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Butterfly is losing her vet, again

 

Butterfly goes to the clinic at the shelter that rescued her in the first place, and she has a wonderful veterinarian. Her doctor is the kind of person who walks around with a kitten on her shoulder all day, to keep an eye on the kitten’s well-being while she’s tending to the rest of her patients. Despite her many patients, this doctor answers emails about Butterfly’s various health issues, and recognizes us when we come in to pick up refills at the pharmacy, and always asks after Butterfly’s health.

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Butterfly’s first day at home, way back when.

The vet emailed us to let us know that she, and her relatively new husband, will be moving out of town, and she wanted to have a last visit with Butterfly, and set her up with a new vet at the clinic, to ensure continuity of care. I’ve never met a doctor-for-humans like this, let alone a veterinarian who, working at a clinic rather than in private practice, can’t be making a ton of money.

Butterfly is an expensive dog. She is twelve-and-a-half years old and a pure bred Lhasa Apso, with heart disease and diabetes, bright blue cataracts, and terrible teeth. The clinic partially subsidizes her twice yearly echocardiograms and vet visits, but we pay for all of her medication and diabetes supplies, and anything over two visits a year. Miss Butterfly takes three pills twice a day, gets her blood tested twice a day, and gets insulin shots twice a day. I’m not even counting the huge quantities of peanut butter and chicken treats that make the meds go down easy. So having a doctor who tries to minimize extra costs, while advocating for the best possible health care for Butterfly, is a godsend.

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“Any more medication Grandma?”

Cricket has had the same reliable doctor since she was eight weeks old, and it is wasted on her. She needs to be held in place by a vet tech to have her ears checked and her nails clipped, no matter how well she’s been cared for in the past. The vet techs have, often, had to put a muzzle on her for checkups, though it rarely stays on long. We brought Cricket along for one of Butterfly’s vet visits at the clinic, because Cricket ran out the door of the apartment before we could catch her, and Cricket could not stop barking. She’s used to the small waiting room at her doctor’s office, with the African grey parrot who tries to keep her calm. The crowded cacophony of dogs and cats at the clinic was not her thing. I like it, and Butterfly likes it, because there are always new friends to meet, but for Cricket it was too much.

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“You want me to go to the vet, Mommy? How are you gonna make me?”

The positives of the clinic, affordability and solid care, have always seemed worth the inconveniences, like a long wait and talking to different secretaries every time we call. But this is the second vet we’ve come to trust and have had to lose. I don’t want to have to argue with a new vet about teeth cleaning (the anesthesia for which could kill her), or hear some stranger tell me not to expect Butterfly to live much longer (just shut up). But most of all, I’m going to miss feeling like there’s someone else out there keeping an eye on my baby. It’s more than just having a doctor with knowledge and skill and the ability to write prescriptions, it’s about having someone who loves my baby and cares about the quality of her life.

butterfly peanut butter dreams

Butterfly believes that peanut butter has magical powers of healing.

I’m sure we’ll adapt. Butterfly will still be nervous going to the vet, until she gets a chance to sniff the other dogs, and the new doctor will make too many assumptions about Butterfly’s prospects, until I’m able to set her straight. But we’re going to miss this vet a lot, and we have to mourn a little bit before we can move on to what comes next.

Cricket & Butterfly waiting for Mommy

Butterfly’s Echo

              Recently, we took Butterfly in for her six month echocardiogram. When we adopted her at the end of 2012, she was diagnosed with a heart problem that could, potentially, develop into congestive heart failure. I worry each time she coughs, because the original vet told me that coughing could be a sign of heart failure. And I worry about the lumps and bumps on her skin, because I don’t want to assume that something is benign and then find out that I left a tumor growing inside of my baby until it was too late. I just can’t believe that she is as healthy as she seems.

Butterfly's First Day Home

Butterfly’s First Day Home

The echocardiograms are subsidized by the shelter where we adopted her, and they also cover her wellness visits, so we scheduled both at the same time.

We took her for her 10:30 AM appointment and she was seen almost immediately by the cardiologist. He said, basically, that her prolapsed valve was a tiny bit worse, but she had no signs of congestive heart failure. I told him how much she had improved since November: she can run, and jump, and stand straight up on her back legs, to beg for food. He just smiled and patted her head, and the appointment was over.

