Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A little raised tail

"Funny, something as little as a raised tail could make us all so happy."

Aida said that about Maui's happy tail being raised above her body in that characteristic half moon curve. The sign of a happy husky.

I noticed the same thing in another husky just the other day. Little Perseus had raised his little bottle-brush of a fluffy husky tail, a sign of happiness, but more importantly, a sign of having found his inner Siberian Husky.

As does many of our stories, this one starts with an email. An animal shelter we have worked with in the past contacted us about pulling two Siberian Huskies that they received as strays. One was a red and white pup that they had seen before, and was not in good shape - malnourished, losing his hair. The other was a black and white boy, older, maybe 2 or 3 years old - healthy. Both boys were long haired, what we call 'woollies'. We responded that we were full at the moment, but wanted to be kept informed.

Well, only two days later, they told us that the pup had had a major 'blow out', bad diarrhea and vomiting, and that he tested strongly positive for parvo (canine parvovirus type 2, very deadly for puppies). The shelter was going to put him down. Worse, they were going to euthanize the older guy too, just because he was exposed. Even though adults almost NEVER succumb to parvo.

Aida did not hesitate. After securing my agreement, she told them we would take both dogs. It was not good timing for me, as my day was planned from opening to close with meetings and calls. But we got transport arranged, and I found the time to meet Heather to take them on to our vet. The big guy was easy, even if he had that awful shelter stink. The pup, though, was pitiful. I had seen this before, and I really did not know if he would even make it to the vet.

He did make it to the vet. I handed him over, limp and full of mange and worms, thinking I would never see him again. I do that - prepare for the worst - so when the bad news comea the impact is lessened.

Later that day the vet confirmed that it was parvo, and they had him hooked up. Fluids, antibacterials, anti-emetics, anti-diarrheals, supplemental nutrition. I gritted my teeth. and expected the worse.

Next morning, I called, and held my breath. He was still with us. Really? Wow, I did not expect that, and I was elated. Cautiously. Later that day the vet told us that his white blood cell count was 124. Normal is 8,000 or so. WBC of 124 pretty much means no immune system. Any bacteria could take hold and it would be over, fast and ugly.

But the next morning he was still with us. And the next. And the next. Aida decided his name was Perseus. He was certainly heroic, and proving to be invincible. Perseus spent 8 days with the vet before convincing us he was ready for his foster home.

What a horribly unattractive mess he was. And stinky too. Aida must have given him four baths in his first two days home, and cut almost all of his matted fur off. Well, what was left of it - he was eaten up with mange (the non-contagious version). His face and butt and parts of his back, belly, and legs were pink and scabby, even bleeding in some places. He looked like a baboon, actually.

He walked with a hunched back, tail down, head down. He was clearly not happy, and did not eat well. He was still vomiting. We took him back the vet a few times, got his belly shaved for ultrasounds, and finally got him eating again. Another vet got him started with ivermectin for the mange, and antibiotics for his skin infections.

We've been here before, we know it takes months to get the hair back, and get the nutrition back. Perseus was growly - heck, I would be too if I felt that bad. Still, he only growled at the other dogs - he loved his humans. He showered us with kisses and love. It was clear that he had zero social skills. He was going to have to learn how to be a member of the pack. Probably the hard way too.

Day by day, Perseus got a little more engaged. First following tentatively, then engaging some of the other boys, and Mika the young female sibe, in single play. After a few more days, he joined in the group play, if just a little, and for short bursts.

Then I saw it. It was time for the 9:00 AM runfest. Every morning the sibe pack runs back and forth in the back yard, around the trees, and back and forth some more. Punctuated with periodic play tussles. And I did see it. A little red and white baboon-looking siberian pup, running with the pack. With his tail up! That foxlike bottlebrush red and white tail was up in the air, telling everyone who could see it that he had found his inner husky.

The stink is still there, and it will be until the mange and infections are all healed. A light coat of fuzz is now covering most of the angry pink, so he looks less like a baboon, and more like, well, just pitiful. But the Husky is out - he has the prance, the proud walk, the curiosity, the playfulness, the periodic bursts of full out running and leaping, and yes, the little raised tail. He even joins in the daily howlfests! Perseus is one happy, happy siberian husky.

Welcome to huskyhood, Perseus!

A bittersweet Passing

It was about two years ago when we received the kind of call that fills us with excitement, and with dread. The call was asking us to join our friend and collaborator Dawne from Southern Siberian Rescue (SSR) to help with dozens of Siberian Huskies being seized from a neglect case in Greenville, SC. Excitement, because it is a challenge to rise to, and lots of lives to save. Dread, because you cannot know how many of the dogs will be more challenge than you can handle.

