South Tahoe man raising funds so companion may walk again |

South Tahoe man raising funds so companion may walk again

Roseann Keegan
Roseann Keegan / Tahoe Daily TribuneSouth Lake Tahoe resident Pete Hernandez holds his 4-year-old Chihuahua named Aussie, who was hit by a car Jan. 18. Aussie's brother Lightning is looking out the window.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A South Lake Tahoe man has spent the past several weeks canvassing shopping centers and placing flyers on parked cars to raise money so that his dog may walk again.

Pete Hernandez, a 49-year-old retired, disabled veteran, is trying to raise money to pay for surgery for his 4-year-old Chihuahua named Aussie, who was hit by a car on Jan. 18. The accident shattered the right side of the dog’s pelvis and dislocated his left side.

The surgery to repair Aussie’s right side could cost up to $3,000. Dr. David Monroe, owner of Sierra Veterinary Hospital, has offered to perform the surgery at half price. Hernandez is asking that all donations be made to hospital.

“I just don’t want to put him down,” Hernandez said tearfully.

Four years ago, a friend in San Jose, Calif. gave Hernandez two male Chihuahuas. The brothers were named Aussie and Lighting.

Hernandez has an enlarged heart and severe cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle. He wears a pacemaker and constantly monitors his blood pressure. After many years in San Jose, he moved to South Lake Tahoe with his puppies for cleaner air and a less stressful way of life.

Aussie and Lightning aren’t trained to be service dogs, but that’s what they’ve become, Hernandez said. The dogs sense when his health is in trouble. Lighting will suddenly bark and run in circles, while Aussie climbs up on Hernandez and licks his face until responds.

Hernandez said the dogs alert him when his heart rate is too high or when his blood pressure enters the danger zone. He knows to use his blood pressure cuff and relax until his heart rate normalizes.

“Now, if I could teach them to dial 911, that would be great,” Hernandez said.

Last year, his temperature spiked to 106 degrees while he was sleeping. Aussie licked his face until he woke up. Hernandez wound up in the hospital, where doctors said the dogs saved his life.

“They said, ‘I would have just never woken up,'” Hernandez said.

Dr. Monroe noted that Aussie is not a typical Chihuahua.

“He’s a sweet little dog,” Monroe said. “Some are not all that nice. He is super sweet.”

On Jan. 18, Hernandez opened the door of his one-room apartment to let Aussie relieve himself. Hernandez turned back to his apartment to put on his boots and heard Aussie yelping through the darkness.

Aussie had been hit by a car. The driver did not stop.

Unable to afford emergency care, Hernandez waited until the morning to take Aussie to the vet. Staff members from Sierra Veterinary Hospital gave him a ride to the Lake Tahoe Humane Society, where he received a voucher for an office visit, a service the nonprofit offers on a limited, case-by-case basis.

“It’s usually because someone is so financially strapped, we just try to get them in (to the vet)” said Geoff Martin, administrative assistant at the Humane Society.

Aussie needed to be watched through the night, but Hernandez couldn’t afford overnight care. So Terry Sullivan, head veterinary technician, volunteered to take Aussie home.

“Terry was wonderful to take him home for the night when he was really painful,” Monroe said. “She managed him on anti-inflammatories and pain meds to see how much he would heal up on his own.”

Monroe said it’s possible that Aussie’s left side will heal where the pelvis was dislocated. It’s unlikely the right, shattered side will heal on its own. Without surgery, Monroe said the best-case scenario is that Aussie could get around on three legs.

“The good news about little guys, if they have three functional limbs, they can lead a pretty healthy life,” Monroe said.

On Friday, the veterinarian gave Aussie a free checkup. Hernandez said they will re-check the dog in two more weeks. In the meantime, there have been almost $300 in donations for Aussie’s care. Hernandez still has about $1,200 more to raise.

“Pete’s wonderful and he’s working really hard,” Monroe said. “We try never to put a dog down. Sometimes they just heal on their own.”

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