Dogs that bite are not ordinarily lavished with praise, but Jerry Douthett’s little dog Kiko is being hailed as a lifesaver. Kiko apparently sensed an infection festering in his master’s right big toe – and chewed most of it off after Douthett passed out in a drunken stupor.
A trip to the hospital confirmed Douthett’s digit required amputation, and Kiko is being heralded by his owner for helping him realize he has been suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Douthett had a dangerously high blood-sugar level of 560 when admitted – many times the recommended 80 to 120.
“Jerry had had all these Margaritas, so I just let him sleep,” said his wife, Rosee, a registered nurse. "But then I heard these screams coming from the bedroom, and he was yelling, ‘My toe’s gone, my toe’s gone!’"
The Rockford man’s strange odyssey began several months ago when he started picking at what he thought was a small sliver on the bottom of his toe. He used a knife to cut skin away from the affected area, but it worsened, swelling so much he had to eschew shoes and resort to loose-fitting sandals.
“I was hiding it from people, Rosee included,” said Douthett, 48, who is a musician and a well-known wheeler-dealer in Rockford, where he was born and raised.
“It smelled, and I look back now and realize every time we’d visit someone with a dog, their dog would be sniffing all over my foot.”
Katy Batdorff | The Grand Rapids PressDoctors removed the rest of Jerry Douthett’s big toe after his dog, Kiko, chewed it off and ate it. But Douthett is grateful to his terrier, Kiko, because treating the wound led to a crucial diagnosis of diabetes for the owner.
Things escalated several weeks ago. “One day I was lying down working on a car and Rosee saw my foot, and she looked as though she’d seen a ghost,” he said. “We’ve got to go to the hospital,” he remembers her insisting.
Rosee suspected her husband was a diabetes candidate and urged him many times to be checked. He resisted, however, fearing the diagnosis. His brother died some years back from complications of diabetes.
Douthett finally decided two Fridays ago to consult medical help, but not before embarking on an outing to muster up some liquid courage.
That afternoon he downed “four or five beers” at a Rockford restaurant, then walked to a second site and quaffed two giant “golden” margaritas. Rosee drove him to their home less than a mile away, where he passed out on their bed.
Next thing the woozy Douthett realized, the couple’s year-old Jack Russell terrier was beside him on the bed. A pool of blood lay where Douthett used to have a toe.
“The toe was gone,” said Douthett. "He ate it. I mean, he must have eaten it, because we couldn’t find it anywhere else in the house. I look down, there’s blood all over, and my toe is gone."
Rosee, 40, rushed her husband to the hospital where she’s a gerontology nurse – Spectrum Health’s Blodgett Campus. Kiko had gnawed to a point below the nail-line. When tests revealed an infection to the bone, doctors amputated what was left of the toe.
“We see all sorts of problems, and I’m rarely surprised by anything, but I’m tucking this one away as an extreme oddity,” said Dr. Russell Lampen, an infectious specialist for Spectrum Health.
Lampen said it was crucial Douthett seek medical help because his glucose level was so high. He believes Douthett didn’t immediately awaken partly because of nerve damage caused by diabetes.
“A normal person, even consuming that much alcohol, probably would have awakened much earlier,” Lampen said.
The case should stand as a teachable moment for countless people who have uncontrolled diabetes, the doctor said, noting it is easily diagnosed. Douthett can live a healthy life if he watches his diet and manages other aspects of his disease, he said.
During his four-day hospital stay, Douthett said news of his foot’s fate spread.
More than once, he said, "Someone would come into my room and say, ‘So, what happened to you?’ and I’d say, ‘My dog ate my toe off,’ and they’d crack up and then they’d say, ‘OK, so what really happened to you?’ and I’d say, ‘No, really, my dog ate my toe.’
“Nobody could believe it,” Douthett said.
It might not surprise researchers studying the capacity of dogs to sniff out everything from cancer to blood glucose levels. Dogs have up to 220 million olfactory receptors, compared to 50 million or so in humans.
It probably also wouldn’t startle Linda Floyd, a 56-year-old diabetic from Illinois, who, two years ago, awakened to discover her miniature dachshund, Roscoe, had gnawed off her right big toe.
Floyd told reporters she had no feeling there because of nerve damage from diabetes, and a veterinarian said the toe had been bandaged because of a healing hangnail.
In Floyd’s case, the dog was euthanized, something Douthett initially pursued with animal control officials. He reversed the decision when others pointed out the obvious.
“If it hadn’t been for that dog, I could have ended up dead,” he said.
Still, the dog is under “house quarantine,” ordered by Kent County Animal Shelter Services, and subject to visits from animal control workers watching for signs of rabies. If there are none, the quarantine will be lifted Thursday, Douthett said.
In the meantime, he and friends are trotting out every pun they can think of to lighten the incident. That would include hosting a concert – a “toe-jam” – to recognize Kiko, and jokes about how Douthett should patronize eateries like Noto’s.
Even before surgery, he said he asked a nurse, "Is there any chance I can get whatever’s left of my toe, so I can give it to Kiko as a treat?"
He said she replied, "That’s the sickest thing I ever heard."
More seriously, Douthett said he has sworn off alcohol. “For the better part of 48 years, I’ve had a good run,” he said of his partying days.
And as for falling asleep, Douthett said he’s not taking any chances. “I don’t think Kiko would do it again,” he said, “but I wear shoes to bed now.”