“Billy the Philly,” a 5-year-old bull terrier from Philadelphia, risked his life in January to save his owners from armed robbers. Months later, he is being honored for valor by his home state’s veterinary association.
On Aug. 14, Billy was named as the 2020 recipient of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s Wodan Animal Hero Award. The veterinary association’s executive director, Jennifer Keeler, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Billy was chosen because his story “captured the spirit” of the award.
“We give a lot of awards to very deserving service dogs,” Keeler explained, “but the whole committee was touched that this was just a dog who loves his owner … He was not trained. Instinct kicked in.”
In the early hours of Jan. 14, engineering student Felipe Sinisterra, 25, and his girlfriend, 23-year-old Natalia Gomez, were out walking Billy near their West Philadelphia residence; Sinisterra had just finished a night shift at the sushi restaurant where he worked.
The couple were approached by armed robbers on the street. Sinisterra handed over his phone, but Billy, agitated, began barking. The thieves panicked, opened fire, and shot the protective bull terrier in the chest.
Nearby officers rushed to the scene and provided the young couple with a police escort to Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital, Penn Live reported. Billy was in a bad way; the bullet had ripped through his heart, left lung, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and spleen.
After two complex lifesaving surgeries and several weeks at the vet clinic’s ICU, and contribution from a team of 30 staff, a bill of over $48,000 had amassed. Sinisterra and Gomez touched the hearts of Billy’s medical team by visiting their pup in the ICU every single day, despite battling with the uncertainty of how they would afford the medical expenses.
By this time, however, Sinisterra’s community had caught wind of Billy’s bravery, and donations started pouring in. Contributions to a GoFundMe drive, combined with Penn Vet’s Good Samaritan Fund and gifts from individual donors, eventually paid Billy’s vet bill in full.
Sinisterra’s heartfelt GoFundMe campaign alone raised over $27,000.
Billy, a strong young pup, was given a good prognosis despite his injuries and eventually made a full recovery. To have his best friend back by his side was an “immeasurable” feeling, said Sinisterra.
The 25-year-old, who received Billy as a birthday gift from his grandmother in 2015, accepted the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s Wodan Animal Hero Award on Billy’s behalf via a virtual ceremony. He credited Billy’s veterinary team for their expertise and for ensuring the brave dog lived to experience his accolade.
Martin Hackett, a spokesperson for Penn’s vet school and hospital, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Penn Vet staffers were “thrilled for Billy,” and for his owners.
“Their very special relationship is a triumphant, heartwarming example of the potency of the animal-human bond,” Hackett explained. “And we couldn’t be more fulfilled knowing that Billy and Mr. Sinisterra have a long, inseparable, and happy relationship ahead of them.”
Sinisterra suffered a setback when he lost his restaurant job in March, owing to cutbacks amid the pandemic shutdown. But moving to his mother’s home in northern Pennsylvania, he admitted, has been respite for his country-loving pup.
“Billy now has the opportunity of enjoying the green areas,” he reflected. “He is recovered now, almost completely. He has a lot of energy.”
Billy seems proud since his ordeal, Sinisterra ventured, puffing out his chest and perking his ears skyward. “I think he knows now he’s more the center of attention,” he joked, adding, “I am so grateful for this miracle. I’m so fortunate to have him with me.”
The Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s Wodan Animal Hero Award, inaugurated in 2001, was so named for its first recipient: a Harrisburg police dog that apprehended an armed suspect despite sustaining four gunshot wounds.
Billy, in receiving his award, joins a succession of animal heroes such as a group of search-and-rescue dogs from Ground Zero after 9/11, and an off-duty police K-9 that protected his own family during a severe tornado.
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