Sunday, July 31, 2011

Charlie Arrives!

The life of Charlie...

It had been four long painful tear-ridden days, since I had to put my dear 14 year-old pit bull mix Ambrose down. He had been through two years of fighting cancer; and in the end his chest was full of the microscopic invaders who now resembled armies. They had won the war in his lungs, and the rest of his body was too tired to fight anymore.
I am the veterinarian in my practice who does most of the in-house euthanasias. I understand first hand how much easier and calmer it is for a pet to pass over, when they are in their familiar surroundings, and how much more at ease, and free to grieve their owners are. The owners always are so grateful to have me arrive at their door. And I always tell them that I am happy to help, and understand completely how it feels.
Ambrose passed away on a Thursday, looking into my eyes, telling me that he loved me, and that he was happy to have been with us for such a great long time. But even though there was no muscle mass left on his once greyhound looking thighs; and he hadn’t eaten, no matter what kind of meat, cat, or baby food I offered, he still was the same dog behind those eyes he had always been. His mind was all still perfectly intact, and it was heart-breaking to be putting him to sleep. It influenced my understanding of hospice care, euthanasia, and end of life decisions.

There were a large multitude of factors that led me to putting him down. Some were practical, some emotional, some experience-based, and some absolutely gut-wrenching. I told him I loved him, I told him I was sorry, and he said goodbye to me. I was with him at the vet hospital. It was where we had spent every working day, he was comfortable there. I had an amazing support staff around me; they gave me time with him; they hugged me; they reassured me; and they all told him their own good-byes. I was replete was grief. I went home grateful I didn’t have to work until Monday. I shut my phone off; shut myself away from the world; and just let myself have time to come to terms with another chapter of my life closing.
Four days later I went back to work. I could say thank-you to everyone I saw that sent me their sympathies, without breaking down. It was 9 am, I was prepping for my day of surgeries, and in walked Charlie. At that time his name was Taz. He was just walking off of the Humane Society’s van. He was the spitting image of Ambrose, slightly smaller, 13.5 yrs younger but every bit his goofy, dim-witted, boxing-faced pup. I didn’t really see it at first, but the staff did immediately.

The next thing I know, I am getting a phone call from my husband who was in Uruguay. There was no hello, good-morning, or any other words remotely resembling a cordial greeting, he just blurted out “I’ll take him!” “What are you talking about?” I replied. He quickly jumped in, “the brindled puppy that Laura sent me a picture of...” I turned to look at her. She just smiled and shrugged. I took a closer look at Taz, and then I saw it. The smile in his eyes, the soft-short-just-long-enough coat falling black-striped over dark mahogany ears.

As he had first disembarked off of the van I had looked at him as the vet first and saw runny nose, crackly lungs, and undernourished body. The summary of my physical exam findings were that he was too young to be in a shelter, probably had kennel cough turning into pneumonia, was sick and had a 50/50 chance of survival, which would be lower if he went back to the shelter. After the call from my husband, I saw him as what I would refer to later as, “the puppy that Ambrose had sent us.” I made a phone call to the Humane Society.

He came home that night, and so began a new chapter in our lives.

I wanted to add some pictures of Ambrose too, so here he is;

I am still blown away in the similiarities between these two dogs. They have the same eyes, the same gestures, habits, behaviors, and personality. I miss you Ambrose. But you would be proud of Charlie.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jekyll Arrives

I thought I would start this blog with telling you about the most incredible dog I know.
My dog, (although I still call him one of my puppies), is Jekyll. 

Ok, I know the name doesn't seem like the kind of name one uses for the dog they love, especially if he's the "most incredible in the world," (don’t tell my other two, no need to hurt feelings), but we have a dog name theme going on here in our house. See, I am the animal person here, this happens when you marry a vet. My other half, well, he really isn't. So to try to help bond him to my clan I thought, “Hey, he can pick the names.” That he can’t screw up. Now mind you he’s a Georgia boy, while I am on the other hand a Yank. To meet at a compromise he picks his favorite southern cities as the names for our pups. 

Jekyll is the third addition to our dogs, Savannah and Charleston.

