TULLAHOMA, Tenn. - Franklin County Sheriff's Department Deputy Troy Parsons wasn't planning on bringing a dog home when he showed up for work on Sept. 13, but by the time his shift ended, there was no doubt about where the German Shepherd, now known as Jerry Lee, would be spending the rest of his days.
"He's part of the family now," Parsons said. The dog's new name is a nod to the 1989 movie "K-9," in which James Belushi is partnered up with a German Shepherd named Jerry Lee.
Parsons was dispatched to a field at the end of Hasty Lane that Saturday morning to respond to a report of an animal shot in the neck. When he arrived at the location, Parsons found a gravely injured German Shepherd lying in the grass.
"I'm surprised he even made it," the deputy said. "It's a gruesome wound."
The call Parsons responded to was actually the second report the sheriff's department had received about the incident. Deputies responded to the initial report the night before, but were unable to locate the dog in the dark. Parsons estimated that Jerry Lee had been lying in the field for approximately 12 hours before he arrived on the scene.
"He was in bad shape," the deputy said. "He'd lost a lot of blood and he was about done for."
The dog had a gaping neck wound, and judging by the patches of blood scattered across the field, he had spent the majority of the night dragging himself along the ground, Parsons said.
"He was shot through the neck. The exit wound is under his chin and it blew that whole section out," Parsons said. "He was laying there with his eyes open when I found him. At first, I thought he was dead."
But as the deputy approached, the dog began to move and Parsons knew he didn't have much time to take life-saving action.
Parsons contacted Control Officer Joe Burgraff looking for advice on where to take the dying dog, and Burgraff suggested Dr. Kim Hambrick, the veterinarian at Tullahoma's Hambrick Animal Clinic.
"She examined him, cleaned the wound, gave him three shots and gave me a bunch of pills to give him," Parsons said, adding Jerry Lee has had weekly follow-up visits with Hambrick ever since.
"If it hadn't have been for Joe, I wouldn't have known what to do," Parsons said. "I don't think he (Jerry Lee) could be in any better hands. She (Hambrick) has been great with him. The only other option animal control would have had would have been to euthanize him. He was suffering and they wouldn't have had another option."
Parsons said Hambrick took Jerry Lee on as a patient without concern about payment for her services.
"She said if we could get money for the bill, fine. If not, that's OK too," Parsons said.
A website has been set up by the animal clinic to accept donations to offset Jerry Lee's medical expenses. So far $1,085 has been collected. Parsons said he is grateful to everyone who has chipped in to help Jerry Lee on his road to recovery.
"I appreciate everything they've done," he said. "That's phenomenal. He hasn't had the surgery yet to close it up and that's a lot of money. Whatever the donations don't cover, I'd gladly pay."
Parsons suspects Jerry Lee had not had an easy life before he was shot. The dog, estimated to be between 4 and 5 years old, was wearing a collar and trailing a lead when the deputy found him. Jerry Lee showed clear signs of long-term neglect. He was about 25 pounds underweight when he was discovered, and Hambrick's examinations have determined the dog has roundworms, hookworms and heartworms.
"He's had a rough time," Parsons said. "Before he was shot he was mistreated and neglected."
So far, Parsons has not had any luck indentifying Jerry Lee's original owner or the person who shot the dog. However, he's hopeful that word will make its way to him through the grapevine. Judging by the severity of the dog's injuries, Parsons said he suspects Jerry Lee was shot with a deer rifle or a larger caliber handgun.
"He's not a threatening dog," Parsons said. "A lot of people are naturally scared of these dogs and they don't wait to see if they're mean or not. I think he was chained to a tree and he broke loose and went looking for food. If the dog was down there running cattle, someone's going to shoot him. That's just life in the country."
Depending on the circumstances of the shooting, if a suspect is ever identified, that individual could be facing animal cruelty charges.
Since he became part of the Parsons family, Jerry Lee has made significant progress. His wound is healing and he's put on 7 pounds. Parsons changes the dressing on the wound once a day and administers antibiotics to ward off infection. He's now working to housebreak Jerry Lee and teach him basic commands. The German Shepherd is an enthusiastic and affectionate pupil.
"My reasoning for it (taking Jerry Lee in) was German Shepherds have really helped our way of work," Parsons said. "They make great police dogs and I just couldn't see him put down on account of someone's stupidity. I think there's an adoption fee. I'll gladly pay it. I think he'll make a good part of the family.