Tuesday, October 21, 2014

And then there were seven

“Raw love, like raw heartache, could blindside you.” Jodi Picoult

I hadn't had a litter of puppies for three years when Cinder's litter was planned, and after waiting that long to have a litter, I was beyond excited to welcome them into the world. Watching them come into the world, take their first breath and blossom into unique creatures is giving birth to a dream. I wanted to protect them all, keep them safe, shelter them. But I couldn't.


Never was a dog as aptly named as Feist. We called her Feisty girl, and her name came quite naturally when,  at one week of age, I picked her up and she growled at me. Click the video below to watch.

Later on, when her eyes were barely open at ten-days old, I carried her out to the big dog yard to begin acclimating the puppies to the sounds and smells of the kennel. As the adult dogs barked excitedly, tiny Feist growled at them, apparently unaware of her size. She was the female runt, so tiny, but her attitude was big. She had so much personality. When the other puppies toppled over her, she got up and barked at them angrily, as if to say, "Hey! Back off!"

Feist at two weeks
Feist at four weeks
Feist at eight weeks

It was from one of these episodes that Feist emerged from the puppy play pile limping one day, right around the time Mojo was becoming sick but before we knew what he had. I brought her in the house but tried to isolate her to my bedroom, away from Mojo who was in the living room. I rubbed her shoulder with liniment like a big sled dog at a race. She seemed to love being bedroom puppy.

Little Feist resting on my bed
She learned lots of things, like what a computer was...

Feist sitting at my desk with me

... how to snuggle

Cozied up on my bed
...and how to pass time in close quarters with her people.

Feist and Elise playing
She missed her siblings, but I figured in just a few days, she would be outside with them again.

When we received the diagnosis of parvo with Mojo, Feist had already come in contact with the virus through our clothes. I braced myself for the worst when he died. She seemed to recover from the shoulder injury and was playing and doing well, when she suddenly vomited. My heart dropped to my stomach.

Feisty girl
Without skipping a beat, I kicked medication into gear, starting subcutaneous fluids, Amoxicillin and Metronidozole. I contacted my family vet and we made a trip in again, this time for Reglan, an anti-nausea drug. She weighed 9 pounds and 14 ounces. I was hopeful. We were going to beat this together. Feist was strong. She was Feist, after all. She was far healthier than Mojo was when he contracted parvo, and she was a fighter.

Feist received about 50 ml of subq fluids every 12 hours to prevent dehydration

We fought hard together for eight days, through Feist's vomiting and horrendous diarrhea. I stayed up with her 'round the clock because, luckily, I was between terms at the college and had nothing but Feist to care for. I sunk everything I had into her. We slept together for two solid weeks.

And then, finally, the puking stopped. And slowly, the diarrhea stopped. Her appetite returned. I was overjoyed. But then, joy turned to panic when her temperature soared to 105.1. A temp of 106 can have fatal effects for dogs. Dogs release body heat in two ways: panting, and through their paw pads. I put her in a tub of cool water just over her ankles to attempt to quell the scorching fever; she lapped up water heartily from the tap. I rubbed alcohol on her paw pads. I called the vet. They recommended 1/2 of a baby aspirin, which I gave to Feist. Her appetite left as surely as it had returned.

Then slowly it seemed we rounded another corner. Her temperature gradually lowered to 103, then 102. Her appetite returned. She ate; she drank. She even wagged her tail at me. Again, I was elated. Only I noticed her laboring to breathe. I thought she possibly had developed aspirate pneumonia from the times I had forced her to drink with a syringe. I called my vet again.

On Monday afternoon, Feist and I again drove to the vet, but she was really laboring to breathe. She groaned when I touched her, and even whined when I picked her up. I grew very concerned. It didn't occur to me that our ride to the vet might not end well.

Feist was down two pounds. My vet listened carefully to her breathing through a stethoscope. She recommended a chest x-ray and a blood draw to check her white count levels. I opted to start with the blood draw.

I waited just a few minutes in the room with Feist, watching her breathe, her eyes sunk in, and a slow realization began to take over me. Feist may not leave.

The doctor returned to tell me shocking news. Feist's white blood count was 0.01. I shook my head in disbelief. She was doing better! She ate and drank well just the day before. How could this be?