We took several pups, as this is normally the arrangement with SSR - they take the adults, we take the pups and preggers. But after a couple of days, Dawne asked if we could take on one more. She had a girl that was just terrified, and needed special attention, and she just did not have the environment to help this poor girl.

Enter Maui.

Maui was as pretty as they come. Not that that moment, mind you, she took some cleaning up. But white, off-white, and a sprinkling of tan and black down her back. Beautiful, deep brown eyes. Eyes that showed terror and fear from who knows what, but clearly years of improper handling and neglect. No one knew her age, but by her teeth and physiology, we guessed 5-8 years.

Maui hid. That is what she did. She was terrified of people, and particularly of men. Of course, we tried to give her every comfort, and encouraged her to socialize with our pack. We were patient.

It took almost four months for Maui to walk up to Aida, on her own volition, and ask for some lovin'. Of course, it was happily given, and you could even detect a bit of tail wagging. She ducked for cover as soon as I was within sight, but every day got a little better. Aida and I agreed that Mau-Mau would likely never be adopted, and that was OK. And, no, Mau-Mau has nothing to do with the Kenyan uprising, it is a habit I have with all of our fosters (Blue Blue, Stan Stan, and so on).

Maui tested positive for heartworms, and that is so hard on huskies. When they start feeling better from the treatments, they want to run. And exercise while undergoing hearworm treatment can kill a dog. Try keeping a husky still. Well, Maui cooperated. Unfortunately, it in part because she had persistent lung congestion and infection. When wee took her for X-rays of the lungs, we also discovered that she had most of the contents of a shotgun shell in her legs, shoulder, and chest. We cried for her past, and smiled hoping for her happy, healthier, future.

It was about the time that Maui would not run away every time I cam into a room that Beau and Jerry came over to meet Maui. They had adopted a Sibe from us earlier, one that was similar, but a little darker, in appearance. Keena was definitely not shy, though, like Maui. The one thing I remember most is that Maui did not react to Jerry, and especially to Beau, the way she had initially to us, and especially me. They fell in love, and decided to make Maui a member of their family. We were elated for Maui!

Beau and Jerry set her up like a queen, with the Cadillac of crates, special beds, and all of the love any dog could ask for. They continued with her pneumonia treatments. She went through the same cycle with them, eventually warming up to Jerry and tolerating Beau's presence. They installed a doggy door so she could 'escape' from the humans and romp happily with her pack mates. Something Aida said struck a chord with me, commenting on how Maui played with her canine brothers and sisters: "Funny, something as little as a raised tail could make us all so happy." She was a happy, healthy, girl.

Except that she wasn't entirely healthy. The labored breathing remained a problem, and she was in and out of the vet with congested lungs, taking stronger and stronger antibiotics and even steroids. Finally, on day, the vet decided to dig further, and took a biopsy, since she was just not responding and staying clear. Everyone's worst nightmare came back with those results. Cancer. Lung Cancer and it was not operable.

We cried a lot. It was not fair.

Jerry and Beau gave Maui every luxury, the treatments and meds, and more love than any dog could ever hope for. She had bad days, and she had good days.

A couple of days ago, Maui crawled under the house, and would not come out. When they did get her out, she was clearly distressed. Of course, it was the weekend, after hours. They took Maui to Banfield, where they knew some of the staff. Her temperature was 107, and she was vomiting and pooping black - which means lost of blood. It was very likely that the cancer has eaten through into her abdomen, and that she was now septic, with infection in the blood. There was nothing that could be done other than make her comfortable. One and a half liters of sub-Q fluids and lots of antibiotics, anti-emetics, and intestinal coating meds later, covered with ice packs, they took her home.

Jerry slept with Maui on their big comfy chair, Maui laying on ice packs, and covered in them, to keep the fever down. Maui cried once, and settled back down. In the morning, I helped Jerry take Maui to the vet that had helped her from the beginning. She was calm, although breathing was difficult. She was getting all the love that three people could pour out through petting, talking, and swelling hearts.

Monday morning Maui Hodge passed calmly into sleep, and crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We will forever bear scars on our hearts from her pain and her passing, and will forever be uplifted by the memories of her playing with the pack, and showing with beaming eyes that finally got it - dem hoomins ain't so bad.

Thank you, Jerry and Beau, for giving Maui the best fourteen months any dog could hope for. Thank you.