Polo is an 8-month-old dog who was horribly burned after being thrown into a fire pit about a week and a half ago — an act believed to be carried out by a couple of kids.
Polo's paws were severely damaged. He has burns on his nose, mouth, testicles and belly — as well as big and painful wounds covering his body. Polo's thick coat was singed away, and some of the hair melted to his body; it's likely this fur saved his life, protecting him from even worse burns.
Katie Powell, founder of Save A Dog Network Canada, told TODAY Polo "is still recovering from inhalation and eye injuries" caused by the smoke and fire.
But Polo wags his tail, and "is such a little ham," Powell said in an email. "Despite his hardships, he's a happy guy."
Polo had been living with a family that loves him, in a remote part of northern Manitoba, Canada.
Powell's group, along with veterinarians, travel out to that area of the country to provide medical care, as well as food and other supplies, for the community's dogs — those who are owned, like Polo, as well as the many others who are fending for themselves in what can be an unforgiving climate for animals and for the people who live among them.
After Polo's family discovered that he'd been so shockingly and cruelly injured, they contacted Powell's group for help. Polo was flown to Winnipeg, where he was rushed to the Tuxedo Animal Hospital.
Veterinarian Jonas Watson had first met Polo as a puppy. He'd held a clinic up north with Save a Dog Network Canada, and had neutered and vaccinated Polo.
This time, Watson administered antibiotics, pain medication, healing baths and bandages to the dog who was having trouble breathing but was holding on to life.
"He's a tough little dog," Watson said.
Polo's story has attracted a lot of attention, with an outpouring of support from around the world.
Powell is hoping this one story of cruelty and resilience will also draw attention to the dire situation in Manitoba's northern communities. Just earlier this week, a woman was killed by a pack of stray dogs. Some areas have held dog "culls" to reduce the population, many of whom are unvaccinated, unfixed and hungry.
More care is needed, along with more resources. "The stray dog situation in northern Manitoba is a complete epidemic," said Powell. As Polo's story spreads far, "the real amazing thing is the awareness and attention finally being brought up," she said. "We've been fighting for a while."
Tara Seel, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told TODAY that police are investigating this case of cruelty. "The RCMP works to protect all members of the community, and Polo is no exception," she wrote in an email.
Polo is living temporarily in a foster home in Winnipeg (his original family thought he'd be safer living elsewhere after what happened). When he is well enough for his next step, L.E.A.S.H. Animal Welfare Society — a partner to Save a Dog Network Canada — will bring Polo to Vancouver, where there's a bigger pool of potential adopters.
They'll find Polo a new permanent home, and keep trying to help the others.
"Polo is one of the lucky ones, where his family had the resources and ability to reach out for help," said L.E.A.S.H. founder Cassi MacDonald. "They all deserve a second chance."
It's too soon to say if Polo will still need more surgery, or what other medical procedures are in store. We do know that Polo is healing, and that "slowly but surely he is getting better," Watson said.
"Polo is a fighter," said Powell. "And he's ready to take on the world."