Mojo's white count was 2 when he died; Feist's was below that, and she was still fighting. But her little body could not fight anymore. It had used all of its limited resources and there was nothing left. My vet said even if they kept her and gave her IV antibiotics, her expectancy of recovering was 1% and she may need a blood transfusion. Faced with this prognosis, I made the extremely difficult decision to have my vet end her suffering.


How can such a small creature teach me so much? About fighting; about loving. What are the lessons here? I think there are many.

In the time since Mojo was first diagnosed with parvo, I have read a lot about this insidious virus. I wanted to be one of those "My dog beat parvo" stories. But not all stories have a happy ending.

I have learned a lot from talking with others who have experienced this devastating virus too. And what I know is this:

  1. It is hearty. It can live in soil for months or even years, and despite vaccinations, some dogs can contract the virus. My puppies had two vaccinations when they contracted it.
  2. It is sneaky. Feist made a bold move into what looked like recovery, only to slump deeper into the illness in a way that left me feeling raw, helpless and debilitatingly sad. According to my vet, this is common with parvo. Riding the emotional highs and lows with Feist was exhausting. 
  3. I can't stress this enough: it is hearty. And it is crafty. When Feist showed signs of the virus, I received a very long email from mushing friend Roy Smith and detailed instructions from my vet about decontamination. 
    • The only thing that can kill parvo that is reasonably priced is bleach: 1 cup per 1 gallon of hot water. In the week that Feist fought this virus, I decontaminated every solid surface in my kennel with this solution: bowls, buckets, poop scoop; I scrubbed the puppy pen, which is lined with landscape bricks, four times with hot bleach water. 
    • Pay attention to your clothes! We bleached the bottoms of all of our shoes. And I wore "parvo" clothes with Feist and "non-parvo clothes" out into the kennels. I scrubbed my hands AND face when moving from contact with Feist to contact with the rest of the kennel. These are precautions I DIDN'T take when Mojo was first in the house because I didn't know what we were dealing with. 

Parvo is something I wouldn't wish on anyone. The "Ebola" of the dog world, it virtually eats away at the gastrointestinal tract until it becomes liquefied. Its victim, gripped with nausea, cannot keep anything down; vomiting and extreme, often bloody diarrhea cause rapid dehydration and anemia. And despite subq fluids, rapid dehydration is almost inevitable. As my vet explained, the parvo strips the GI track to such a degree that liquid can leak into the body, filling the lungs, surrounding the heart, and rendering the victim potentially septic. This is what she suspected happened to Feist, and why she was laboring to breathe.

I thought Feist was healthier than Mojo. I thought I had all of the medications and IV fluids, we had a jump on fighting the virus, and I was armed with more knowledge. I thought we could beat it. I thought "This is Feisty girl! The girl who growled at the adult dogs in the dog lot when she was 10 days old! If anyone can beat this, Feist can!"

The kennel lost a 12 week old champion yesterday. I miss her so, so much, and I have cried from grief about not only the loss of Feist, but the loss, now, of two of my pups, and just how very scary this virus is.

I am devastated. Perhaps it is because she slept with me every night, in the nook of my shoulder and neck, for two weeks, but I am taking her death very hard. She seemed to constantly want to be near me in those final days. Some might say "Jeez, it's only a pup," or "it's only a dog" or "it's only..." But, this has completely blindsided me.

Feist, snuggled in my shoulder. This is where she liked to sleep. 
Every day when I go out to the puppy pen to the seven other crazy, healthy monsters, I thank God for them and all of their craziness, for that's how puppies are supposed to be.

I will never, ever forget my Feisty girl. I love you Feist.

For Feist: July 28, 2014 - October 20, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried forsomething.” Elizabeth Gilbert

This is a sad story. It is one I debated on even writing, but there are lessons to be learned here, so I decided to share. This is Mojo's story. 

Mojo is a very special puppy born on July 28, 2014 from Cinder. Even though he is gone, I cannot bring myself to write about him in past tense. 

His father, Elrond, is a champion lead dog from the home of one of my best friends, Sharon Curtice, up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Mojo is a runt, like his father. 

I hate that word - "runt." Runt, small thing, weakling, underling. Such a negative connotation. There was nothing small about Mojo. There is nothing small about his father either. 

From the very beginning, Mojo was special. I called him my little freckled boy. 

Mojo at one week
He had the most adorable speckled nose, and seemed to be split with a little stitch from God right down the center, from the middle of his forehead, right down his belly. And he was super relaxed and flexible. 

