Shot six times and cruelly left for dead, Bruiser the dog was given no hope of survival when he was eventually discovered - blind and covered in mud and blood - after three long nights alone in the north Queensland bush.
But the brave seven-year-old bull-mastiff cross has defied all the odds, thanks to the hard work and dedication of a team of Townsville rescuers, including Bruiser’s loving new owners, Aaron and Janice Smiles.
"No-one knows what happened to Bruiser, it’s all guesswork," Aaron says. "Someone’s obviously taken him out to the bush to put him down – but they used a low-powered rifle and mostly shot into his eyes. So they left him blind and horribly injured, but not dead. I have no words for the people who did this – they’re just cowards."
Bruiser was found earlier this year by local resident Larissa Huxley, who noticed him slumped on the side of the highway as she was driving.
Amazingly, it wasn’t until Larissa took Bruiser to the local vet in Ingham that she found out he’d been shot.
"The vet took one look at Bruiser’s head and knew they were gunshot wounds," Aaron says. "We couldn’t believe it when X-rays showed there were six bullets in there. The vet removed one, which was sent to police for forensic testing, but it was too risky to take out more."
Surgery to remove the remaining five bullets, which was undertaken five months later by a specialist team at James Cook University Clinic, took more than six hours, and was an expensive venture for Aaron and Janice.
"We’ve spent thousands of dollars, but he’s totally worth it," Aaron says. "Angel Paws also contributed – they’re a volunteer group that cares for abandoned pets, and they looked after Bruiser when he was first found."