Our 3 1/2 year old standard poodle, Chewie, is in the hospital. He had had an eye infection 10 days ago, and our vet noticed that he had lost about six pounds. She asked us to keep an eye on his eating. After a week of his appearing listless and having little appetite, Melinda took him in this morning. He had lost another two pounds.
Our vet at Quarry Hill Veterinary Clinic said that his white blood cell count was so high that her equipment couldn’t measure it, and neither could any other vet in Rochester. He also had a fever. Clearly, Chewie has a serious infection. She gave Chewie a subcutaneous fluid injection to get him hydrated.
When our old Labradoodle LayLa had a fluid injection, it gave her a small widespread hump on her back which quickly dissipated as the saline was absorbed. With Chewie, because he has almost no body fat left (which actually helps the fluid absorb quickly), it all flowed down into the loose folds of skin on his chest and hung there like a water balloon for the rest of the afternoon.
Melinda picked me up from work and we raced off to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Emergency Room. As soon as we came in, they asked if it was Chewie, because Quarry Hill had already called ahead to make sure we could get in and they had sent all of the information on him. We were ushered in quickly and a slew of kind medical professionals and students were checking him out. Chewie actually started perking up because of the hydration, although Melinda thinks it was because every five minutes a different pretty lady would come out to smile at him, pet him and take him off for a quick test.
They had to re-run the tests that Quarry Hill had done, which is an added expense, but without doing that they would have no clue whether a change in his numbers was because he was actually doing better or just a difference in equipment/methodology.
They found that Chewie has a heart murmur; it could be that this is new, or just an overlooked murmur because it isn’t in the ordinary spot. As the likeliest cause of the infection, it meant getting a cardiologist consultation and then an echocardiogram, which was the most expensive item on the bill so far. (The echocardiogram cost as much as all of Quarry Hills’ bill today.) Turns out: he doesn’t have a problem with his heart. The murmur is most likely a minor issue, and not the cause or even an effect of the infection.
Next thing: Chewie has lower back pain; perhaps the infection is in his spine? Two X-rays later: no, that’s not the problem.
So far, the bill is creeping towards $900 (plus several hundred at Quarry Hill earlier) and we’ve only found out what it isn’t. The docs offer that we could take him home to bring him back the next day, or we can leave him where he’ll be given antibiotics, painkillers, fluid IVs, and they will tend him and monitor his reactions. Cost will be $500-$1000 depending on how it goes. We’re hoping that, given Chewie’s by-then chipper attitude, that perhaps he will begin fighting off the infection and after a little more testing he will be sent home for a course of antibiotics, and we can start working on paying off the few thousand dollars that this will have cost by tomorrow.
Or, the vets may decide that they need to nail down the cause of the infection, which may mean bone marrow tests and a few other tests. And if it gets into that realm, where some of the worse causes are leukemia, cancer, and all of the other scary too-much-money-to-spend-on-a-dog diseases, then we have to face some tough decisions.
We left Chewie and had supper with my parents at The Machine Shed, as just by happenstance they were passing through the Cities at the same time. It’s a little embarrassing talking with them, for whom $2000 is already too much to spend fixing a dog.
Since I first became a dog owner, I’ve faced the question of the twisted stomach. If, like Santa’s Little Helper and Marley (movie spoilers in that link), Chewie or LayLa had a twisted stomach or some other ailment that involves a lot of expensive surgery, at what point do you say, “It’s just a dog and I can’t put an entire kitchen remodeling into giving him three more years of life, not when there are tons of dogs in shelters also looking for homes.”
I’m torn. I’m not a farmer, looking at animals as largely disposable and easily replaceable, though in general I agree. Still, Melinda and I are childless, and there’s just no escaping that Chewie is our boy and we dote on him the way we would had we been blessed with youngfolk. He is, still, an animal, and not a “furbaby”, that appalling phrase that is used too often by people who have lost perspective. He’s our child substitute. Not a child.
But it’s not like he’s a cat. I love cats, as you all know. But a cat you bring home and teach where the litterbox is and scold if it claws stuff. End of investment. The rest is all gravy. If it has five years of sitting in a sunbeam or twenty, it is living the sweet life. It’s not like the cat has to mix with the public.
A dog, properly loved, must be trained, and it forms a relationship with its owner.
Chewie is young, and he should have a long life ahead of him. He just aced a retake of his advanced training class, and should be getting his Canine Good Citizenship soon. After all the trouble of housebreaking and teething, of raising him and training him, he’s finally a very well-behaved dog with a good daily routine. These should be his best years.
I go to bed tonight not knowing whether tomorrow means a call to come pick up our guy who is out of bed and full of beans, or whether we’ll be facing serious news.
Please pray for Chewie, and pray for us, too, if you can. Thank you.