Puppy Yoga, Mojo style
From the very moment Mojo was born, he was different. When I first wormed the puppies at 10 days of age with Pyrantel, a relatively well-tolerated, gentle wormer, he reacted strangely. His belly became distended and he cried and cried for hours. I felt helpless. Finally, he settled down.

When his eyes opened a few days later, I noticed something else that was different about Mojo. 

Mirage (left) and Mojo (right). His right eye was "off" - puppy "lazy eye"
 And yet, he grew and thrived at the farm. 

Mojo at two weeks

Mojo at four weeks
Mojo at seven weeks
He still had that "lazy eye" but he was thriving and blossomed into a gorgeous boy who wasn't that much smaller than the others. Suddenly, he was my favorite pup. He had a fantastic attitude, and though he was small, he was always at the front of the puppy pack on our jaunts around the puppy paths. Before long, Mojo quickly stole my heart. 

He quickly became Elise's favorite too, and we doted over him, bickering over who would get to hold him. She usually won :)

Handsome Mojo at 8 weeks
I gave the puppies their first vaccinations on September 22. By September 30, I noticed Mojo was off.  He had loose stools, and seemed listless, stopping to nap soon after I let the puppies out of their pen. While the other puppies were busy racing around, Mojo found quiet places to rest, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of puppy playtime. I brought him inside, kept him warm, fed him bland foods like rice and chicken. He was still eating well, He would perk up, only to fall into a slump again.

Finally, last Sunday, I contacted friends and race veterinarian husband-wife team, Kathy and Phil Topham. Phil was kind enough to see us on a Sunday morning. I suspected something called coccidia, which usually presents with foul-smelling, sometimes bloody diarrhea and lethargy - Mojo's symptoms. Dr. Topham ran a test for coccidia and it was positive. He opened a can of Prescription Diet A/D and Mojo lapped it up heartily. We left with Albon, several cans of A/D and were relieved, ready for Mojo to be on the mend. Mojo weighed 8.5 pounds.

Only things got worse. He stopped eating almost completely. We began force feeding/hydrating him. After several days on Albon, his condition deteriorated. We switched to Metronidazole.

I made an appointment with my regular vet for some tests and subcutaneous fluids for Mojo. A test for giardia came back negative, but what I feared the most - the test for Parvo - came back positive. And not just a little positive. The test operates like a pregnancy test, with a bubble turning blue if positive. It was bright blue. In the words of our vet, it glowed.

A blood panel also showed his white count was two, and the vet was concerned he was already septic. He had a heart murmur - something that had developed since Sunday.

Still he fought. We gave him 50 ml of saline fluids at the vet's office, and he sat up and tried to scratch the needle away. We flushed Amoxicillin and B-12 vitamins into the IV to try to jump start therapy. Mojo was down to 7.4 pounds.

We went home with a bag of fluids, lots of needles, and Amoxicillin prepared for a long night.

Only Mojo had other plans.

When we woke at 7:15 this morning, Mojo was gone. His little body could take no more.

Burying a puppy is just ... wrong. And yet, the deeper I get into dogs, the more of a reality it seems. Stuff happens. Life is fragile. Tenuous.

What I know is this: when Googling "Parvo Symptoms," vomiting invariably comes up. This symptom doesn't necessarily have to be present. Mojo's symptoms did not include vomiting at all - only very foul-smelling watery diarrhea, anorexia (lack of appetite), and lethargy.

What I also know is Mojo became sick despite being vaccinated.

What I also know as of the time of this writing is: all nine of Mojo's litter mates are thriving, with voracious appetites and minds full of mischief.

What I also know is, I keep replaying the last two weeks of Mojo's life in my mind, wondering if there was something I didn't do, should have done differently, could have done better.

But what I am left with are sad thoughts of a future lost. Mojo will never get to know what it's like to run with a team of sled dogs on the beautiful snow under the night stars. I'll never get to see him blossom into the leader I had a hunch he would have become. I'll never get to see him grow into his big feet.

I am so sorry, Mojo. You fought valiantly, and I did all I could. I love you.

Elise holding Mojo
For Mojo. July 28, 2014 - October 11, 2014

“When you leave,
weary of me,
without a word I shall gently let you go.” 
 -- Kim Sowol