When we asked at the front desk about Butterfly’s wellness visit, they said she was scheduled for 12:45 PM, in two hours, so not at the same time, as we’d been told. We were wondering if we should go home for lunch and come back, but the woman at the desk said there was only one dog ahead of us and it would be a short wait.

We sat on the wooden benches against the walls of the waiting room, which were comfortable for the first twenty minutes, and then not. Butterfly was stunned from her ordeal. She still had goop on her belly from the test, and she was almost dead weight in my arms again, the way she’d been way back when we first adopted her. I held her on my lap and gave her scratches and talked to her. We tried the dog cookies they had in a jar on the counter, but she wasn’t interested. I hadn’t thought to bring chicken treats with me.

I felt awful leaving Cricket home alone. Cricket found it shocking herself. But she didn’t need to sit in a waiting room swirling with various diseases. And, as we sat there waiting, I was relieved to have left her home, because she would have been barking her head off.

My poor lonely Cricket

My poor lonely Cricket

The waiting room was full. There were a lot of newly adopted puppies getting their shots or being treated for kennel cough. There was a Cocker Spaniel with a big, red growth on his ear and a cone on his head to keep him from biting it, again. And there was an Australian Cattle Dog mix, named Bandit, who jumped up and shed all over me and gave me kisses. He had epilepsy and was there to get more medication for his seizures. It was an odd coincidence, because I’d just been told that my abnormal EEG could mean that I was having partial seizures. I tried to ask Bandit what it felt like to have epilepsy, but he was too busy giving me kisses.

An hour along, Butterfly was back to full strength and up to visiting the other dogs, and peeing on the floor, but Mom was getting antsy. She went up to the front desk to ask when we’d be going in and they told her there had been twelve emergencies, and they all took precedence over a wellness visit. But, the woman at the desk told her, there was only one more dog ahead of us.

Our choices were to believe her and stay, or be circumspect, reschedule the appointment, and go home. I really wanted to take Butterfly to Cricket’s vet instead, but it was so much more expensive. The shelter’s medical care was subsidized, so instead of paying $350 for an echo, we paid $50 and there was no charge for her wellness visit. We decided to wait.

There was a pug in the waiting room with her dad, and she was there for an echo too. She already had congestive heart failure and took daily meds to help control it, but her dad said that if he saw her trying to run after a squirrel in the yard, he’d run screaming, “No!” because if she exerts herself too much, she faints.

I felt guilty, and lucky, that my Butterfly wasn’t in her situation, yet.

After the pug left, more puppies came in for their shots, including two white toy poodles, with their ears died pink and blue to identify which one was the boy and which one was the girl.

The long wait was starting to get to me, but I felt guilty for complaining when all of these other dogs were coming in with emergencies, and I wasn’t paying much for help. I do okay with feeling worthy of care when I’m alone, but when it feels like someone else might need things more than I do, I struggle. I almost lose track of myself, and disappear. I couldn’t force myself to go up to the front desk and ask about Butterfly’s appointment, even after two hours, and then three. I left it to Mom to be the assertive one.

It’s been a relief to see Butterfly finding her voice lately. She barks when her sister leaves the room, or when she thinks she’s missing something exciting. She demands attention and expresses frustration when it is not forthcoming. I wanted this for her, but I’m not the one who taught her, Cricket did. Maybe I can get Cricket to give me lessons too.

My assertive girls

My assertive girls

By the time we went in for the wellness visit, we’d been in the waiting room for four hours, and when the general veterinarian looked at Butterfly’s chart, she found out that she only needed one booster; the rest weren’t due until November.

Since we were there anyway, I took the opportunity to point out to the vet all of the various lumps and bumps on Butterfly’s skin. She did a needle aspiration on the largest lump and showed me how the pus came up through the needle. It was a sebaceous cyst, she said, and nothing to worry about.

We were done within minutes of stepping into the examining room. We were exhausted, and starving, but relieved.

When we finally got home, Cricket was crazed and jumping all over us as if we’d been gone for months. She sniffed Butterfly for signs of where she’d been and then carefully sniffed my pant leg for the smells of other dogs, of which there were many. My clothes, covered in dog hair, went straight into the laundry basket and I went into the shower. After we’d all calmed down and eaten a late lunch, we settled down for a nap. Butterfly fell asleep at my side right away, but Cricket ran back and forth from Mom’s room to mine every few minutes, to sniff her sister for signs of where she’d been, still shocked that Butterfly had dared to go on an exciting adventure without her mentor.

