At a railroad crossing in Shirley, Mass., Lilly, the pit bull, hurdled into a race against time. The dog's owner, Christine Spain, had collapsed on the train tracks, and the westbound freight train was coming.
Lilly dragged her owner out of danger, but the train's front wheel caught and crushed her paw.
The train struck Lilly a few minutes after midnight on May 3, according to Rob Halpin, spokesman for Boston's Angell Animal Medical Center. The dog was "critically wounded," he said but managed to reach her owner's side. She stayed by the unconscious woman, until help arrived.
The train engineer had seen a "frantic" dog struggling to pull the woman to safety, but he couldn't stop the train in time, Halpin said.
"The engineer, who asked not to be identified, was convinced the train had struck both Christine and the dog, and realized only after stopping and rushing to their aid that Christine was unharmed," Halpin said. But Lilly had been badly hurt.
"The train's wheels sliced through her right foot, fractured her pelvis in multiple locations and caused other internal injuries," he said.
The engineer called for help. The Shirley, Mass. animal control officer took Lilly to a local emergency veterinary hospital and Spain's son, Boston police Officer David Lanteigne, was notified. He rushed the 8-year-old dog to Angell Animal Medical Center.
Doctors amputated Lilly's right leg on May 5. She had a second surgery to fix her pelvis and back left leg. She has a long and difficult recovery ahead, Dr. Meg Whalen, a veterinarian with the Angell Emergency and Critical Care Unit, said.
Halpin went on to explain Lilly "will be unable to bear weight or walk without assistance for the first few months after her surgery."
Halpin said Lilly is still in the hospital as of press time, but her caregivers hoped that she would be able to go home soon.
"We're hoping," Halpin said. "She's improving, and we're hoping to get her back to some semblance of her former self. But, of course, she'll have to learn to walk again."
Lanteigne said Lilly will go home with him. Spain will also move in while Lilly is recovering.
"Lilly means the world to my mother," Lanteigne said. He adopted Lilly from a shelter several years ago as a companion for Spain, who has suffered from alcoholism.
Spain "doted on the dog from the moment she came to live with her," he said. The bond with the dog first changed and then saved Spain's life.
Whalen thinks Lilly will also make it.
Lilly's bravery "has captured the hearts of our entire staff," she said.
How to Help: Because of the severity of Lilly's injuries and the extensive treatment she required, the MSPCA-Angell has provided financial aid through its Pet Care Assistance program to help cover the cost of Lilly's care. In addition to supporting other MSPCA programs, Pet Care Assistance provides financial aid to families whose animals need emergency, intermediate and critical care at Angell. Readers who would like to donate to Pet Care Assistance can visit www.mspca.org/helplilly.
Pictured: Lilly, an 8-year-old pit bull, underwent emergency surgery after a freight train struck her. The dog pulled her owner, Christine Spain, to safety after Spain collapsed and fell unconscious on the track. (Photo Courtesy of MSPCA-Angell)