The Tale of Ray and a Battle With Heart-Worm
Today’s tale is from a fellow blogger, Colin, at A Dog’s Life? (Stories of Me and Him). Colin is the author of “Who Said I Was Up For Adoption?” The following tale is actually an excerpt from his book.
In the latter part of May, and in preparation for taking heart-worm prevention medication, we took Ray back to the vet so that his blood could be tested prior to taking the medications. A few days later we had a message on our answering machine asking that we call the vet to discuss the test results. He had tested positive for heart-worm, and needed further tests to estimate how advanced he was. We were both in shock as the ramifications of this situation started to sink in.
Our beloved Ray, who would appear to have had such a shaky beginning to his life and who was now having a fresh start, was soon going to be in a fight for his life. Our beloved Ray who seemed so happy being a part of our family now had a very questionable future. Our beloved Ray had found his proverbial “forever home” but did he have much of a “forever” to enjoy it?
Heart-worm condition is assessed on Stage One to Stage Four ratings where Stage Four is the most advanced and generally considered terminal. Ray was estimated at Stage Two which provided hope that treatment could be successful. Treating heart-worm is very expensive and offers no guarantee that the dog will survive the treatment, and so we now had to make the difficult decision of how to proceed with a dog that had lived with us for only a short time. There were a number of theoretical options for consideration.
1. Commit a lot of money to a treatment program which may kill him?
We were fortunate in that we could manage the estimated $3500.00 financial burden of the treatment program, but did we want to? Ray had not been with us very long and was clearly carrying a lot of emotional “baggage” from his past. While it would be nice to believe that he would adapt to be a lovely family pet, nobody could offer us that guarantee, so we would be investing a considerable amount of money in a dog with unknown potential. Furthermore, treatment consisted of a series of deep muscle injections with an arsenic-based compound which should kill all the heart-worms, however, when heart-worms die, the pieces of worm can cause restrictions or even a blockage. There was a significant possibility that Ray could die from congestive heart failure. To minimize this potential outcome, a dog had to be kept as calm as possible in order to maintain a very slow heart rate. Life for Ray, and for us, would be very difficult for the next six months or so.
2. Do nothing?
This was technically an option but, in reality, would have been a cruel and totally irresponsible decision. His quality of life would have slowly deteriorated as the heart-worms spread, causing damage to his lungs and other organs throughout his body. Death would have been his only escape.
3. Return him to the Oakville & Milton Humane Society?
We knew they would have taken him back, but that raised some issues. We would be avoiding making the difficult decision by transferring the responsibility to OMHS. This rationale is against my core belief of accepting one’s responsibilities. Returning him to OMHS also had some very questionable ramifications in that they would probably not be able to adopt him out again.
Who would want to take on an unknown dog with a serious (and expensive) health issue? Would OMHS be prepared to finance the treatment of a single dog when they are totally dependent on voluntary financial contributions and are constantly fund-raising in order to maintain their day to day services?
In view of our excellent relationship with OMHS, we presented them with our dilemma and asked what they would do if Ray was returned. The answer was, not too surprisingly, very diplomatic. They would not be able to make any decision until he had been reassessed as a possible candidate for future adoption. They also made it clear that whatever decision we made, they would support it fully. While their support was appreciated, my feelings were that his future would probably not be too long if returned.
4. Euthanize him?
The thought of euthanizing Ray gave me a lot of problems because of Skeeta, my first cat in Canada. Skeeta always seemed to love the company of pretty much anybody and her original owners did not feel that they had the time for her any longer, and so were looking for an alternative home for her. She made a huge impact on us all but, after only three months, she was clearly distressed and we were advised that she had feline leukemia. Her condition could not be treated and it was recommended that we have her euthanized. Looking back, I still struggle with Skeeta’s death. (Terms like “euthanize”, “put down”, and “put to sleep” are all gentle terms that simply mask the reality of killing.)
The issue with Skeeta was not that she had to be killed, but that it was far too easy to do. To have an animal killed, regardless of the justification, should really take more than signing a piece of paper and handing over a relatively small amount of money. Such a simple process was somehow offensive to me in that it resulted in the death of a living creature who had displayed an unquestionable ability to connect with us at an emotional level. The more I thought about Skeeta, the more I decided that Ray deserved an opportunity to live and it would be my goal to ensure that he had that opportunity. My decision therefore was to keep him with us and start treatment as soon as possible. Fortunately, Carol had come to the same conclusion and so treatment was scheduled over the summer.
It did cross my mind that Carol may not be able to justify the cost of the treatment so, while I was not anticipating an issue over this, I was prepared. I had already decided that I would cover the cost on my own if necessary. Here was a dog who was less than three years old; who had not had a very good start to his life; who was clearly making an effort to adapt to a family environment; who was already making a niche for himself in our family; who was showing signs of being more than happy to stay with us and, most importantly to me, here was a dog who had invited me to be his friend.
What sort of friend would I be to now walk away from him, and leave him to whatever fate would await? Ray could well die during the heart-worm treatment, but then he could also survive it. I was very happy to commit whatever was necessary to ensuring that he had the best chance possible of a long and happy life. I suddenly realized just how important he was to me. I loved this guy!
What remarkable people Colin & Carol are. I love that they saw the worth of an animal’s life and did what they could to save him. It’s not “just an animal”, but as Colin said “a friend.”
I completely connected with him when he was talking about Skeeta and said this was “a living creature who had displayed an unquestionable ability to connect with us at an emotional level.” As you know this is one message I am always trying to convey about animals.
I am a big fan of Colin’s blog and reading stories about Ray. Check it out and you might also want to consider reading his book about Ray, “Who Said I Was Up For Adoption?”
(By the way, Ray is cured from the heart-worm and doing great!)
You can find more tales on the “Tuesday Tales” page of my blog. Let me know if you have a tale to share.