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor

Butterfly and her suspicious mentor

The Dina Years – Puppyhood

Puppy Dina

Puppy Dina

When I was sixteen years old, my parents, my brother and I went to a Long Island animal shelter to find a new puppy. We’d lost our previous dog over the summer to diabetes, and the house was feeling empty. We had to wait in line on a cold January morning because that was when my brother was home from college.

There was a litter of Labrador/mix puppies set up in cages around the room, and I chose the girl puppy because she had a drippy nose and rubbed it against my hand through the bars of her cage. Within hours of bringing her home, we found out that she was sick. She wasn’t just sniffling; she was also vomiting and woozy. This animal shelter, we later learned, had a reputation for adopting out sickly animals and our puppy had to go back and stay for a week of anti-biotics before she could come home.

We had named her Dina, because my father wanted a biblical name, and my brother was indifferent, and I thought of Dina, the sister of the twelve tribes of Israel, who we’d been learning about at my orthodox Jewish school. My brother shrugged and my father gave me a funny look, maybe because Dina was famous for being raped, and then avenged by her brothers. But he didn’t argue, for once.

When Dina came back home, we put newspaper down on the floor, but expected her to know how to pee outdoors. My father yelled at her for eating from the table, and then gave her his leftovers from the table. She had full run of the house with no boundaries, but she was expected to know that furniture was off limits for chewing. I asked if we could take Dina to an obedience class but my father refused. He saw nothing wrong with the way things were. Dina would continue to misbehave and he would continue to yell at her, and blame my mother, as it should be.

            She liked to spend time up in the attic, because it was the warmest room in the house, and it was a convenient place to poop without being noticed or yelled at. While she was up there, she found a big black garbage bag filled with my childhood stuffed animals. I had just recently put my toys into storage, in an attempt to force myself to grow up. And I didn’t mind sharing my toys with her, except she didn’t just teethe on the stuffed animals and cover their soft fur with slobber. She ripped them open and stuck her nose into their bellies, leaving wet cotton lumps on the carpet. Then she dragged the lifeless bodies of each of my old playmates to my bedroom door.

            My brother’s paraphernalia remained untouched. She didn’t even bother with his smelly socks or worn old sneakers. His room – a shrine to clutter and odd, unidentifiable smells – remained pristine and unchewed.

My mother suggested that Dina was “playing” with my toys because she missed me when I was in school during the day, and she was looking for smells that reminded her of me. It all sounded farfetched to me, especially the idea that I had a recognizable odor. That just sounded wrong.

But after a while, Dina had devoured all of my small stuffed animals, and moved on to Panda. He was life-sized, or the size my life took when I was four years old and my grandfather thought I needed a companion my own height. My grandfather died when I was eight years old, and Panda was watching over me as his stand in.

My Grandpa

My Grandpa

Somehow, Dina knew that Panda was hidden in the back of my bedroom closet. She nosed open the closet door, pushed my clothes out of the way, and climbed up Panda’s overstuffed legs. She balanced her paws on his belly and gnawed with focus and determination on his pompom belly button and googly eyes.

I found Panda, humiliated and shamed, on the floor of my room, when I came home from school that day. Mom did her best to sew things back into place, and then she sent Panda for the water cure, in the washing machine, which seemed to help. But I was angry, and I refused to let Dina back into my room for days.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Panda, after plastic surgery, ready for physical therapy.

Dina was bereft. She scratched at my bedroom door with her nails, leaving deep grooves in the wood, even cutting through the corner of the hollow door with her teeth. I had to relent, for the sake of her mental health, and the health of my door.

As soon as I let her back into my room, she climbed up on my bed. She made a half hearted attempt to chew on my math textbook, but then she stretched out to watch TV with me. She leaned her head on my legs and I could feel her breath and her warmth, and I thought, this is better than a stuffed animal. This is real. Maybe Grandpa sent her to be my new watcher.

