An Open Letter to Dog Lovers
Tuesday afternoon, August 10th, I almost lost my faithful and otherwise healthy 12 1/2 year old Chocolate Labrador, Java - and because it was on my watch, it was my fault. I'm always so vigilant about letting her right back inside the house, no matter the weather or time of year. For some reason I became distracted and after letting her out went to my studio where I worked for I figure 45 to 55 minutes. As I walked back out of the studio and office my eyes went to the pool area where suddenly I spotted Java lying on the concrete completely collapsed.
Just to review her situation, because of her age she's got excessive panting issues when it's warm (she's ok when cooled down!) but I immediately ran to her, realizing that she was in grave danger! I'm sure what she did (because I can see the slobber on the storm door at the upper deck and scratch marks on the door frame) was that she panicked and stood there getting overheated in the 85 degree day in the shade, yet she was not! She was in direct overhead sun. And I'm certain she paced between that door then down to the basement door, becoming anxiety-stricken, struggling with the panting and finally lost all her strength.
What I'm going to share is not exaggeration. She was splayed out where he legs could not hold her, her head was all the way down on the concrete, listing to her left side and her tongue was grey and hanging way out to the side. Her panting was now unbelievably labored and heavy with a slathered front of sticky drool the likes of which I never imagined possible on a dog. Her front was thickly covered with it. She had a distant gaze, was actually grotesque looking and was almost completely unresponsive. I lifted her to just inside the basement door, tried giving her water but she was too far gone -- couldn't even lap. Tried spraying a mist from the garden hose but stopped when I realized I must move quickly to get medical attention! Just unreal struggling, labored panting, tongue still gray. I tried pouring water onto her tongue, not wanting to drown her, but she didn't take it. It was as if she couldn't do ANYthing. Brought her to the cool basement tile floor, tried with more water -- nothing.
This entire episode I'm fired with adrenaline and moving so quickly, seeing that she's about to lose her fight. I'm starting to cry out loud "Lord, please keep her alive, save her! I don't want to lose her like THIS!" Side note: I know that she'll eventually pass but I'd certainly like it to be comfortable, with dignity, and when she's READY to go.
While attending to her I grabbed the cell phone and found in my contacts the vet -- quickly explaining her distress. They said bring her immediately and they would start her on oxygen, pull her chart and be ready. When I carried her up the stairs to the back door into the garage I was sobbing, and as I laid her down at the threshold to start the car, put the seat back, cranked the AC I started back and cried out "No, no!" I thought she was giving up right there. But I got her into the car, raced to the vet, carried her in running past the front desk to the back and laid her on the examining table.
I could see in an adjoining room that the only doctor on duty was just wrapping up a surgery. A diminutive woman in her 50's, she immediately began giving Java oxygen and two assistants came to Java's side with wet towels and an IV bag. The oxygen immediately pinked up her tongue which gave me my first moment of encouragement. Knowing, though, that she was by no means out of the woods, we all worked on her for the next hour and a half.
They immediately took her temperature -- normal canine temp is 100.5 to 102.5 -- Java's was 106! I learned quite a lot about heat stroke treatment and one thing you cannot do is immerse them in ice, or put ice packs on them. It must be gradual cooling. So the wet towels kept coming and when the temp dropped to 103 the doctor said she was now feeling good about it. During this time they shaved her left front lower leg looking for a good vein, struggling to get the IV flowing. From having difficulty with the cannula it delayed getting the saline solution into Java (I don't know even now what was wrong) to eliminating bubbles in the line there was some delay getting the much-needed solution into her.
About this time she laid herself down on her side as I alternately gave her oxygen. At one point I shifted positions to the other side of the table and I could tell that Java's eyes were more focused because she wanted to know where I was. After about 90 minutes of this they had pulled some more blood samples and found she had low blood sugar. They brought out a can of Recovery (kind of a small can like cat food almost) and I dipped my fingers into it and offered it to her. It warmed my heart that immediately she went for it, downing every little bit I fed her as she ate lying on her side.
They then made room in a stainless steel holding cage below the other animals in the main examining room and I carried her into it with her IV still going. We had gotten there starting the emergency care at 1:25 and stabilized her by close to 3. She stayed there until picking her up to take her, with the vet's referral, to a 24-hour animal hospital where she could be monitored and tested through the night.
The greatest news was that that evening about 11 I called and talked to her exclusive med tech who stated that all the tests had come back showing no damage, liver, brain, other organs, all great and that her blood work was normal. What an unbelievable relief swept over me.
I found out later that late afternoon at the vet (before taking her to the hospital) that she'd begun barking at a cat who they were working on. She had come back! And by 10 the next morning when I picked her up she was prancing around, knocking me down with her greeting and wildly wagging her tail, ready to go home!
The moral of the story is that something like that can so easily happen, sneaking up on you, especially when dealing with a geriatric dog!!! Plus I'm convinced that the Lord brought her through it, knowing that it would've been on my conscience for the rest of my life! I've awoken every night with an image of how she looked when I first spotted her in trouble even though I know it will pass eventually.
I'm increasingly grateful to see her healthy and happy and enjoying "her people!" I've been covering her up with my hugs and generally spoiling ever since. Still amazed that every morning Java’s routine is to bug me until I relent, letting her out the side door, then watching her run down the driveway, retrieve the morning paper, then proudly trot back to receive her treat.