Abused dog's 'miracle' comeback has sad ending

Abused dog, rescued six months ago, dies suddenly. The owner takes solace in knowing Miracle's last days were better than her first.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
June 5, 2006

CRYSTAL SPRINGS - After the beating and torture came weeks of surgery and rehabilitation. Her plight earned her a national following, but it wasn't until April that Miracle got to be just another dog. Running and playing outside, fetching anything she could, being rubbed and scratched behind the head.

That's how she spent the last days of her life.

Miracle, the abused dog found with her tongue sticking out of her clamped jaws, was found dead May 20 at her new home by the man who rescued her six months before. The miniature pinscher was just 8 months old when she choked to death. She had a gag reflex and threw up but was unable to clear her throat with her partially amputated tongue, a result of her ordeal.

"She brought so much joy to my life when I brought her home," said Gary Franckewich. "To see her from the day I found her to the day I got to bring her home, she was an incredible little dog. She only lived 33 days (here), but I tell you what, she lived a lifetime, and this house isn't the same without her.

"She was just always happy. It was like she was always smiling. She was more than a joy. ... I don't know what the words are. She was the love of my life.

A life changed, Franckewich said, that Dec. 5 day he saw the frail puppy limp toward him at a job site. Someone had pulled her tongue out, then used a rubber band to shut her jaws around it.

The builder rushed her to the Crystal Springs Veterinary Clinic. The prognosis was grim: The dog had been without food or water for days, maggots infested her tongue, flesh rotted off her lips, three limbs were broken, her hip was dislocated and her immune system was shot.

Once near death, the puppy started to live up to the name Franckewich gave her. Miracle's ordeal didn't leave her afraid of those lining up to help her. Letters, cards and checks arrived from across the nation for Miracle. Soon, she was playing again, and even learned to eat and drink with her amputated tongue.

In February, authorities arrested a 14-year-old Crystal Springs boy who they said boasted of abusing Miracle and charged him with felony animal cruelty. The boy, whose identity is being withheld by the St. Petersburg Times because of his age, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year at a detention facility.

Franckewich, 47, showed up at the clinic at 8 a.m. on Easter to take Miracle home. She was facing a lifetime of medical care, complications and more surgery but had $30,000 in donations to pay for it all. What's left will be returned, the clinic said.

"She got everybody to start looking out more for the animals," said Pam Edris, clinic officer manager. "She was wonderful. She was more than just a dog."

The day before she died, Miracle visited a sixth-grade class at Pine View Middle School in Land O'Lakes. It was her biggest audience yet. The students built her a toy box and filled it up. Miracle would pick up the toys and lay them at their feet.

The next day, Franckewich left Miracle and Timber, his 8-month-old German shepherd/pit bull terrier, in the back yard while he ran errands for an hour or two. When he returned, Miracle lay by the back door. At first, he thought she was sleeping.

He doesn't know how long he cradled her.

Franckewich takes solace in two thoughts: that the day he found her, tortured and beaten, was not her last and that she didn't die alone.

"Timber was with her," he said on Saturday. "I know it's another dog, but the thought of her being by herself after all that happened to her, at least she had her sister with her."

Miracle was cremated. Her remains sit in a rose-colored urn in a lighted glass case in his living room, surrounded by photos of her.

Franckewich couldn't work for days. A friend said he relates better to animals than humans. He doesn't deny it.

"I know this is going to sound weird, but I wear her tag around my neck," Franckewich said. "I'll probably never take it off."