Boiled alive and thrown off a balcony – this is how a miracle (and miracle workers) saved a brave dog named Tuffy

30 November 2015

As a six-week-old puppy, Tuffy had the shock of his young life – having a pot of boiling water thrown on him for chewing on his former owner’s cell phone.

What happened next would have killed most people. Tuffy was thrown from a fourth-floor balcony, onto concrete. 

And he would certainly have died had it not been for the “miracles of kindness” that followed.

When 30-year-old designer Yan Yingying saw him lying there, he was on the edge of death. Not thinking twice, she picked him up, determined to help.

Animals Asia vet Emily Drayton said:

“That first act of kindness was that of Ms Yan. She was the one who saw Tuffy lying at the bottom of the apartment building, drenched and scalded. The sight must have been so horrific – and I’m sure many people would have walked past and pretended not to see. But she didn’t. She took Tuffy to a local vet in Chengdu and paid for all his veterinary care. That saved his life.”

But while Tuffy was kept alive, the local vet’s knowledge of how to treat such awful ailments was limited. Ms Yan brought him to the vet’s every day for two weeks – but she soon saw there was no progress. And Tuffy was in terrible pain.

Through an online veterinary advice service called Pet Quest, Ms Yan found Animals Asia. She drove an hour to bring him to Animals Asia’s China sanctuary, with Tuffy held still in a padded box. Tuffy was so weak and wracked with pain, he could barely open his eyes.

Tuffy as we found him

Emily said:

“As a vet you are exposed to cases of animal cruelty and neglect. It is never something you get ‘used to’ – but after a while you can become desensitised. You learn to put your emotions aside and focus on what you need to do to help. 

“But when I saw Tuffy all of that was completely obliterated. I was shocked and sickened to my core. I could not stop the tears from rising, there was no point. Never had I seen an animal in so much pain.”

Animals Asia is best known for rescuing bears from the bear bile trade. The team has rescued over 570 bears – many of them in the most unimaginable condition, after spending up to 30 years in coffin-sized cages. 

Founder Jill Robinson has been present for most of these rescues – but she was still shaken by Tuffy’s appearance.

Tuffy as we found him

She said:

“When a vet tells you to prepare yourself, you know you’re going to be in for a shock. But nothing prepared me for this pathetic little form shivering on his towel in the recovery cage, after being brought to our hospital in Chengdu. A tiny naked pup, with a red raw body that looked like a huge blister, looking out at the world with the misery of an animal who couldn’t understand why he had been punished with pain.” 

Mandala Hunter-Ishikawa, now a vet at Animals Asia’s Vietnam sanctuary, was working in China at the time. Along with Emily, she led the rescue effort. She said:

“The big question upon seeing Tuffy was – was it too late?

“We asked ourselves – had he used up all of his energy and everything he had to get this far? Do we have to make a decision for him to end his suffering? What can we do? My colleague and I discussed it, and we both strongly felt he needed a chance.”

After the initial diagnosis, the team was faced with another difficult choice.

Tuffy with Animals Asia vet Emily Drayton

Mandala said:

“As he rested, warm and pain-free, we asked another question – do we name the puppy? Is it too early to get attached? Will he survive this?

“I thought about what he had been through. That one person’s act of cruelty led to an act of kindness by another – which led to him surviving substandard veterinary care, which to me is the worst kind of suffering. What a tough dog.

“We had to name him, and he had to survive. A tough puppy needed a tough name, so then he became our beloved Tuffy.”

The team came together around Tuffy. They balanced middle-of-the-night injections with the daily work caring for the bears that the sanctuary shelters. Little by little, he got stronger.

Tuffy in recovery

Mandala added:

“We set up a schedule and checked him every three to four hours, gave pain medication, cleaned his wounds and tended to his needs. I don’t know how he didn’t hate us – every time we touched him, it hurt.

“But within 24 hours, his eyes became brighter. And the day he ate – we all celebrated. We knew then that he could survive.”

Though his progress continued, Tuffy was in bandages for months. His elbows and knees were fused to his body from the burns, his ears pulled back – making it impossible for his eyes to close, even when he slept.

Tuffy had a lot of help in his recovery – by specialists whose expertise is as valuable as Animals Asia’s vets, donating their time just as Animals Asia’s staff did.

Dr Alane Cahalane, a specialist surgeon from the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Hong Kong who has consulted and performed surgery on Animals Asia’s bears, flew in for one day to perform Tuffy’s first surgery – to release his fused legs as well as his eyes.