Katie the Cat

 

When I was a teenager, my aunt had a friend who could not say no to a cat. She took in old ones and young ones, exotic ones and feral ones. The cats clearly owned the house, sitting on the dining room table and the kitchen counters, preventing the humans from preparing meals in their own house; which explained all of the take-out menus. These were well fed cats, some over twenty pounds. But then there was Katie; she was the anomaly. Katie was a small, ill behaved, underfed specimen with no social skills, who lived under the bed in the guest room and was terrified of humans and animals alike.

Katie looked something like this, but I never had a chance to take her picture. (This is not my picture, thank you Google)

Katie looked something like this, but I never had a chance to take her picture. (This is not my picture, thank you Google)

            My aunt’s friend was going away for a few days and, while she could leave out food and litter boxes for the sociable cats, and have a neighbor come in to check on them, Katie needed special care. So       I was called into service.

Mom and I brought Katie home in a cat carrier and brought her to my bedroom and closed the door so that our dog, Dina, couldn’t come in. Dina was a forty-five pound black Lab mix and I’m pretty sure Katie was more of a danger to her than the other way around. Dina didn’t like the arrangement at all, because my room was her room. But I felt a responsibility to Katie, not to traumatize her any further. Who knew what her early life had been like to make her so frightened and angry?

I had a platform bed pushed into the corner of my room and immediately Katie found the L shaped tunnel it made against the wall, and scurried inside. I placed her litter box at one end and her food and water bowls at the other end. If I dared to reach my hand in, she’d hiss at me from the darkness. She came out to pee and eat and drink when I was sleeping or out of the room, and the rest of the time I just heard her, licking her paws, scratching the carpet, and mumbling to herself.

I made a point of taking Dina out for long walks to compensate for not letting her into my room. And on our walks, I tried to brainstorm ways to reach Katie. I pictured myself as a cat whisperer, solving all of her problems in the four days she would stay with me, and going on to become a Vet, or a therapist, or Mother Theresa. Dina just hoped the long walks would continue after the interloper left.

My Dina, and me

My Dina, and me

Katie was very hard to like. First of all, she was a cat, and I am allergic to cats. I don’t think I knew that before I agreed to cat sit, but maybe I did and I just felt too guilty to say no. My eyes water and I feel itchy all over, on my arms and lips and in my throat. I get nauseous and itchy just seeing cats on TV.

Maybe, given more time, Katie would have learned to trust me, but four days was not enough to make a dent. I was relieved when she left, and I felt guilty for that too.

A few years later, my aunt and I volunteered at the local animal shelter, and we were sent to the cat apartments to help socialize them. I saw it as a chance to make up for my failure with Katie. There were three or four cats in each apartment and they had beds and hammocks and scratching posts and climbing towers. But they weren’t sure about humans and my job was to go from group to group and sit with them for a while and let them get used to me.

I had learned more about neurotic animals by then, and I didn’t take it personally when the cats stayed back or stared at me for five minutes straight, waiting for me to impress them.

Then came kitten season and suddenly there were three or four litters in crates in the front room of the shelter, where visitors could see and adopt them right away. I was overwhelmed by all of them, and by the fact that, if not for some kind stranger, they would all have been left on the streets, to die, or to become like Katie.

I sat there, feeding the smallest kitten with a medicine dropper and I felt like I could barely breathe from grief, from responsibility, from anxiety that the problem was too big to ever be solved, especially by me, or by anything I could do.

I couldn't find a kitten small enough using Google. The kitten was about half this size.

I couldn’t find a kitten small enough using Google. The kitten was about half this size.

The little kitten climbed up my sweater and the head of the volunteers told me she probably wouldn’t survive twenty four hours, despite my ministrations. I felt sick and itchy and ready to climb out of my skin and I wanted to believe it was just my allergies, as the kitten scratched my face, asking for my full attention.

All I could do was give her food and kisses, and hope.

Happy Mother’s day to all of the dog and cat (and piggy) mommies and all of the mommies of little humans, and especially to my own Mommy!

We love you!

We love you!

The Red Dog

 

This is a Red Dog, but not The Red Dog (and this is not my picture of a Norfolk Terrier)

This is a Red Dog, but not The Red Dog (and this is not my picture of a Norfolk Terrier)

            The first time I saw Red Dog, about three years ago, Cricket and I were walking up the hill on our regular route around the neighborhood. We rounded the corner and there was a dog in the leaves at the side of the road. She looked like some kind of terrier and she was the same color as the autumn leaves around her, that orangey, reddish brown, and hard to see. But then Cricket noticed her and started to leap frog towards her. She does this. Instead of her pull-like-ox move, she hops forward in hopes of outsmarting the leash.

