Two years after a West Philadelphia couple rescued an abandoned pit bull from a local shelter, the silver-furred tank of love they named Blue rescued them by taking a bullet during an armed invasion of their Cobbs Creek home.
Because of Blue’s heroic actions last month, Nina Taylor and Leroy Buchanan are alive to tell the tale, and thanks to the team at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, Blue’s tail is still wagging.
Taylor, 33, and Buchanan, 50, live in a neighborhood where, in the last month alone, 43 violent crimes and 71 property crimes were reported, according to city data.
“All you got to be doing is letting one of your family members in or something and these [guys] come running down the street with guns. It’s crazy,” Taylor said. “So I said instead of doing the wrong thing that’s going to get me incarcerated, I’m going to go ahead and do it the legal way and get some protection.”
That’s where Blue came in. Stocky but muscular with broad shoulders and a jawline that could cut glass, Blue is intimidating at first glance, especially with the dog's metal-spiked collar. But within seconds, the 8-year-old blue-nose pit bull is a puddle of love with well-wishers.
Shortly before 10 a.m. Feb. 13, Taylor had just returned from the market and Buchanan was making breakfast when an acquaintance they know as “D.I.” knocked on their door.
Taylor answered and says D.I. pushed his leg in the door, saying that it hurt. Moments later, a second man — wearing a black ski mask — jumped over the railing from the porch next door, brandishing a gun and demanding that Taylor “ ‘give it ... up!’ ” she recalled.
Buchanan ran from the kitchen to the front door and twice gave Blue a command: “Get him!”
The gunman started to run and Blue chased him into the street, where the dog locked its jaws onto the man's leg. The man shot Blue once in the left shoulder.
“I instantly broke down,” Taylor said.
But Blue didn’t break the hold. It wasn’t until Buchanan gave the clear signal that Blue let the man go. The injured dog then hobbled back inside and curled up, whimpering.
The gunman ran off and was followed shortly behind by D.I., who the couple now believe set them up.
Taylor stayed at the scene to speak to police while Buchanan loaded a bloody Blue into the back of a police cruiser to be taken to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's Ryan Veterinary Hospital.
Brian Brophy, a surgery resident at Penn Vet and the lead surgeon on Blue’s case, said this wasn’t his first gunshot victim.
“We see more than we’d like to,” he said.
In the operating room, eight to 10 people worked on Blue as '90s alternative music played in the background to ease the tension. Doctors sawed open Blue’s sternum to track the path of the bullet. The shot that injured the dog was a “through and through,” Brophy said, one that went from the left shoulder through the chest and lung lobe and came out through the sternum. A lobe of Blue's lung was removed.
The surgery took about an hour; Blue returned home four days later.
“Pit bulls have an inherent toughness and will to live about them,” Brophy said.
Taylor and Buchanan were able to offset some of the cost of Blue’s $10,000 surgery thanks to Ryan Hospital’s Charitable Pet Care Fund, which provided a significant amount toward Blue’s care.
Buchanan and Taylor said they’ve told police who they believe set them up, but he remains a free man. Both have said they’ve seen him in the neighborhood since the crime.
Police said there have been no arrests in the case.
When asked whether Taylor considers her dog a hero now, she said: “Damn right! That’s my son.”
“If he wasn’t here we probably would have been all shot up,” she said.
Despite a brush with death, Blue’s personality hasn’t changed a bit.
“He still knows who he is and he knows he’s home,” Taylor said.