Each time the TASP hotline rings, and each time another email arrives at our inbox, there’s a new challenge to our creativity waiting to be met, to keep one or more animals out of trouble. Case in point: Harley, a sweet 5 year old Pit Bull and her loving family.
A man left a message in my voicemail that his dog had been vomiting, refusing to eat, and suffering with diarrhea since Wednesday. Now all of us who are blessed with good health, a vehicle that runs, and enough money to budget for vet bills would have had the tools needed to solve this dilemma in less than three days. But Harley’s challenge was a perfect storm of unfortunate coincidences. Her Dad was suffering from cancer that had put him on disability. To make matters worse, Dad’s truck had broken down and because he now had limited income, he hadn’t had enough money to get it repaired yet. Dad’s fiancé would have helped, but two weeks earlier she had broken her ankle and was still hobbling, still out of work.
In the midst of all this, the family had run out of dog food and was feeding Harley whatever they could muster from the freezer and the table: chicken and rice, beef ribs, whatever they could gather that would satisfy Harley until they could get back on their feet, get the truck back on the road and get some grocery shopping done. And then Harley’s vomiting and diarrhea began. After the first 36 hours of her illness, Harley’s family grew more concerned for her wellbeing. They knew that she would become dehydrated if she didn’t get some fluids into her system, but each time she drank some water, she’d just throw it back up.
The mountain lake where Harley and her family live is absolute heaven from June till Labor Day, inhabited by vacationers looking for a retreat from the hubbub of life; but from Labor Day till Memorial Day it’s remote and virtually uninhabited except for Harley’s family, a seventy-five year old neighbor with a car less reliable than Harley’s Dad’s truck, and an assortment of bears, squirrels, Canada geese, and other wildlife.
Harley hadn’t seen a vet in awhile, since Dad came down with his illness. Co-pays and gas to get to and from doctors appointments, CT scans, treatments and blood tests ate up what little Dad’s disability check could provide. But it wasn’t like Harley wasn’t loved or that she didn’t love her family. She lived a relatively idyllic life on the lake with them and her presence in the little house brought joy to their otherwise stressful world of medical uncertainly. She was the bright spot in their lives and they adored her.
When I found Dad’s call in my voicemail during my Friday lunch break, I called back right away. Learning the litany of misfortunes that had hit this little family over such a short period of time was kind of like listening to an old Hank Williams song. Yet Dad didn’t make excuses or demands. He only politely asked if there was anything we could do to help him get his dog looked at by a vet who would accept payments over time. He’d already called every vet he could think of, tried applying for Care Credit and other veterinary credit companies and been rejected by all. He told me how he and his fiancé had been feeding ice cubes to Harley in an effort to keep her hydrated and I could hear the worry in his voice as he described her present demeanor. Lethargic. Didn’t want to go out or do anything. No appetite. Wouldn’t even lift her head….certainly not the bubbly, bouncy Pit Bull he’d adopted from the shelter back before cancer changed this family’s world forever. In my head I was considering the possible veterinary conditions we might be dealing with: pancreatitis…….punctured or blocked GI tract………kidney failure…….or euthanasia?
You know, at the time we were on that first phone call, I didn’t have much hope. An hour’s drive west of Albany, this dog was nearly an hour and a half west of where I work. I was still at my job and couldn’t just pick up and leave. By the time I got out of work, every vet’s office short of the Emergency Hospital would be closed…..and the cost to walk into that facility is currently $130 before work on the animal even begins. I started going down the list of TASP volunteers and where they were located at that point in time. Nobody available on such short notice on a Friday afternoon. I had already committed to helping three homes in Troy after work on that Friday, each with its own sad, time-sensitive animal situation that needed tending. The following day I was scheduled to haul home-deserving foster dogs to Bark & Brew in Grafton. I found myself calculating in my head how much TASP might be able to spend on Harley at the Emergency Hospital on Saturday night, that is, IF she would survive that long.
Then I think an angel reached down and tapped me on the head because it suddenly occurred to me to contact Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. I personally knew how much they care about all needy animals and I knew they had a good number of volunteers in Albany County. We had nothing to lose by asking if MHHS might have a volunteer available who could drive this failing dog and her owner to a local vet to try and save her. TASP would pay the vet bill. We just needed a transporter, and soon.
I texted. I got a text back in short time. It was KC at Mohawk Humane. The text said, “Hi, Melinda, it’s KC – will try 2 find a volunteer 2 transport the dog for Mr. ……..” And this was where the music should turn from Wagner’s Requiem to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, if you know what I mean. That little text message gave me HOPE! KC found a wonderful man named, “Todd,” who volunteered to transport Harley and her Dad to The Village Animal Clinic in Voohreesville. Danielle at the Clinic said Dr. Cheever agreed to see Harley Saturday morning in spite of their normal policy of only accepting established clients on Saturdays. Todd left for the lake Saturday morning not knowing if Harley could be saved, but he was eager to do what he could to give her and her family a chance.
