On May 22, 2011, a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Missouri killing 155 and leaving over 900 homeless pets. On that day, the Leathermans returned home after attending the Joplin High School graduation ceremonies. Sirens went off as the tornado approached and Leathermans took cover in their basement along with their 10-year-old chocolate cocker spaniel named Sugar. As the tornado approached, Sugar panicked and ran upstairs hiding in her “safe area” under a bed. Mrs. Leatherman tried to run after her but her husband held her back. A minute later, the Leatherman home was blown apart.
After the tornado passed, the Leathermans searched through the debris that was once their home looking for Sugar. She was no where to be found. Luckily, a good Samaritan found Sugar in a drainage ditch blocks away where she had almost drowned. She was injured and unable to walk. Sugar was taken to the Joplin Humane Society. When the Leathermans arrived for Sugar they were informed of her injuries. The humane society recommended Sugar be treated elsewhere due to the severity of her injuries and because much of Joplin was in ruins.
The Leathermans transported Sugar four hours away to University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in Columbia. After thorough testing, veterinarians discovered Sugar had traumatic ruptured discs (T12-13) in her spine. Internal bleeding had compressed the spine causing her paralysis. If surgery wasn’t done immediately the damage would be permanent. Sugar was rushed to surgery where small pieces of vertebral bone were removed relieving pressure on her spinal cord.
Two days after surgery, Sugar began intensive physical therapy including electrical stimulation to lessen muscle wasting. She also received hydrotherapy every day for a week to regain mobility. “With the water, the buoyancy it provides, it makes it a lot easier for them to move their legs so it’s a lot easier for us to see if she had any movement and it took her about a week to regain movement in her hind legs,” said veterinary technologist Stephanie Gilliam.
On June 14, three weeks following the tornado, Sugar was finally discharged to her family. She’ll continue her therapy and is expected to make a full recovery. The cost of Sugar’s surgery and treatment was graciously covered by the university.