By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What was supposed to be a happy moment turned tragic for a champion Minnesota show dog. After giving birth to a litter of puppies, the Great Dane left the vet badly burned.

It still hurts Cathy Bracht to see what happened to her dog, Alleiyah, whose scars will likely keep her from ever competing again.

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What exactly went wrong isn’t yet clear, what is clear is a call to better protect other pets.

Alleiyah is busy nursing her third litter of puppies, but this time she is doing it through much more pain.

A 165-pound Harlequin Great Dane, Alleiyah is a celebrated champion across the Midwest dog show circuit. She delivered her latest puppies at the end of September — where her others were born — at Blue Sky Animal Hospital in Wyoming, Minnesota.

She was home after just a few hours.

Bracht, who is a former vet tech herself, first noticed some discoloration on her dog.

“That first evening I noticed she was just up and about all night long. That just wasn’t like her,” Bracht said.

The next day, Bracht noticed a small blister on her back.

“I thought, ‘oh my God, is this a burn? A thermal burn?'” Bracht recalled.

A return trip to her vet confirmed Bracht’s fears: second- and third-degree burns all over Alleiyah’s right side.

“She’s a beautiful dog. She doesn’t deserve this,” Bracht said, wiping away tears.

“I know they’re heartbroken as we are,” Dr. Jeff Johnson said.

This is where the story of what exactly happened that morning isn’t clear.

Alleiyah was placed on a heating element to maintain her body temperature during her C-section, a common practice at vet clinics. She then went down the hall after coming off anesthesia, into a recovery room where Cathy brought her own heated dog bed from home.

It’s something Johnson says he didn’t know because it was covered by a heavy blanket.

Bracht, however, is convinced Johnson’s surgery equipment is to blame for the burns.

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“I do know 100 percent it happened during surgery,” she said.

Bracht said Johnson’s story about what exactly he used on her kept changing. He told WCCO he has since bought new heating equipment just to be safe, but he believes the heated pad Bracht brought from home was the problem.

“There are three people in the room checking those things. So that it can’t, even if it were to malfunction in a way that it doesn’t tend to do, it would not be undetected,” Johnson said.

Caroline Baldo is an anesthesiologist at the University of Minnesota Veternary Medical Center. She demonstrated the equipment the university uses for the dozens of surgeries performed here every day.

“The pad is placed on the table and the patient is placed on the pad,” Baldo said as she pointed to something called the Hot Dog Warming Device.

Then, a separate device — a warming blanket called the Bair Hugger — goes on the top.

Sensors from the Hot Dog Warming Device keeps track of the Bair Hugger blanket’s temperatures, monitoring it so it doesn’t get too hot.

“If these overheat regardless of the mechanism by which they’re providing heat to your patient they will actually send an alarm off and some of them will shut off,” Baldo said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association told WCCO there are multiple warming devices vets can use and the risk is low for thermal burns if the equipment is used correctly. There are no standards on what kind of heating elements should be used on pets in vet clinics just suggestions.

“Oh, I absolutely think it should be regulated,” Baldo said.

Alleiyah goes back to Johnson every few days to treat her burns.

“They’re yours. You don’t want to see them in any discomfort,” he said.

Johnson says he takes full responsibility for whatever happened since Alleiyah was in his care when it did.

“It’s just something that went wrong that never should have,” Bracht said.

Johnson said people should never put their pets directly on top of a heating pad. It’s best to slide the pad off to the side and put a blanket on top of your pet to make it look more like a tent.

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Baldo said the best thing any pet owner can do before surgery, is ask to see what kind of equipment will keep your pet warm. If it’s something you’re not comfortable with she says it’s best to go elsewhere.

Liz Collin