MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. -- After Jo Ellen Kleinhenz let her playful puppy, Chloe, outside in the backyard to go to the bathroom, she heard "this terrible yelping noise, just this awful, awful sound."
Kleinhenz rushed outside and encountered a nightmarish scene. Chloe was desperately clinging onto a branch with her mouth — and a hungry alligator was trying to drag her beneath the murky surface of knee-deep floodwater bordering the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary.
The gator eventually released Chloe from its powerful jaws and vanished. But the puppy — who nearly drowned — suffered an array of life-threatening injuries.
"She had a penetrating abdominal wound, so I think the gator had originally bitten her in the stomach and pulled her down. She had a crushing injury — penetrating wounds and broken bones — in her back left foot. And she had a few other bite wounds on her left shoulder," said Dr. Elizabeth Chosa of Courtenay Animal Hospital.
Chloe underwent 4 1/2 hours of emergency surgery at the Merritt Island animal hospital after the Sept. 26 alligator attack. Black, dirty swamp water had contaminated the dog's gator-bite lacerations.
"Her stomach was full of swamp water. Her lungs were full of swamp water. So I actually thought she might not survive the first 24 hours because of the near-drowning," Chosa said.
"Once I opened her abdomen, I had to cut open her stomach and remove a bunch of sticks and leaves because she had held onto the branch with her mouth while the gator was biting her. She had chomped over and over on this branch," she said.
Chloe has endured three subsequent surgeries, and her maimed back left leg was amputated Oct. 6. But Kleinhenz and Chosa said the perky puppy has remained upbeat and energetic throughout her medical ordeals.
"Chloe is already running around like she never had four legs!" Courtenay Animal Hospital officials posted Oct. 9 on the facility's Facebook page alongside a video of her hobbling down a hallway, tail wagging.
"She seems to feel soooo much better without that painful foot. Less than 24 hours after surgery, she was already moving around really well and learning to potty on 3 legs. The hardest thing now is keeping her quiet & still enough to finish healing!" the Facebook post stated.
The afternoon of the alligator attack, Chloe squeezed past a neighbor's wooden fence and entered territory abutting the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary that had been flooded since Hurricane Irma struck, Kleinhenz said.
Kleinhenz adopted Chloe in June from an Orlando rescue organization when the puppy was 3 months old. Kleinhenz refers to herself as "Chloe's mom," and she dresses her dog in a pink camouflage onesie while the skin graft heals on her stomach.
"She's such a survivor. She's so strong," Kleinhenz said.
Chosa said she had never previously treated a dog after an alligator attack — because the dogs don't survive.
"Every time she sees me, she wags her tail. She licks me. She loves me," Chosa said. "A lot of dogs would try to bite me. A lot of dogs would be cowering when they see me. And this dog is just so resilient. She's so inspiring.
"I feel like if everybody in the world had the same attitude that Chloe has, the world would be a better place."