OZARK, Ala. (AP) — Animal control officer Wanda Snell knows what she saw: A veterinarian inserted a needle into the black-and-brown mutt and injected a chemical meant to euthanize the dog no one had adopted. The animal moved a bit and was still and quiet by the time she left the shelter for home.
What Snell can't explain is how or why a mixed-breed dog that nobody wanted recovered overnight and has since bounced back fully from what should have been a lethal injection.
Less than a month later, the dog lives with a family in a suburb of the Alabama city of Birmingham, where the animal romps and plays with another rescue dog. His survival seemed all the more surprising since the same dog already been struck by a car before arriving at the Ozark City Animal Shelter.
A rescue worker who retrieved the roughly 4-year-old male dog after the failed procedure named him "Lazarus" after the man the Bible says Jesus brought back to life. Snell has another name for that escape artist of a dog. "I call him Houdini," she said.
No one connected with the shelter is exactly sure what happened to prevent Lazarus' death, and officials declined to release the name of the contract veterinarian who performed the injection.
Shelter volunteer Cortney Blankenship has an idea, however. "His body overcame and he had a will to live and somehow, someway he made it through," said Blankenship.
Records show the dog arrived at the shelter on Aug. 19 after being dropped off by its owner, who Blankenship said was moving and could no longer care for it. The animal was cut and bloody after being struck by a car and a pad on its left rear foot was missing.
Blankenship tried to find a rescue home through social media, but no one stepped up to adopt. So the dog's scheduled date with death arrived on Sept. 10.
Snell said the vet arrived late that afternoon to euthanize animals due to be put to sleep. Snell said she accompanied the veterinarian and witnessed the entire procedure. The dog moved a bit when injected, almost as if fighting the drug before it quieted and was still, Snell said. The animal was left for dead inside a pen, its body to be removed later.
But when Snell arrived for work the next morning, she saw the dog standing in an outdoor pen linked to the interior kennel. The dog had walked out and helped himself to some water.
"He was back up and breathing and going right about business like it's nothing," said Ozark police Capt. Bobby Blankenship, who supervises the city shelter and is Cortney Blankenship's father.
Capt. Blankenship doesn't have any doubt the veterinarian tried to euthanize the dog. In fact, the dog was "wobbly" and unsteady for some days afterward, he said. Those problems have since passed.
Dr. Robert Lofton of the veterinary school at Auburn University said such cases are rare. While he hasn't examined the dog and wasn't involved in its handling, Lofton said the dog's survival could have resulted from an improper dose of the drug used or possibly a vein that dodged the needle tip.
And once Cortney Blankenship posted the story on Facebook, the dog's fortunes changed. The animal was claimed by another rescue group leader who turned it over to a family living about 160 miles away.
Jane Holston of Helena is now serving as Lazarus' foster mother. The dog has been diagnosed with a dangerous case of heart worms but is on medication. And the leg damaged from the car accident is in a cast and on the mend.
Left for dead weeks ago, Lazarus now romps in the grass and plays tug-of-war with housemate Tucker, another rescue dog living with Holston and her family.
"He's not skittish, he's not afraid of anything, anybody, any sounds. I mean, it's just amazing what all he has been through," Holston said.
Follow AP writer Jay Reeves at https://twitter.com/Jay_Reeves