Flash forward to Saturday morning. Harley and her Dad are helped into The Village Animal Clinic for the eval. The Doc’s examination indicates a case of severe gastroenteritis (possibly from the diverse collection of things Harley had been eating when her dog food ran out?). Harley is treated and sent home same day. TASP pays the bill over the phone and Todd transports Harley and her VERY relieved and grateful Dad back to the lake. TASP then orders a couple of large bags of dog food to be delivered to Harley’s house by Chewey.com, to keep her eating a dog’s menu instead of a human’s. The update call from Dad the following day was very encouraging. Meds appeared to be working, vomiting had stopped, diarrhea clearing and Harley was starting to become more interested in life again. The joy in Dad’s voice would make anyone think this guy’s on top of the world. Some things in his life may be absolutely awful right now, but he’s not alone in this struggle. He has friends he didn’t even know a few days ago and they helped him save his dog. Life is beautiful!
I spoke with Dad this week and he’s scheduled for surgery in January. Meantime, Harley is healthy and keeping him smiling again. She’ll be receiving a TASP care package in the mail this week with some donated treats and flea preventives to help take that burden off the family’s wallet, and we’re also contributing to the repair of Dad’s truck so he and Harley have reliable transportation during this challenging winter. We’re sending our prayers for a successful surgery for Harley’s Dad and hope you all will as well. After all, he may need his dog, but she needs him, too.
A few things worth noting about this project:
- The Mohawk Hudson Humane Society is more than just a shelter now. If you haven’t visited there lately, you should; just so you can see what a state of the art Humane Center looks like. Sheltering is only a part of what MHHS does for their community, as witnessed in this true story. They have a healthier building, better kennels, and first class veterinary equipment. But even more noteworthy, they have programs that help the community do a better job of owning pets. Educational programs for kids. Low cost spay-neuter services. A Pet Food Pantry. Training classes for pet owners and their animals……so many resources offered to help animals and people live in harmony! And speaking of people, I have to say that the people at MHHS are inspirational. With just one text message, TASP found the caring partners we needed to bring a much-loved pet out of a crisis that would have devastated her owners. We could not have brought this happy ending to this family without the help of Mohawk Hudson Humane Society’s people.
- We got lucky when we chose The Village Animal Clinic for Harley’s emergency visit. Dr. Cheever graciously set her clinic’s policy aside to accept Harley on a Saturday; she didn’t have to do that. My recommendation to all is to find a veterinarian you can trust and afford, and then make it your mission to bring your animal(s) to that vet once each year. Having an established relationship with a veterinary clinic or hospital can get you an appointment ahead of others who do not have a relationship with that vet. It’s just like going to a doctor, eh? If you’re already a patient, you get seen this week. If not, you get an appointment in 3 months. Visiting a vet even when your pet is well isn’t a waste of money. It gets your pet a chance to be checked by a professional for signs of illnesses that could be caught early enough to fix for far less than if left alone to fester. Checking eyes, ears, oral, anal, and general palpation of skeleton and body gives you a good picture of where your pet stands health-wise and it also gives you an opportunity to learn by asking questions of professionals who have a lot of education and experience about animals. Harley’s case was an exception, and we understand there are other folks who also find it impossible to make an annual vet visit due to their own or a family member’s needs taking priority. But while you’re in good health, if you can budget even a tiny bit each month to be set aside for your pet’s preventive care, you might just save its life.
- Dogs may be omnivores, and they may enjoy table-food as it’s going down the gullet. But the havoc it can render on a dog’s digestive system can be life-threatening and costly. Harley and her family were lucky that the cooked rib bones offered to her hadn’t broken off irregularly and blocked or perforated her intestines. To be sure, this family’s financial situation had caused them to try some creative solutions to feeding Harley that they probably wouldn’t normally have approached. At the same time, the genius they exhibited in offering ice cubes to Harley to get fluids into her dehydrated body was probably the key action that kept her alive. Dehydration is an extremely dangerous condition that can cause organ failure and even death if allowed to go on for too long. An animal can live without food for days but not without water. It’s something to bear in mind anytime your pet has an extended bout of vomiting and/or diarrhea, or any time you pass your pet’s empty water bowl.
- If you have a decent job, and you know someone in your neighborhood who is struggling financially…..with a health situation or some other challenge that could endanger their pets, why not drop by and ask if they need anything now and then? Just say you’re paying it forward for the good things that have happened in your own life when you really needed help. It takes so little to reach out and offer a hand to those who truly need it and the reward of knowing you changed lives is something you just can’t buy anywhere. TASP does our best to help whenever and wherever we can, but we can’t be everywhere and we’re always operating on a shoestring, financially. You don’t have to work in animal welfare to offer welfare to an animal and its owner.