Huntington County deputies, animal control officer go the extra mile for Andrews family

Sue-Ellen Sommers, of Andrews, poses with her dogs Buck (left) and Scruffy. She and her husband, Terry, recently lost Buck when he developed severe seizures.
Sue-Ellen Sommers, of Andrews, poses with her dogs Buck (left) and Scruffy. She and her husband, Terry, recently lost Buck when he developed severe seizures. Photo provided.

It was a distraught Terry and Sue-Ellen Sommers who called Huntington County’s 911 Dispatch in the wee hours of Thursday, Sept. 13, when they were at their wits’ end over the behavior of a beloved member of their family.

It began around 2 a.m. Buck, the couple’s 85-pound-boxer, who was nearly 13 years old, was out of control – writhing, falling down, knocking over chairs throughout their home and foaming profusely at the mouth. He had never done anything like that before, says Terry Sommers. But when the dog, who had always been their gentle “baby” began snapping at them, they knew they needed help.

“He didn’t know us; his eyes were glazed over and he was knocking our furniture and the lamps over,” Sommers recalls. “We assumed it had to be seizures.”

The Sommerses are both close to 70 and Terry is totally disabled. The couple felt helpless to do anything about their pet, whom they had raised since he was 11 weeks old. They knew they couldn’t move Buck, even if he hadn’t shown out-of-character aggression toward them. Terry finally called 911 at around 4 a.m. and the dispatcher advised them to call Poison Control. But when he called that number he got no response, and their frustration mounted even higher.

Sommers called dispatchers back, and this time two Huntington County Sheriff’s Department deputies, Don Whitney and Jason Wohlford, were sent out to their home. They arrived at the house on North Market Street in Andrews close to 4:30 a.m.

“They came in the house, and both of them said, ‘I’ve never seen this before,’” he says. “I told them, ‘Please, just get him outside in the yard and shoot him.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much the deputies could do; they were not allowed to shoot the dog, even though Sommers pleaded with them to put Buck out of his misery. And although Sommers asked, letting him borrow one of their revolvers so he could put the dog down himself was also out of the question.

The deputies alerted Animal Control, and stayed with the Sommerses while someone responded to the call.
The call woke Animal Control Officer Lori Vanover at 5 a.m. and she rushed to the Sommers home. When she got there around 6 a.m., the situation was dire.

“The dog was seizing very badly,” she recalls. “I don’t know how he lasted like he did, but he was seizing just continuously.”

Vanover conferred with Janelle Conley, a member of the county’s animal rescue team and also a vet tech, about what could be going on with Buck. There wasn’t much they could do for him at home; he needed to go to an animal hospital right away.

“With the help of Deputy Whitney and Deputy Wohlford, we were able to get him into a crate, and we put his little blanket in there with him so he was nice and comfortable,” Vanover recalls. “It was really odd, because when we took him outside he became really comfortable – I don’t know if it cooled him off or what – and he calmed down quite a bit.”

The seizures had abated somewhat, but Buck’s breathing was still labored and the dog was still in grave distress.

The Sommerses were baffled, because they had just had their dog to the vet two months earlier for his rabies vaccine update and was fit and healthy.

A neighbor brought his pickup truck over, and the first responders worked together to load the crate into the back end. Sommers and the neighbor rushed Buck to an animal hospital in Wabash, but they were unequipped to treat him. They then went to a large animal veterinarian in Urbana, where Sommers made the decision to put his beloved pet down.

“They got right up in the truck, and gave him the injection, and put him out of his misery,” he adds. “It’s an experience you wouldn’t want to go through.”

Vanover says she will never know for sure, but it is not uncommon for boxers to develop brain tumors when they become older.

“We were at least able to be with them so they weren’t there alone,” she adds. “When something like that happens and they don’t know what else to do, if you have somebody there to help you a little bit, we’ll always be there to help anybody like that who needs help.”

Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel says Sommers called him and thanked him for the actions of the deputies who answered their distress signal in the middle of the night.

“He just went on and on about all the deputies did, way beyond the call of duty, and being that they’re invalid. He said, ‘We just didn’t know where to turn. We’ve got nobody.’ He takes comfort in knowing that they did everything humanly possible to try to make it work,” Stoffel says. “It’s not a call we normally go on at 4:30 in the morning, but these poor folks – their back was against the wall and they had nothing and nowhere to go. I was just glad our officers stepped up and answered the call.”

The Sommerses are still mourning the loss of Buck, who they say was a show-quality animal and had sired many litters of purebred boxer puppies in his lifetime. But remembering the intervention of Huntington County’s first responders has helped bring comfort to the couple.

“I am very appreciative that we live in a community where you can get help like that,” Terry Sommers says. “Most places would just tell you, ‘It’s a dog. Deal with it.’”