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How love (and lobsters) saved his life

Things didn’t look good for Watkins.

This severely malnourished creature was barely recognizable as a dog, let alone a Treeing Walker Coonhound.

He’d been abandoned along Watkins Street in Grundy, Virginia in the heart of Appalachia. Yes, that’s how he got his name.

“I believe Watkins was part of a litter that was neglected and mistreated and Watkins was dumped near where I live in hopes that the Humane Society could help him,” said the president of the Buchanan County Humane Society Stephanie Smith-Justus. “I often wonder about his siblings, whether or not they survived and what they all went through in those first 90 days of life.”

It was lucky they found Watkins. A friend, who had been checking on some undeveloped property, called Stephanie and begged her to come immediately. “He was so shocked that Watkins moved when he tried to touch him,” she explained. The man had to go but, knowing Stephanie was on her way, he marked Watkins’ location by sticking a soda can on a branch on the ground.

By the time Stephanie and her husband got there, Watkins had dragged his body across the road.

“We searched for about an hour before we found him,” she said. “He was on the opposite side of the dirt road, lying in a damp ditch covered with brush and leaves.”

Watkins was barely alive.

“Being a part of animal rescue, I’ve unfortunately had to watch animals die and actually let them die way too often,” said Stephanie. “Sometimes, I tell them that it’s ok to go and encourage them to quit fighting. Watkins was different from the minute we saw him. I never wanted him to give up. I’m so glad he was on board with that for most of his journey.”

They rushed Watkins to a wonderful and caring vet in town.

“Dr. Rasnake was quick to diagnose a twisted bowel, which required emergency surgery,” said Stephanie. “Watching Watkins struggle to live was almost unbearable at times. Dr. Rasnake told me how important it was to be positive and not let him know I was scared for him.”

It was tough to hide the fear when Watkins wouldn’t eat.

“I thought he had given up the will to live, we all did,” said Stephanie. “We tried every single flavor of baby food and also every can of dog food available but he went days without eating. Finally he had a feeding tube inserted. He was scary skinny.”

Dr. Rasnake had done all he could. He made arrangements for Watkins to get special treatment at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg – about a two-and-a-half hour drive away.

“They would call me with updates at 7 a.m and again at 9 p.m. daily during his 10-day stay there,” recalled Stephanie. “I dared anyone to touch the phone when it was time for updates.”

Stephanie had already been volunteering with the Buchanan County Humane Society for about 6 years at this time. She’d quit teaching after 21 years and was not looking for another job. This all happened quite by accident.

“Animal Rescue is funny like that, once you know about animals in need, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist,” said Stephanie, who was now devoting everything she had to Watkins and his fight for life.

“I spent many nights awake praying for him,” she said.

Stephanie posted Watkins’ story on Facebook and the loved poured in from across the United State and 18 different countries. Watkins was making progress. Then, he began thriving.

Watkins4Rebecca Pepin | Fetching Apparel

“I saved every card, letter, and note that Watkins received while he was sick,” said Stephanie. “That’s a scrapbook that I can barely lift!”

Watkins latched on to one gift in particular – a toy lobster that had been mailed from Maine. Each night Watkins would put the lobster in his water bowl before going to bed.


“When I shared this with his legion of followers on Facebook, lobsters started arriving in every shape and color from all over the world,” laughed Stephanie.


“He prefers “Lobster” to any other toy or treat,” she said. “Lobster blankets, collars, Christmas ornaments, tote bags, we have everything ever made with a lobster on it!  He has a basket of lobsters on top of his crate and he chooses one to sleep with every night.”


Watkins’ journey began in 2015. Today, he has a happy life with Stephanie and her pack.


“Watkins is finally a normal dog,” she said. “And by normal, I mean he is finally learning to do normal dog behaviors. Like running and barking for example. His legs were so bad at first that he walked on his wrists (carpal joints). He didn’t bark for a long time, he was always so quiet and timid. Now, he sings what we lovingly refer to as “the song of his people.” If you’ve ever heard the bay of a Treeing Walker Coonhound, you know what I am referring to. He loves riding in a car, he loves his crate and bed and he loves his toy lobsters!”

And Watkins is loved back. It’s amazing to see how far this now 87-pound hound has come.


“He was a little dog who was loved by a big world who helped save his life,” said Stephanie.

If you would like to support the Buchanan County Humane Society, please shop Fetching-Apparel.com through January 31st. Use coupon code: WATKINS and they will get 40% of profits!
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2 thoughts on “How love (and lobsters) saved his life

  1. I always heaitate to read these stories. I am so glad I did. Like Stephanie said, once you know the need you cannot turn away. I am so glad she didnt give up on Watkins and helped him fight. His lobster fasination is amazing! What an odd pairing but shows that dogs are not just dogs. They love need and want just as we do!

    • We’re so glad you read Watkins’ story! What a special guy. The lobster thing is super cool, isn’t it! Such an important part of the story too because it represents the outpouring of support from so many miles away. Heartwarming!!

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