dog’s skin. 

“Through a very slow process we are stretching the skin so he can live a normal dog life,” Jackson said. 

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Hip surgery is next after his skin heals, Frazier said. 

Gabriel still has dislocated hips, which cause him to trot instead of run. Over the next two months, Jackson and his medical team will replace them. 

“After rehab of his hips, adoption will start,” Frazier said. 

Progress for Gabriel

Gabriel still has a ways to go until he’s entirely complete, Jackson said. 

“It was traumatic and awful,” Jackson said of Gabriel’s condition in August. “We see all the pictures of people reminding us, and it really makes us proud of him.” 

Gabriel kisses Jasmine Hayman at Advanced Veterinary on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, in Bonita Springs. 

Gabriel is a pit bull mix rescued by Love is Fur Ever, a Southwest Florida dog rescue nonprofit, on Aug. 21. He was found with severe burns on his skin, fractured legs and broken hips. He has been diagnosed with pneumonia, kennel cough and hemolytic anemia.

Frazier said she wants to seek justice for the dog. 

“How and why would anyone allow him to continue the way he was?” Frazier said.

At his foster home, Gabriel lies on top of a blanket printed with faces of other dogs. Kellum scratches his back. Gabriel turns his head and appears to smile.

Recovery hasn’t been easy for the young pit bull, but in this moment, he’s a happy dog. 

“It takes time,” Frazier said. “It’s been since August. There are months of recovery. After it all, it’s always worth it.”