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Friday, January 16, 2015

Post #6: Old Vets and Mosquitoes

Our vet was elderly and was an old college friend of Kathy’s father, Bill.  We took Spike to see him once a year for her shots.  Since she never got sick, her only visits were these once a year trips.  He finally retired and sold his practice to a new, young vet who was just starting out.  The new vet inherited us along with the rest of the practice.
Spike was seven years old when we made our first visit to the new vet for the routine rabies shot.  This vet took a blood sample and a stool sample, and checked Spike out pretty thoroughly.  He took the samples and checked them under his microscope.  When he turned around, he asked us what we were giving Spike for heartworm prevention.
“What?  What’s that?” we wondered. 
The vet was surprised at our surprise.  This was a very preventable problems.  Spike had heartworms.  She had a lot of them.  The heartworms were transmitted to Spike by mosquitoes.  There are a lot of mosquitoes in the Coastal Bend of Texas.  The heartworms made their way into her blood vessels and began to multiply.  Heartworms can grow to be a foot long, and can block off the arteries leading to the heart. Over time, they can cause heart and lung problems, embolisms, and death. Spike did not seem to be showing many of the advanced symptoms.  She was not coughing or breathing heavily.  She did seem to have less stamina and had become less active.  However, since she was an "outside dog" we didn't really know much about her daily activities.  We did not pay that much attention to Spike, other than when we went out to play with her in the back yard.  And it was usually the boys who played with her, not Kathy or I.
There is a treatment for the heart worms, although treatment can be dangerous.  It was possible that Spike would not survive the treatment.  The vet warned us that even if the treatment were successful, Spike may not ever regain her full amount of energy.  The heartworms had already done a lot of damage to her heart and lungs.  Without treatment, Spike would get worse, have problems breathing, lose even more stamina, and die.
Spike’s chances of survival were not good.  We decided to give her every chance we could.  So we gave the vet permission to begin treatment.  She was administered Arsenic to kill the heartworms.  She received her first shot, and we were told to bring her home and keep her confined.
We set up a small space in the house and fenced Spike in.  We knew that she was not feeling well, as she never complained about being kept inside the house or being confined to the small space near our front door.  Spike became lethargic, but was also happy to be near us.  She did not seem to get better, though.  We took Spike in for her second shot of arsenic, just knowing that we were killing the heartworms, while hoping that we were not killing Spike.  Spike became more lethargic.
We decided to leave Spike with the vet after the third injection. She had a lot of arsenic in her, and she needed to be monitored closely.  This was the end of the treatment.  Spike should start getting better in a few days, but we were at a critical point.
Kathy stopped by the vet's office that night on her way home to check on Spike.  Kathy could get to the kennels in the back of the office, even though the staff had already gone home.
Kathy found Spike laying in her kennel, exhausted from her fight with the heartworms and the arsenic.  At first, Kathy thought she might be dead.  But Spike saw Kathy and became alert, wagging her tail, weakly.  Kathy spoke to her and petted her for a bit.  Spike returned the affection with a few kisses.  Then Kathy went home.
A couple of hours later the vet called.  Spike had died.  Kathy felt sure that Spike had roused herself from near death so she could tell Kathy good bye.
We were all sad.  I drove Kathy and the boys to the vet's office to pick up Spike.  The vet wrapped Spike in a towel that we had brought, and sent us home with her.  Kathy had called her father about Spike, and he met us at our house.  We picked out a spot in our back yard to bury Spike, and I started digging.  It was late, and dark, but the sand was soft. I had never buried a pet before, and wasn’t sure how deep to go.  My father-in-law was watching, so I wanted to be sure I did it right.  I just didn’t know what right was.  So I dug.  And I dug.  And I dug some more.  Kathy, Bill, Jason and John stood by watching me dig.
I was thinking “how deep should I go?  They bury people six feet.  I could probably do that, but that seems awful deep.”
I had gone down to the point that I was standing in a hole almost to my waist when I heard my father-in-law’s voice: “are you digging to China?” 
I knew it was time to stop.
We placed Spike gently in the bottom of the grave and covered her.  Kathy cried.  I cried. Jason cried.  John threw up.  We all said our goodbyes to Spike.
Spike was a wonderful, beautiful dog.  She was loyal, bright and she took better care of us than we took care of her.
Lessons learned:
  • Heartworm prevention is a must.
  • Dogs need fences.
  • The best dogs really do bite.  They protect their family whenever there is a perceived threat.  They aren’t vicious, just protective.