Soccer twins’ drive, UF veterinarians save dog

Calvin and his owners

Lauren and Brooke Smith, twins and members of the UF women’s soccer team, pictured third and fourth from left, are shown with their dog, Calvin, on Dec. 2 following his discharge from the UF Small Animal Hospital. With them are Dr. Katie Barry, left, UF veterinary student Jessica O’Neill, holding Calvin, and a few of the twins’ friends and soccer teammates. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

By Sarah Carey

Thanks to his devoted owners, twin sisters who are players on the University of Florida women’s soccer team, their creative fundraising efforts and the Gator Nation, a dog named Calvin is now home after successful treatment at UF’s Small Animal Hospital for injuries caused by being hit by a car on Nov. 22.

Calvin, a Labrador mixed breed and the unofficial soccer team mascot, was discharged Dec. 2 and will continue to receive follow-up care at UF for a few months, but UF veterinarians say he is recovering well. The lion’s share of his medical bills have been covered through a GoFundMe page the twins, Brooke and Lauren Smith, established when they realized that Calvin’s life literally depended on their efforts.

“Dr. (Katie) Barry, who met with us the morning after he arrived at UF, told us his expenses would be $10,000 and I needed to make that decision before the night was over,” Brooke said. “It was surgery, amputation or euthanasia. I called my parents to update them, but I knew what I was going to do. Calvin deserved a fair chance of survival and I wanted to give him that.”

Calvin’s accident happened the day he turned 7 months old. At the time, Brooke and Lauren were at Donald Dizney Stadium on the UF campus for the team’s NCAA playoff game against Duke.

Brooke did not play this year, but was watching in the stands when her mother, who was in town for the game, received a call from a neighbor saying Calvin had escaped from their home — probably through a window — and had been hit by a car.

“I said, ‘what do you mean, he was hit?’” Brooke said. “All I could think about was getting to him, ASAP.”

Brooke, her family members and a friend rushed out of the stands and headed for their house. They arrived to find police and neighbors outside, and were told that Calvin had been taken to UF’s small animal emergency clinic.

“I ran into the emergency room and the staff person at the front desk knew exactly who I was there to see,” Brooke said. “Seven people had called them to let them know that Calvin was on his way. But whether he was still alive, what he looked like, I knew nothing. I was crying nonstop. My anxiety was through the roof and I don’t think I’ve ever been so heartbroken.”

Toni Yang, D.V.M., an intern in the hospital’s emergency and critical care service, soon met with Brooke and told her Calvin was on pain medication and had likely sustained at least three fractures and possibly a broken hip, in addition to having numerous other severe wounds. Knowing she was desperate to see Calvin, Yang allowed Brooke to visit him in the ICU.

“He was on a stretcher and unbandaged, so I saw everything,” Brooke said. “This was hard, but as soon as he saw me, he gave me kisses and wagged his tail, so this gave me hope. His spirit was still alive.”

After the UF soccer game ended in a 2-1 loss to the Gator team, Lauren looked for her family members, who typically would be on the field to provide support. A friend who’d stayed behind quickly found Lauren to relay what had happened with Calvin, and within minutes, Lauren and and more friends, including soccer teammates and their family members, rushed to the hospital.

Calvin’s injuries included several soft tissue wounds on his legs and multiple fractures. The twins were overwhelmed, but their mother told them to continue with Calvin’s care and that one way or another, they would figure out how to pay the bill.

Brooke immediately set up a GoFundMe account with the hopes of raising a few hundred dollars from family and friends. In one day, the account had generated $2,000. Amazed and inspired, the twins and their roommates became obsessed with sharing Calvin’s story among their friends and their extended network.

“We sat around our living room continuously refreshing the campaign site and spreading the word to everyone we knew,” Brooke said. “Thankfully, being a part of the Gator Nation, we were able to reach out to some ‘famous’ athletes, including UF football cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, elite gymnast and Olympic silver medalist Bridget Sloan and former UF basketball player Michael Frazier, who have thousands of followers. They posted it on their social media and the donations started flowing in.”

Heather Mitts, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and former member of the 1998 UF women’s soccer team, which won a national championship, tweeted with the hashtag, #BringCalHome.

On Dec. 2, when Calvin was discharged, approximately $9,500 had been raised, covering all of his medical charges to that point. They have since received additional funds, in part due to news coverage of their situation. Although the sisters know that Calvin’s remaining care will incur additional expenses, they are confident they will work through what they need to and plan to continue sharing his story through social media and their network of friends.

“We couldn’t be more thankful for the endless support we have received,” Brooke said.

In addition to being the team’s unofficial mascot, Calvin has been Brooke’s special companion over the past few months as she came to terms with her decision not to play soccer this year, a choice she’d made just before she and Lauren adopted Calvin.

“When we first saw him at PetSmart, he was 4 months old and had been in the Dixie County Animal Shelter for a good while,” she said. “He was the only dog that wasn’t barking and freaking out. We actually had to wake him up in his cage because we wanted to figure him out. He was so loving and in his own little world.”

“Our mom was there, and she said, ‘If you don’t want him, I do,’ which sealed the deal for us,” Brooke said. “We decided to bring him home and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Although getting a dog while in college and managing to provide the life any dog deserves is not an easy task, the twins said they felt sure they could make it work. His life with them has brought Calvin out of his shell and has included regular trips to the soccer practice field, where he earned his unofficial mascot moniker.

Keeping Calvin from being overly active during his recovery has been a challenge, but the twins say that between them and their roommates, someone is always with him and they are heartened by the progress he has made. They also say the experience has changed them.

Lauren said Calvin’s accident helped her to focus on something much bigger and more important than any soccer game — her dog’s life.

“My life revolved around soccer; it was something that I relied on every day, something that in many ways has defined me throughout my life,” she said. “The team’s loss that Saturday afternoon was the saddest moment of my career, yet it seemed like a small bump in the road once I walked off the field. Calvin’s well-being was the only concern and we were determined to save his life, at any cost. Little did he know that he was helping me in the process.”

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