Savannah front left, Jekyll front right, and Charlie back row.
Jekyll was carried into my clinic two years ago. On that fateful day he was the size of a baseball. He was delivered in the palm of the farmer/breeder who owned his mother. He was the cutest bundle of brown fur with the biggest, most exaggerated mass of big soft irresistible ears. Now, we all know that few of us can pass up a puppy. There are a lot of vets who joke that we all really wanted to specialize in pediatrics. He, from the first minute, was the most exuberant, happy, ten-kiss-a-second love bug ever. It’s hard to be a "professional medically factual only" person, when your heart is melting.

 Vets learn to pay attention to the little clues we see. We are a very observant bunch, (you have to be when your patients don't talk). We learn to look very carefully at how a pet sits, walks, holds its head, and especially the way their owners act, when they bring in their pet. The worst case in the waiting room is the one with their pet swaddled and unrecognizable in their arms. Those are the people you should shuffle into an exam room ASAP. I can’t tell you how many people have sat there patiently in the waiting area quietly holding a blanket, only to be led into the exam room 20 minutes later to uncover their barely conscious, barely breathing, and barely alive pet. 
Back to Jekyll. Jekyll's butt was being protectively supported by a well-worn farmer's hand. However, his face was going crazy trying to meet and greet all the new friends he was being thrust at. Turns out the firm weathered palm he was sitting in was also supporting the entire length of his colon. 

This is a significant problem. Your colon belongs inside your pelvis, not outside your butt hole. It is a predicament in veterinary medicine that we call “prolapsed rectum.” (Just in case you were ever wondering; this is definitely very high on my list of things I hope never happens to me!). 

The story of Jekyll's short life was told to me by the farmer, whom I had never seen before, and as I noted by the age of his file, had not been to see us for anything in many years. He explained to me that this puppy, aptly assigned a patient number and listed as “NoName” (creative huh?), "had this,, umm, accident,, happen to him over a week ago." 

The farmer "tried to push it back in but it wouldn't stay, twice." (OMG, two weeks ago? Really? And you tried twice? And now, what am I supposed to do?).

I explained 'that "NoNames" chances of a fully functioning, (i.e. being able to defecate from his own rectum), was slim. He would likely need surgery with anesthesia, and maybe more than once." 

Mind you all of this conversation occurred with NoName in the farmer's hand being held over the receptionists counter. 

The farmer went on to say that he "couldn't spend any money, because he had no guarantee that this pup would make a decent hunting dog." 

I knew that this was yet another “OK, the world is sending you a test moment” and I knew I couldn't speak the words I knew he was thinking. So, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, its $50 to euthanize him, which I won’t do, or free if you sign him over to me, and I’ll do the surgery for free, then find him a home.” 

He promptly signed him over to the clinic and left the office, without having spent a nickel.

It took three weeks of carrying this little jubilant bundle of beagle with me everywhere. I carried him in a carrier every single place we went, including our annual beach trip. Alongside him was a personal surgery kit so that no matter where we were I could add a suture or two to hold that pucker in. Think about going poop every time and having your butt sewn up. That's what Jekyll had to live with for almost four weeks. After those first few weeks it was too late to imprint me on any other pup, and he was ours.  

Five years later Jekyll is still a perfect serial kisser with big ears and a wiggle-butt wag so charming you melt.

Age 9 months

Age 5

Related blogs;
Prolapsed Uterus. Dixie Carter's Story.

If you have a pet problem, question, or concern, or just want to hang out and learn about other pets please visit us on We are an open community dedicated to helping pets live longer healthier lives.

If you want to meet Jekyll you can find him sleeping in my office at Jarrettsville Vet, in beautiful Harford County Maryland. Or, find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

Here I Am...


I wanted to introduce myself & explain what my hopes are for this blog. I know that many of you love your pets as a part of your family & that many of you might enjoy the stories of  my clients & their pets (my patients).  I want to share with you, what I have learned in veterinary school & from my 6 + years of owning a veterinary hospital.

 I also hope that this blog will answer some of your animal questions & provoke you to think of some new ones. Most importantly I hope you will ask me questions, so I can help direct you to honest, medically-sound answers.

My primary job as a vet is to help maintain & strengthen a healthy, happy bond between you & your pet.