Saturday, June 1, 2013

Adoption Shouldn't Come With A Pre-Nup

Every new pet exam is met with a clean slate and a chance to meet a new friend.

Any new pet relationship starts with a new list of pet care needs, the new parents queries, conundrums  and challenges. I admit I love all of this. I love the puzzle, the planning, the strategy, the twists, turns, and science.

But most of all I LOVE the pets. I really do. I love meeting each new life, each new personality, each different breed and the complexities of them. How cool is it to be the doctor, the psychologist, the friend, and advocate? It's been my life's dream, my life's mission, and I get to live it, I am so lucky and I know it.

I was researching an article about the number of pets that are euthanized each year in the U.S. The amazing news is that the number of unwanted pets being euthanized has gone down in the last few decades. A huge reason for this is that people now adopt from shelters instead of just buying a puppy. All of the efforts to "adopt" and "recycle" and "rescue" have paid off.  So much so that now it's actually "cool" to say that you have a rescued pet.

I have read many reasons why people are still hesitant to adopt. These are some of the following reasons; The following came from a Petfinder article on adopting versus buying a pet. You can find the complete article referenced below.
  1. "I don't know what I'm getting" Many people think that a pet with an unknown past has a dark hidden secret. In fact most pets have a litany of unknowns regardless of who and where they came from. Most breeders will not divulge every secret to you. Most breeders breed pets as an income generating commodity. Many breeders do not have examinations done on their puppies before selling them. Most shelter pets have an examination, a behavioral work up and an understanding of how the pet behaves around others. 
  2. "I can't find what I want at the shelter." You may not be able to find a specific pet on a specific day, but I promise you  every pet of every age of every sex can be found at a shelter. You might need to leave a wish list, or your name, pet desires and information, but if you are patient and persistent you will find your pet. has a huge number of pets available and you can you their search and they will even email you when your search is discovered. And remember to call and inquire at your local shelters, rescues, humane society, and even ask your veterinarian. And KEEP CALLING! Keep inquiring, and don't give up. You will find your perfect pet, it might just take a bit of time and patience.
  3. "I can get a free pet, so why pay an adoption fee?" The adoption fee (sometimes it is ridiculously cheap, like a few dollars), goes towards spaying, neutering, vaccinating, microchipping, de-worming, feeding, housing, veterinary care, the list goes on and on. The adoption fee is usually a tiny fraction of how much is already invested in the pets. A free pet will often cost about $300-$500 for the equivalent services and goods that an adopted pet already has.
  4. "I'll be 'rescuing' a sick puppy from a pet store." Pet stores are in the business of selling pets for profit. It is an endless circle of buying low and selling high, like every other business. Most puppies and kittens at pet stores come from puppy mills. If you ask the stores they will deny it, but ask them if you can visit their suppliers, they will all tell you that they are many many states away. Even if this is true, (which it might be) who wants to be shipping 7 and 8 week old pets many many hours away?
  5. "Pets in shelters are there because they didn't make good pets." This is quoted from the PetFinder article listed below. "The main reasons pets are given up include; owners moving, allergies, owner having personal problems, too many pets, owner can no longer afford, owner no longer has time for pet." Most pets at shelters are wonderful loving companions who never got a fair chance at a loving home. Ask the staff at the shelter to help you understand each pets personality. Take your time getting to know them and understand that the jumping barking dog is excited to see you and not like that all the time. There are so many amazing pets out there.
  6. "Shelter pets have too much baggage." Well, we all have baggage. Baggage is irrespective of age. Eight week old pets have personalities, just like 8 year old dogs do. But an 8 year old dog might have a whole lot less challenges ahead. 
This is a story about Alice. She was sought out by clients of ours who had just lost their older dog. They had been St. Bernard lovers for their whole lives. They wanted to help a St. Bernard, they wanted to rescue, and they started scouring the rescues and shelters for one.

They found Alice. They brought her in for her new pet exam. I noticed immediately that Alice is a very small 2 year old St. Bernard. She is about half the size of  'normal' St. Bernard. She was surrendered at the shelter unspayed. The shelter, as they often do, spayed her, vaccinated her, checked a fecal, a heartworm test, and adopted her to these very excited new parents. 

She was a delight. Sweet, gentle, affectionate, and beautiful. Her new family was most concerned about the incision from her recent spay. She had a small, (OK, I say small, it was about the size of a baseball, they thought it was enormous, perspective I suppose), swelling at the site. I palpated the incision and felt confident that it was swelling between the skin and abdominal wall. The skin and abdomen were intact (HUGELY! important to know), but there was some SQ swelling. I advised them to watch the incision closely and call me if they had any concerns. I also warned them that I was fairly certain that some serosanguinous fluid (slightly blood tinged serum which is normal when you have post-operative swelling) might leak out of the swollen mass. Sure enough we received a frantic phone call the next day because "it had ruptured and she was bleeding everywhere!" They came in and we reassured them that the subcuticular swelling had gotten big enough to cause the skin incision to part and the fluid had spilled out.