            The little red dog crossed the street, so we did too. She wandered around on the side street, sniffing all of the hot spots, letting Cricket know where they were. I couldn’t leave, knowing she was in the street with no leash and cars on the way, so we stayed with her. Eventually, she climbed up a lawn and stood on a small concrete slab at the front door, like she owned it. Cricket and I walked up to the lawn and knocked on the door. A sleepy face eventually came to the door and I asked if this little dog lived here. The woman stepped back, and the little red dog ran inside. And then the door shut.

            The next time we saw the little red dog, it was about a month later and getting chilly. She was missing a lot of hair down her back, and from a distance, I could see black dots on her skin. It was only when I got up close that I could see that the black dots were moving.

            My immediate reaction was revulsion, and I pulled Cricket away from her. Cricket had fleas once when she was a puppy. She was two months old and I was giving her a bath and found these things that looked like black sesame seeds stuck in her hair. I freaked out and obsessively cleaned and medicated her and combed and combed and combed.

This is not Red Dog either, but, ouch! (also not my picture)

This is not Red Dog either, but, ouch! (also not my picture)

            But Red Dog had been colonized. She had cities of fleas. I couldn’t understand how a human could live in a house with a dog that thoroughly inhabited by fleas. Fleas jump.

            I wanted to take her home and dunk her in a flea bath and wrap her in a soft towel and comb and soothe and ice and do whatever necessary to make her feel better.

            But more pressing was the fact that she was standing in the middle of the street and not following Cricket to safety at the side of the road, and there was a car coming straight at her. I screamed. It was one of those out of body screams where you look around to see where the noise came from. Finally the scream brought someone out of the house.

            Red Dog’s mom was disheveled and wearing pajamas and she asked why I’d screamed. I pointed to Red Dog, who was now safely on the side of the street, sniffing at Cricket. And, when I got my words back, I told her about the car.

            No real reaction. It was as if her emotions were blunted. She came down the lawn and picked up Red Dog, fleas and all, and watched as her other dog ran out of the house, without a leash, or even a collar. He was a black haired, medium sized dog, maybe fifty or sixty pounds. And the woman called him Jack, yelling at him to stay out of the street. Jack was missing hair too. I realized I’d seen him around the neighborhood, even further away from the house than Red Dog.

I mentioned the fleas and the woman smiled and said, “I know,” and shrugged. She eventually got both dogs back in the house and Cricket and I went along on our walk, but I couldn’t stop obsessing. The woman had cuddled Red Dog. She didn’t seem abusive or mean, but her dogs were sick with flea juice. I wanted to go home and get a box of Frontline and leave it in her mailbox, but I was afraid she wouldn’t use it or she’d be insulted and firebomb my house.

            I called my mother at work and asked for advice, because I couldn’t sit still and I was fantasizing about running back and stealing Red Dog. Mom asked her coworkers and they suggested I call the ASPCA which led me to the local no kill animal shelter in my town. The woman I spoke to from the shelter was just as upset as I was when I described Red Dog’s hair loss and standing in the street. She said they’d had previous complaints at that address and they would look into it again. She didn’t make me feel like I was interfering or making too much of it, but she also didn’t give me much reason to hope that they could help Red Dog.

            I wanted to be a super hero but I didn’t know how to do it.

            I didn’t see Red Dog for a long time after I made the call for help. I hoped, but did not believe, that they had been able to make a difference. Eventually, I did see her again, at least a year later. She had most of her hair back, but she was still outside by herself with out a collar or a leash, running into the street. As we got closer, her person came out of the house to get her, so that was progress, at least.

            I walk by her house regularly but rarely see her. I hope that means she’s doing well and her fence is working.

            The Red Dog situation, and the deep pull to save her, is what, eventually, led to adopting Butterfly. I learned, from Red Dog and others along the way, that I really didn’t need to know a dog from puppyhood to love her. In fact, my ability to love a dog seems to blossom in the first few seconds and is very hard to shake.

