Caring for YOUR Dog’s Heart

Sitting with Edith last night while she panted and panted next to me on the Frank bed, I wanted to do more for her. She’s exhausted. Her pups are growing like little monsters, doubling in size and energy. As I ran my hand over her protruding ribs, I glanced at the pups. I want to resent them. But they are cute, and she certainly loves them. Edith is doing as well as can be expected. She’s strong despite her gaunt frame.

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As I sat with Edith, though, my mind and heart were on another heartworm positive dog who gave birth five days after Edith did. Hera’s Hope is also being fostered in York County. She gave birth to six gorgeous puppies who are twice the size of my pups, as they are American bulldogs. Hera’s heartworm is advanced. She’s fighting for her life right now, because in addition to being heartworm+, she is suffering from Bordetella—a common cold to many, but life-threatening to a dog with compromised heart and lungs. Her pups are being bottle fed and also have Bordetella so must be treated with antibiotics. It breaks my heart. Again and again and again. I’m grateful that Edith is doing so well, but I look in her sweet, trusting eyes and I worry as I follow Hera’s story. Mostly, I wish there was more I could do to help Hera and Edith.

So I’m writing about her and I’ve started a fundraising campaign to help Edith and Hera and more heartworm+ dogs whose big, beautiful hearts and lungs are infiltrated with these cruel and ugly worms. Worms that are completely preventable.

Heartworm isn’t something I thought a lot about until recently. Maybe I didn’t understand how AWFUL it is or how CRAZY it is that people don’t do more to prevent it. But now I do. I’m learning firsthand how awful it is, but it wasn’t until I joined OPH that I realized how crazy it was that I wasn’t doing much to prevent it in my own dog.

I’m making this confession, knowing full well that judgment may rain down on my ignorant head, but knowing it is worth it if it causes another dog owner to realize that it is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to prevent heartworm in their own pets EVERY MONTH.

I’ve never quizzed my parents in regards to my childhood pets, but once I became an adult and had my own pets I truly did not understand the risks I was taking by not giving heartworm preventatives to my dog. I could argue that my first dog lived with me in a house trailer on $125/week and even getting her to the vet was impossible. I watched for the free rabies clinics, and somehow lucked out in terms of her staying remarkably healthy and living a long healthy life.

cropped-100_1584.jpgBy the time my second dog rolled around, I was married with a kid and much better about getting my dog to the vet. I gave the heartworm preventative when I remembered, but honestly, and I’ve racked my memory hard on this one, I don’t remember my vet ever telling me how important, in fact, critical, it was that I give my dog her heartworm meds EVERY month, not just when I remembered.

Again, I was lucky and she stayed healthy. We moved to the Eastern Shore of MD, where it should be noted that there are LOTS and LOTS (and LOTS) of mosquitoes (mosquito bites are how a dog gets heartworms). And once again, the new vet did not lecture or insist or smack me, when I told him that I gave the heartworm preventatives most months.

035When we moved to PA and got a new puppy, she was a bit quirky. She wouldn’t take pills of any kind, no matter what they tasted like. When she was little, we could wrestle the heartworm preventative into her, but as she got bigger and snarlier, it got tricky. I tried hiding them in treats, so she refused all treats (still does). I gave them to her in hot dogs and peanut butter, but she quickly caught on and ate around them, spitting them out or hiding them. I was frustrated that we wasted so many pills as they turned to mush or I found them a week later under her dog bed.

I just didn’t get it. I think we in the dog rescue world who are dealing with heartworm and understand its devastation, take for granted that everyone else gets it. We assume all good dog owners give the preventatives because they know their dog’s lives depend on it. But here’s the thing—they don’t know. And it’s not because they don’t think heartworm preventatives are important, it’s because they don’t realize how important. It’s not neglect, it’s ignorance.

We need to keep talking about it and vets need to insist loudly that their clients give their preventatives—explaining the danger and what heartworm will do to a dog. And meanwhile, we need to take care of the animals who suffer because of our ignorance.

I’ve started a fundraiser called, Edith’s Heart. I’ve set a lofty goal of $6500 because that is the approximate conservative rescue cost of treating Edith and 12 more dogs in honor of her puppies. It is only because of generous veterinarians treating our dogs at significantly reduced rates, that $6500 can cover so many dogs.

I hope you’ll consider giving to Edith’s Heart. I plan to send periodic updates to all donors to let them know how Edith’s treatment goes. It won’t be quick or easy. Edith’s Heart fundraiser will run through the end of December because that is the projected time it will take to successfully treat Edith.

We don’t know her outcome, just as right now, we don’t know what will happen with Hera’s Hope. All we can do is tell the story of these dogs and hope it raises awareness about how very important it is that we prevent heartworm before it comes to this.

To donate to Edith’s Heart Click HERE.

Note: Gracie still won’t swallow pills, but I learned that there are other ways to prevent heartworm in your dog. There is a topical treatment, which is what we’ve given Gracie for the past two years. Today she went for her annual checkup and heartworm test. I no longer take her negative test result for granted.

Weigh the costs

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Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

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