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

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