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

My Butterfly, with her Duckie

Butterfly, with her own adoptive family

Butterfly, with her own adoptive family

Butterfly’s Weird Health Problems

Butterfly's First Day Home

Butterfly’s First Day Home

 

Butterfly refused to take pills. The veterinary technicians at the animal shelter couldn’t get her to take her de-wormer pills before sending her home with us in November and she wouldn’t even chew the new de-worming medicine that comes in a tiny meatloaf shape. We tried wrapping it in turkey, crumbling it into chicken soup, spreading it with peanut butter. Nothing worked. She ate the turkey and spit out even the smallest crumb of the medicine, which Cricket made every attempt to steal, because she loves the stuff.

We finally found these Pill Pocket treats the other day. They look like gummies and stretch to fit the medicine. It took four treats, but for the first time in three months, Butterfly got her whole dose of medicine down. I could finally stop imagining the slithering little worms crawling around and sucking the life out of her from the inside.

My fear isn’t completely unwarranted. Butterfly’s heart is already fragile. She was diagnosed with a level four Mitral Valve Insufficiency, which the vet told us could develop into congestive heart failure at any time, requiring daily medication. If she continued to spit out even the easy medicine, no telling what she’d do with actual pills. The fear of her developing serious heart problems, or any other health problems for that matter, has been hanging over me from the first day we brought her home. I watch her anxiously every time she sneezes or coughs or seems to sleep too deeply.

The anxiety blossomed about a week after she came home, She was shivering in the doorway of the living room and I picked her up to comfort her and saw this lump protruding from her lower belly. I pressed on it and it moved around under her skin. Mom thought it could be a hernia, or just constipation pushing forward. Butterfly was coughing and shaking and I was worried, because the vet had warned us that coughing could be a sign of congestive heart failure. We called the clinic attached to the shelter she came from, but couldn’t get an appointment for another two days. The clinic had her records and was inexpensive and had just seen her a week before, but I was starting to panic. I was afraid we’d have to rush Butterfly to a doggy emergency room first thing in the morning.

I brought Butterfly upstairs and put her on my bed. She fell asleep and then, finally, I did too, but I woke up when she vomited, and then stayed up with her as she vomited three more times. I was getting ready to look up numbers in the phone book, wishing for a doggy ambulance because I was too freaked out to drive, when she started to walk around. Then she ate her breakfast as if everything was fine. I kept checking her protrusion as the day went on, and gradually, it disappeared. Coincidentally, she pooped five times that day. Really big pooping.

We cancelled the vet appointment, because I didn’t want to stress her out with more doctor visits than necessary. But, also, I was afraid they would dismiss me as a hysterical dog mommy imagining problems that weren’t really there, now that the evidence was gone.

 

My Happy Girl

My Happy Girl

And for a month, Butterfly was fine. Then, one night, I noticed she was licking her lips obsessively and having trouble sitting and lying down. She was having muscle spasms around her waist that were rippling down her back. I worried next to her overnight, feeling incompetent and in over my head. But the protrusion and the spasms disappeared by the morning and haven’t reappeared since.

In fact, after all of the awfulness, wherein I felt suicidal for clearly failing my dog, Butterfly was back to smiling and being happy and ready to play. If all of that vomiting and coughing and spasming had happened to me, I would still be moping and cursing God months later, but Butterfly just shook it off and went back to being a dog.

I worry that I should have taken her to the vet anyway, even though there was nothing left to see. I worry that she needs a special doggy nurse, and a doggy psychiatrist too. I keep worrying that I’ve taken on a situation that is too big for me, and the after effects of her life in a puppy mill will pose too much of a challenge, and I will fail her. But then she makes me think it over again.

The other night we had a lot of wind and rain, and my bedroom, the attic, is like a wind tunnel, so the sound was exaggerated, and Butterfly was frightened. She woke me up at three o’clock in the morning trying to stuff her head into my armpit. I used to do that with my Mommy when I was little too. She crawled over me and around me and curled against me, but she couldn’t find any position that worked for more than ten seconds at a time.

Finally, by five a.m., she sat down by my chest and stayed there for the rest of the night. She seems to think I’m trustworthy, and I’d like to believe her judgment is sound.

 

Butterfly and her crazy hair

Butterfly really likes her scratchies.