Alice's first exam revealed a heart murmur. Between the incision and the heart I think I gave her parents a real scare. I also think there was a moment that they pondered whether myths 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 were really "myths?" I have to admit I was fearful too.

After I discussed the physical exam findings;
1. Heart murmurs are not uncommon findings. A heart murmur is the sound that we hear when ausculting (fancy medical word for "listening to") the heart. We normally hear "lub-dub" but sometimes we hear a "whish" in between the "lub" and the "dub" sound. The "whish" is the blood being pushed back into the atrium (top chambers) of the heart. The heart is a muscle that pushes blood through the body. It is an exquisitely engineered organ. The valves separate the top and bottom chambers (I am simplifying) so that blood can only gets pushed in one direction. When a valve is not closing completely the pumping of the heart pushes blood back. That's the "whish" we hear. In very young animals, if the murmur is not severe we usually recommend monitoring. Many young pets will "outgrow" their murmur. 
2. A post-operative swelling at the incision site should be monitored closely. We watch for any signs of infection (these would include swelling, pain, redness, purulent discharge, or any changes in behavior or demeanor), and dehiscence, or opening of the abdominal cavity.

Based on the lack of history on Alice and the post operative swelling of the spay incision we all decided that we would re-check Alice every few days (certainly ASAP if anything changed).

Alice's incision opened the next day to spill some of the accumulated fluid in the pocket. I know they were very alarmed when the came into their living room and saw a pile of bloody fluid on the floor, but the incision can only hold so much fluid before it hits critical mass and opens, and Alice's was at critical mass. Within a week the incision was quiet and healed.

It was a long week. I reminded them multiple times that the body hates to have an empty third space. If there is a hole the body fills it, usually with fluid. I do not drain this fluid. First of all if you do it will just refill, secondly, every time you stick a needle in you have a chance of infection. The only way to fix a seroma or hematoma (uninfected and benign) is with time.

The heart, well the plan for the heart was to wait and re-check.

We re-checked her heart every week. It remained a consistent 3-4/6 murmur. We grade heart murmurs on a scale of 1 to 6. One being the least significant and six being worst. Assigning a murmur is one of those veterinary talents you only get with practice. There is probably a scale out there with definitions but we assign it by ear.

Alice's heart was a big concern for me. I was afraid that it might be why she was so small. And I was afraid it might be a congenital birth defect.

Alice's new family was understandably upset. They had been told that she was "healthy" and they had already fallen in love with her.

They had lots of questions, most of them I could not answer. Like,
  • Why was she adopted without an exam?
  • Why was she spayed with a heart murmur?
  • What was the heart murmur?
  • Was it fixable?
  • How much would the echocardiogram cost?
  • If they sent her back would she be put to sleep?
In the end Alice was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Her new family loved her and wanted to provide all that they could for her. But they were understandably very upset that their new pup wasn't what she had been made out to be. She had a defect, that defect needed surgery and they felt as if their good deed was indeed not going to go unpunished.

They were angry and they wanted to have someone to be angry at. I tried to impress upon them that we didn't know Alice's history. We didn't know whether anyone had known that she had this heart problem, or whether anyone had purposely put her in someone else's hands.

I reminded them that they were never any guarantees in life. That any pet can, and likely, will get sick. I also tried to remind them that they had saved this unwanted, unloved pup and that she loved them and they loved her. That sometimes life is just about doing the best you can and sometimes you just have to be OK with that.

Alice went to the cardiologist the next week. She was diagnosed with an uncommon heart defect. Her family loves her for who she is and accepts her in spite of her flaws. That is the true meaning of love and the true beauty of risking your heart by giving it away.

For the complete PetFinder article please see;

If you have any pet related questions you can always find me, or any of the other Pawbly people who offer advice and a piece of their heat to all othr pet lovers at It is free to use and join, or find me at +Krista Magnifico , onTwitter @FreePetAdvice or @Pawbly, or at the clinic Jarrettsville Veterinary Center.


  1. Hi Y'all!

    Great insight. Looking forward to the follow up.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  2. poor Alice. :( and that poor family, too. i know a little of their seems like some rescue groups in Maryland will hide things just to get animals adopted.

    my cat, for example. i adopted her from a cat-specific rescue and they insisted she was in perfect health and she was around 1.5 years of age. my vet disagrees wholeheartedly - she says Aggie is much closer to 12/13 and has a hyperthyroid condition. i understand a T4 panel isn't part of a normal rescue's list of things to get done at the vet, but an age discrepancy of over ten years is something i'd figure any decent vet would notice.

    i won't love her any less, but i'm sad the amount of time i have with her has essentially been cut in half.

  3. What a wonderful piece! Those are all really great points, and address most of those common misconceptions out there about pet adoption.