Labrador sliced by boat propeller recovering after surgery at BluePearl

CLEARWATER — A 1-year-old silver Labrador who fell from the bow of her owner’s boat and was sliced by a propeller is recovering after surgery at BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital and will soon be reunited with her owner.

dog with her owner

Maddie Belle with her owner Mary Griffen

“She’s our little Rocky Balboa – she took a beating but she’s a fighter.” said Maddie Belle’s owner, Mary Griffen, who is a physician.

Griffen said she is grateful for the expert surgery, emergency care and round-the-clock monitoring Maddie Belle received at BluePearl. “They did an amazing job,” she said. The dog was treated for possible fluid intake into her lungs and for extensive cuts from propeller blades. She also received surgery for a fractured jaw.

Griffen and her boyfriend Gregg Marrocco were boating with friends on Sunday in Tampa Bay near St. Petersburg. Maddie Belle was perched on the bow of Griffen’s 23-foot Malibu.

All of a sudden, Griffen heard something hit the propeller. At the same time, Marrocco said, “Where’s Maddie Belle?” Instantly, they both realized something bad had happened.

Griffen killed the motor and everyone began searching the bay. Then Griffen spotted her dog, bobbing motionlessly. She started the motor to move closer. At the sound, Maddie raised her head over the surface.

Griffen dove into the water and side-stroked back to the boat with her rescued dog. Maddie Belle was bleeding from cuts to her face and neck that barely missed her left eye and important blood vessels.

As she motored back to her St. Petersburg home, Griffen’s own medical training kicked in. She knew any trauma patient needs to get to the ER as soon as possible. And she remembered her primary veterinarians at St. Petersburg’s 4th Street Pet Hospital had given her a refrigerator magnet with the name and address of an emergency pet hospital called BluePearl.

At BluePearl, Maddie Belle was immediately given medicine for pain relief and possible head/brain trauma, said Dr. Lauren Harris, who is board-certified in emergency and critical care. Maddie Belle also provided antibiotics and fluids for shock. She was on oxygen for two days, a treatment for fluid in the lungs. And she was given X-ways which showed two bone fractures in her face.

By Tuesday, Maddie Belle had recovered well enough for surgery to repair a fractured jaw, performed by Dr. Natasha Stanke, a board-certified veterinary surgeon.

Mary Griffen visits her dog Maddie Belle at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Clearwater.

Mary Griffen visits her dog Maddie Belle at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Clearwater.

Maddie Belle has plenty of stitches and a swollen face, but her appetite is good and she still loves being petted and loved – all good signs she is recovering well.

Griffen calls Maddie Belle “the most loving, cuddling, sweetest, kindest dog you’ve ever met.” She loves the water, and is always thrilled to get onto Griffen’s boat, but has never before shown any inclination to jump off.

Griffen said the whole scary day was a reminder of how quickly emergencies can happen on the water.  It’s also a great example of the need to get pets to the hospital as soon as possible during emergencies.

The experience is also a good reminder for pet owners to use caution when boating with pets. Here are a few tips to keep your four-legged friends safe when you’re out on the water:

  • Pets need access to ample fresh drinking water when on a boat to keep their body temperature in the normal range.
  • Give your pets a break by pulling them into your lap or giving them a secure spot to lie down. Being on board can be tiring, especially for older pets, due to the movement of the boat. Your pet may become fatigued and, therefore, susceptible to injury due to the constant movement and balancing they have to do.
  • If your pet has trouble swimming, consider purchasing a life jacket or other pet-safe floatation device.
  • If your pet is going to go swimming, ensure there is an easy access point for him or her to get on and off the boat to prevent fatigue or injuries. And always stay close to your pet while in the water.