Dr Kieren Maddern, of Veterinary Anaesthesia and Pain Management Consultants, also consulted for free, with ideas on wound care and pain management for Tuffy.

As time passed, the bandage changes became easier. Tuffy became more used to them, with each one taking him one step closer to recovery.

Tuffy quickly learned that being gently lifted onto the surgery table would mean an uncomfortable few minutes as his bandages were changed. His whimpering in anticipation was especially upsetting for his carers, before the sedation took hold and he fell asleep. 

In time – as he grew stronger – he was able to stay awake through this daily ordeal. Sedatives were replaced with distracting snacks, as he grew used to the bandage changes and was able to handle them better.

Then, as he healed, the vets needed to do a skin graft – to loosen skin pulled tight by the healing scar tissue. But where could they take skin from on Tuffy’s burned body? The team found an inventive solution.

Jill said:

“Our vet team gently explained that one of the healthiest places to take the skin for the graft was from his scrotum. Tucked under his body, this had been a place where the boiling water hadn’t reached – so Tuffy was duly neutered, with nothing left to waste.

“The graft took – and soon, bearing a proud and shiny scar that joined all the other scars covering his skin, Tuffy was almost walking normally.”

Tuffy wears a hat

But the biggest part of his recovery was his spirit, urged on by the love he was shown.

Mandala said:

“In the beginning of Tuffy’s time with us, his head was the only place you could touch him without causing pain. Ms Yan would cradle his small face in her hand and coo ‘guai guai’ (an affectionate term for good), and he would wag his bald little tail and close his eyes. 

“Those visits lifted not only Tuffy’s spirit, but our team’s spirit as well. As we dealt with the aftermath of such cruelty, this woman gave us our hope back, hope that there are good people willing to do anything for a living being. “

Team Tuffy

Through Ms Yan’s WeChat posts, animal lovers in China slowly became aware of Tuffy’s plight. “Team Tuffy” was born, and T-shirts were distributed to the Animals Asia vets, nurses, translators and office workers who contributed to the effort. A supporter flew from Beijing to assist Ms Yan in taking Tuffy from the hospital to her home. Friends donated to the cause and so did total strangers – Animals Asia donated all of the nursing care Tuffy received, and many sleepless nights.

In time Tuffy began eating properly. He was able to close his eyes and sleep properly. He even began playing like a normal puppy.

Tuffy smells flowers

While the China staff attended to Tuffy, others saw his recovery take miraculous shape. Jill said:

“I’ve read that people who jump out higher than the third floor of a burning building are unlikely to survive. It was a miracle that Tuffy did.

“The second miracle was the extent of his burns. When they cover over 50 per cent of the body, animals are not expected to survive. Tuffy survived with over 60 per cent of his body burned. How his life started was horrific.

“The cruelty he faced was inexcusable. But we all refused to accept that this would be a story of cruelty. Kindness and concern and love won. He refused to be beaten, and that strength was infectious. “

Tuffy will always have large patches of fur missing, and with winter approaching he needs to stay warm – so Tuffy’s friends have been making coats for him to wear. He now lives with Ms Yan, back with the kind woman that helped him start his new life. She has even invested in a wardrobe for him – making him surely China’s most stylish dog.

Emily said:

“Time and time again we find that those who are cruel to animals are a tiny minority. Animals have the ability to bring out the best in people, and it’s true for Tuffy. His strength and bravery was incredible – but Ms Yan was equally determined he would live.

“Tuffy has more passion for life than any animal, or person, I have ever met. Nothing can keep him down. He is boisterous and full of play. To say Tuffy is a fighter is an understatement. 

“But for all his toughness and his bravery, Tuffy has a softer side. Amazingly, Tuffy still sees the good in people. He still comes to us for love and warmth.

“I do not think he has forgotten what has happened, I don’t think he ever will. But he has forgiven us, and he trusts us, and I think this is the reason Tuffy is still with us today.”

Tuffy enjoys the great outdoors 1

Animals Asia’s Cat and Dog Welfare Team continue to campaign for better care for dogs and cats in China. It’s hoped that Tuffy’s story can inspire a better future for millions more dogs. 

Please donate today to help end animal cruelty.

Read more: 10 acts of kindness that saved Tuffy – the dog who was scalded with boiling water and thrown from a balcony