Thursday, September 26, 2013

Achtung, Puppy!

"So why haven’t you written lately?"

It’s a simple enough question but it conjured up anxiety when I heard it a few times over the past month. Where I used to post here once a week, this blog has been silent since January. 

“Are you giving up the blog?”
“Do you have writer’s block?”
I shrug. Yeah, I guess. Both.

But there’s more. Right after my last post went out to the masses, this happened:

That’s Milhouse, a rescue puppy. As best as we can tell, he’s part Pug, Beagle, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. We adopted him on February 2, and on February 7 he was diagnosed with Parvovirus. The evening prior to the 7th he was on the porch with me and ate a begonia flower, which he threw up shortly after.  Just to be safe, I Googled “are begonias poisonous to dogs.” Yep, they are. Crap.  But, he threw it up, he should be okay, right?   

Around  6 a.m. we got up to take him to pee. He did more than pee. A lot. And he was trying to throw up again. All he wanted to do was curl up on his pillow. He was listless, but still awake and still licking our hands and wagging his tail. We still thought it was “just” the flower and thought it would pass with time since he had thrown in up entirely. Even so, we took him to the vet first thing. On a hunch the vet asked to run a Parvo test because the symptoms were similar. We agreed. We really didn’t think that would be the case as the paperwork from the rescue indicated he’d had his Parvo shot before we'd adopted him.

It didn’t matter. He was Parvovirus positive and also positive for Giardia, which is an intestinal bacteria. Parvo usually kills puppies this young, and we knew that. Five days we’d had him. We were already fully attached to him. 

He spent four full days at the vet getting constant IV fluids to keep him hydrated and instill nutrients. Parvo destroys the intestines’ ability to hold onto food, so an infected puppy cannot retain any nutrients from food. Death typically occurs from dehydration and malnutrition. There is no cure for Parvo, you have to wait it out and hope for the best. Treatment is palliative.

We visited him twice per day, every day. Because the virus is so contagious, we had to clean everything at home that he might have touched with a bleach solution…the floors, his crate, our driveway/sidewalk/porches/yard where he’d “gone”, his toys and bedding.  The virus can live in an environment for up to six months so treating the outside was imperative to keep other neighborhood dogs from becoming infected with it should they step in our yard. When we visited him at the vet we had to step in bleach water at the doorway to prevent tracking out any contaminant on our shoes. We had to wear scrub gowns to hold him. The poor pup was quarantined in a tiny room all alone, but the vet techs there quickly fell in love with him and gave him lots of attention. I believe this had a big impact on his recovery. Even now when we go to the vet for a checkup Milhouse makes a beeline for those girls and showers them with licks.
Those four days were utterly exhausting. When we weren’t cleaning, we were cursing the rescue (who refused to return my phone calls!!) or crying. It was emotionally draining, terribly expensive, and we were angry. We thought we had done a good thing by supporting a local dog rescue, but it turned out that once they had our money they didn’t care one bit about this puppy. Our faith in this rescue was demolished. But we comforted ourselves knowing that we rescued him from such a shady outfit where he surely would have died that week if we had not adopted him.  

Somehow that little guy persevered. He spent the night of Day 4 at the emergency vet office to get one last full night of IVs. It was there I caught this moment between Milhouse and my husband. 

                                                   “OK, Daddy. I’ll get better for you.”

When we brought him home he was down to 7-1/2 pounds. But he ate. For the first time in 5 days, he ate solid food, out of Jeff's hand.

What followed was 10 days of multiple medications to make sure the bacteria was gone, to help heal his gut, to promote digestion, and fight other flu-like symptoms.  Pills, powders, squeezy-syringes at round-the-clock intervals. We needed a spreadsheet to keep it all organized. 

Yesterday he reached 10 months old. He’s now 30 pounds, all muscle, and runs like a cheetah.

He has a girlfriend down the street named Charley. She’s a one-year-old Beagle who also survived Parvo. From the first day they met each other they’ve been in love. They whimper and howl if they catch a glimpse of each other in the neighborhood. When set loose in the house they tussle ‘til exhaustion. It’s freaking adorable. 

The past eight months have been so tiring. Even after the illness, we had behavior issues to address. Countless hours of training sessions and constant trips to the off-leash dog parks for socialization have helped immensely, though he’s still a rockhead.

But when he hops up on the couch, rests his chin on my lap and sighs deeply, I swoon.

So no, I haven’t written lately.

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