by Joyce Brandon
Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Fresno.
“Parvo positive” are most likely the two most dreaded words a rescuer can hear. If you rescue long enough the odds are that you have heard them more than once. I’ve heard them way too often over the past few months: the most recent, just ten days ago.
I had been watching Spotty and her mom Dotty in a local shelter for a little over a week. Dotty was noticeably uncomfortable in the shelter but Spotty, her little sidekick, seemed no worse for wear. Spotty is an adorable two month old puppy that is practically a carbon copy of her mom: when sitting side by side you couldn’t help but call her a “mini me.”
Although being in a shelter, Spotty was like any other puppy and seemed to enjoy exploring and pestering the other dogs. Mom was never far away and kept a watchful eye on the outgoing puppy. Calls went out for rescue help but none responded. Puppies are very high risk coming out of shelters and you just can’t blame a rescue for not wanting to assume that risk. I understand all too well that in many shelters either rescue is found or the dogs are killed. It’s pretty black and white. I decided to pull the pair myself and had one of our great volunteers offer to help foster.
Like I do so routinely, I arrived at the shelter prepared to load up dogs and take them to safety. We got Spotty loaded up in the crate in my van and when we came back with Dotty noticed that the pup was vomiting. A sense of dread came over me. The Animal Control Officer and I just stood at the back of my van looking at the adorable puppy, fully understanding that there was a really good possibility this pup had just broke with parvo.
There are moments in rescue, just as with life, that you are faced with really tough decisions. This is one of the toughest. If I leave Spotty behind she will be euthanized. If I take Spotty with me I need to be prepared to deal with nursing a sick puppy, contaminating my home, and committing rescue resources to her (i.e. money). Parvo can be very expensive to treat. I’ve never been very good at leaving them behind and I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I chose to take her.
I already had a vet appointment set up for them so I took them straight in. Sure enough, we tested the pup and she was parvo positive. It’s at that moment that you just buck up and prepare to go to work. Dottie continued on to her prearranged foster home but sad as it was, we had to split them up at that point.
I made a call to one of our fantastic volunteers, Tish Turman. Tish is one of our wonderful parvo treatment fosters. She has saved numerous puppies, nursing them night and day. Without hesitation, she agreed to take the puppy but couldn’t until the following day. I took Spotty home with me for the night. After treating her for the night, I was pretty much in love, so I stole her away from Tish and with me she stayed.
If you aren’t familiar with parvo you might check out the article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canine_parvovirus I don’t want to spend a lot time boring you with the details of the disease. Basically it is a virus that can be avoided with proper vaccinations. PLEASE vaccinate your dogs! The virus usually affects the intestinal tract of dogs. The severity can range from death to mildly ill and everything in between. Death is usually caused by dehydration and secondary infections. The first thing you usually notice is that the puppy stops eating and has that “I don’t feel good look”, that is usually followed by vomiting, then diarrhea, often bloody. It is critical to seek medical help if you have a puppy with any of those symptoms.
While home treatment is not ideal, it is often the only affordable option for our rescue. We have been trained to administer fluids, and medicate. Trickle feeding and controlling the temperature in the environment are also very important. We have had good success, but we have not been able to save them all. It is important to realize that Parvo is not a death sentence. It is very serious but many puppies and dogs do survive with proper medical attention. Without medical treatment, according to Wikipedia, the survival rate is only about 9%. It is also not contagious to humans.
Spotty and I went about our routine. We both hated it. It isn’t fun poking little sick puppies with needles and forcing medicine into their tightly clamped mouths but you do what you have to do. The first few days went well. She was pretty perky for a parvo pup and I was feeling like this was going to be a light case. Things changed on day three, that was when she lost the sparkle in her eye and the wag in her tail. I would go to check on her and have to look closely to see if she were breathing, poor baby just felt so horrible. We continued on with our schedule of fluids and meds.
On day four I had to run to town. Things came up that made it impossible for me to get home for our scheduled fluids and meds: I was running about two hours late. I was filled with anxiety on my way home that I was going to find a dead or suffering puppy. Imagine my elation when I walked in to find her standing up on the x-pen wagging her tail and greeting me. Wow! I knew we had turned the corner.
Although unable to hold food down, she continued to improve. On day six she began to eat a little on her own and keep it down. I’m happy to say we are home free now. Spotty isn’t happy being confined, but the thought is that they continue to shed the virus for a few weeks after the symptoms disappear so she has to stayed sequestered in my bedroom for another week or so.
So many things went wrong with this mom and pup duo. Mom should have been spayed, Spotty should have been vaccinated, they should not have been left to stray into the alley. It is almost always human error or human neglect that is the cause of homeless pets. Again, parvo can almost always be avoided with proper vaccinations.Spotty has turned out to be quite a charmer and we are having fun with her while she is with us. She has learned to climb the steps to our bed so Jim and I have a new sleeping buddy. Spotty is really smart and really cute and will be looking for a home of her own in a few weeks. To sum her up with my own two “P” words I’d say she is Pretty Perfect!
Added note: Vixen, another parvo survivor, came to stay with us. She is safe because once a pup has parvo it won’t get it again. Spotty isn’t sure if she likes her yet though.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section.