Where to begin? I’m exhausted and wired-awake at the same time. I feel a little like I’m in a war—anxious about the next assault, unable to mourn the current tragedy, and working so hard to prevent another.
My worst fears were realized last Wednesday when Hooch broke with parvovirus. This is the demon all puppy fosters fight against. It’s the reason we go through so much bleach, guard who handles our puppies, and count the days out of the shelter and the ones until we can vaccinate.
I suppose I have been incredibly lucky. I’m closing in on 200 fosters, and I hadn’t encountered parvo yet. So, maybe I was due. But, gosh, I would give anything to back this one up and get a different outcome.
For the past week, I have watched all eight of my puppies struggle against this killer virus. I’ve run back and forth to the animal hospital multiple times every day, taking puppies who are crashing and picking up puppies who have stabilized.
Since Thanksgiving day at least one puppy has been hospitalized at all times and at one point, there were five there. The cost is no longer something I can even think about—all I can do is be grateful that I foster for a rescue that doesn’t have a limit to what they will do to save a life. I started a fundraiser where I have been posting updates, but I worry that as this battle wages on, those funds will only make a small dent in the cost of treatment. That is just one part of this nightmare I have to push to the back of my mind, so I can focus on these babies and this battle. Later there will be time to wonder about the true cost of rescue and the solutions that are so obvious to many, yet so impossible to implement.
Meanwhile, I monitor my puppies moment by moment, giving fluids to the ones who become dehydrated, rubbing Karo syrup on all their gums to help keep up blood sugars, and cleaning nonstop. They get multiple meds in pills, liquids, or shots, plus syringe feedings as none will eat on their own yet. I have a whiteboard to track everything because my mind is too full. There is so much to do and yet I just wish there was one more thing I could do, anything that might tip the scales in their favor.
My puppies, who used to bum-rush the gate every time I opened it, now only lift their heads and a few thump their tails at the sight of me. I administer pain pills and meds and after each one I snuggle the puppy for as long as I can, trying to distract, so the pills won’t be vomited up before they have a chance to be absorbed. We are running a space heater and white noise to keep them resting. Every disruption seems to trigger another round of group vomiting.
My beautiful, healthy puppies are disappearing before my eyes. They won’t or can’t eat; they don’t drink. They look like tiny holocaust survivors. Their gaunt faces register such confusion–they don’t know why they are in such pain.
Feeding them is a balancing act—they need to eat to keep up their strength, but eating irritates their intestines where the parvo is attacking and causes them to vomit and have diarrhea, which leads to dehydration in a vicious frustrating relentless circle.
On Saturday night, the rescue had to make the painful decision to have Hooch euthanized. When the medical coordinator called to tell me, I told her not to let them do it until I got over there. I wanted to hold that sweet baby when he left. Because parvo is so dangerously contagious, and because hospital rules don’t allow customers in their treatment area, they had to do the euthanasia outside. They brought Hooch to me and gave me a few minutes to hold him in the stairwell. I told him he was loved and adored and also how very sorry I was that I couldn’t save him. I promised him his pain would be over now, and that I would do everything I could for his siblings.
And then I cradled him in my arms as the vet administered the dose that would make him go to sleep, and then the one that stopped his heart. It was peaceful—he was so far gone already. I’m not sure I have stopped crying since. Most of the time I can keep the tears inside, but other times I find them running down my face and snotting up my nose as I cradle the puppies that remain.
This is so hard.
I’ve lost other puppies, but this long, drawn out torturous death is so much worse. I wish I had a crystal ball and knew which of my puppies will survive. The internet says as many as 80% of parvo puppies can die in an outbreak like this, but other sources say that’s extreme. If I knew now which ones will eventually succumb, I would inject the needle myself to prevent them having to suffer through another painful moment in a pointless fight. If they make it through the first 3-4 days, everyone says their prognosis is good. We are just about there for most of them, and I keep waiting for a sign that the worst is over.
We are waging a war with fluid bags and needles and syringes and tummy soothers and karo syrup and an abundance of hope. And maybe, at least for me, hope is the most powerful thing.
On Sunday, when I picked up two of the four puppies who had gone to the ER that morning (the other two were admitted), I asked about ToTo.
ToTo had been in the hospital since Friday and was in the worst shape of all the puppies. I was told that we would likely have to make a hard decision about him that night. All day I wandered and worried in a fog, bracing for that phone call and sending up desperate prayers, apologizing to God for being so out of touch recently and begging for this one thing. At 10pm, Tracy (the OPH medical coordinator) called to say Toto was doing okay. He was stable—not good, but stable. Hope.
And on Monday morning, another sign of hope appeared. Maybe poop doesn’t seem like a hopeful thing—but lying on the puppy pad, amongst the diarrhea (they are neat sickies), was one small, fully formed poop log. I was so excited that I literally pulled out my phone to take a picture, but then laughed at the absurdity. A week ago, I was drowning in poop; it was my biggest obstacle.
Monday it rained all day, as if underlining the situation. Beethoven was trying to eat, but also vomiting whatever I gave him. Nick helped me administer fluids to puppy after puppy—a process that takes us about 20 minutes per puppy. We are novices and don’t want to screw up, so we go slow and careful as I puncture these puppies and fill their skin up with fluid balloons that make them look like starving hunchbacks. The fluids and the shot for nausea are the only things I know definitely get in the puppies—since pretty much everything else comes out in their vomiting.
And then another bomb drops. We learn that the puppies also have Coccidia, a parasite that turns up too often in puppies, and causes diarrhea. I add a dewormer to their course of treatment and wish like crazy that the assault would stop. One more foul tasting thing to shove in their mouths, one more assault, one more reason to vomit.
Monday night—more hope. Enzo and Winn-Dixie come home, infusing the puppy pen with energy, joyful at the sight of their siblings. They are doing well. The ER also sent home more meds, another antibiotic, plus probiotics to put on the puppies food
if when they finally start eating.
And now it is Tuesday morning. Enzo and Winn-Dixie have begun vomiting like the others. Beethoven is so quiet; he watches me but doesn’t move towards me like he did yesterday, his gaze haunting. Otis is also quiet, curled up looking half the size he was. Benji seems to have the most energy (which is relative as none of these puppies are acting very puppy like). He and Otis both drink water, something they wouldn’t do yesterday. Enzo wags his tail and chews on his siblings’ ears and legs, trying to entice someone to wrestle. Winn-Dixie watches all of us from her spot on the best puppy bed. The vet techs must have struggled to find her veins because both her front legs are shaven all the way around midway down, making her look like a poodle with puffy feet.
The white board is empty, cleared of yesterday’s battles. All the meds listed. Ready for the next day of war.
If you’d like to donate to help defray the cost of treatment for the Movie Mutts, visit our fundraiser on Facebook (where I am posting daily updates on the pup’s treatment) or donate directly to ophrescue.org/donate (designate ‘for the Movie Mutts medical bills’ in the notes).
Thanks for reading!
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020).
If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our brand new podcast!
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: email@example.com.