During this time of year, we usually stop to reflect on those things for which we are thankful. Family and friends top the list, followed by the roof over our heads and the food on our table. This year, however, when I express my thankfulness, I will include that I am thankful my oldest dog, the Furry One, was recently sprayed by the neighborhood skunk.
Believe me when I say that wasn’t the first thought in my head a week ago when I ran from room to room gathering emergency bath supplies, my hands over my nose and mouth, my eyes watering and my gag reflex working overtime. No, I am not thankful for the stench of forest creature that lingers in my foyer or for the allergy attacks that have plagued me every day since the incident.
Yet, I am thankful that the Furry One now bares the nickname “Skunk-Boy” because I am thankful he is still with us two years after we fought to save his life.
That year, we were busy being thankful for our upcoming trip to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our family in Pennsylvania. I was consumed with packing lists and laundry, so I gave the Hubs the task of taking the dog to the vet. Furry had been acting strange–sleeping a lot, not eating and falling down. When he would rouse himself from sleep long enough to bark at the window or jump from the floor to the couch, he would sometimes pass out from the effort. It was only for a second or two, but it was long enough for me to know he needed a trip to Dr. K’s animal clinic.
I was right. After the appointment, the Hubs called me from the car to say he was taking Furry to the canine ER at the recommendation of our vet who had looked at Furry’s blood work and knew immediately his condition was too severe for a general practice veterinarian. He was referring Furry to a specialist.
Furry’s red blood cell count was at the level deemed “life-threatening”. Dr. K. didn’t know if we were looking at cancer or a blood disorder, but he did know that without new blood, Fury could be dead within hours.
I met the Hubs and the dog at the veterinarian hospital, and as they did an ultrasound of his abdomen to check for tumors, I paced the halls the same way I would have had one of my human children been in the exam room. From down the hall, I heard yelps of distress and later found out it was Furry’s pleas for help as the technicians shaved his belly to better perform the ultrasound. They also shaved his forelegs in preparation for what was to come next–a blood transfusion.
The transfusion would take hours, requiring an overnight stay in the hospital. We weren’t allowed to stay with him, but before we left, we were asked to state which life-saving measures we wanted the staff to perform if his condition declined. I signed a Do Not Resuscitate order for my beloved dog before I went home to read bedtime stories and pack lunches.
Back at home, I tried to explain to the Young One, who was only three at the time, why Furry did not come home with us and wouldn’t sit at her feet for the nightly reading of her current favorite story–a pop-up rendition of Jesus’s birth and the first Christmas. I explained to her that Furry was sick, and in a moment of great inspiration, I told we could ask Baby Jesus to help her best friend. She suggested we look for the “big star” while we asked. We stood by her bedroom window and prayed to Baby Jesus to please take care of our doggy. Help him to not be afraid and to be able to come back home to us.
Furry did make it through the night and came home the next day, shaved at his ankles and exhausted from his ordeal. We cancelled our Thanksgiving trip. He was too sick to go with us. He couldn’t be boarded, and we would never forgive ourselves if we weren’t with him to hold his paws if the end of his time came while we were away gorging on mashed potatoes and roast turkey.
Weeks and months passed with a diagnosis of autoimmune disease replacing the risk of cancer, but our fight was far from over. In January, I took him back to the hospital for a bone marrow biopsy, hoping to find the cause of his deteriorating condition. The vet called me a hour later. His red blood cell count was too low to do the procedure. He would never wake from the anesthetic if we moved forward.
We turned instead to medication–steroids and immuno-suppressants. The pills were to be taken on a full stomach, a difficult task for a dog who refused to eat and often couldn’t keep down the very thing I was hoping would cure him.
In early spring, after changing his medications every two weeks, I watched is condition continue to worsened. Furry was losing too much weight. He could no longer walk down the stairs. I made another appointment with Dr. K. and cried myself to sleep, sure I would not be bringing him home from this visit with the doctor. I prayed to Baby Jesus to be with our family, and to help us do what was best for Furry. I prayed for an end to his suffering.
More blood was drawn the next morning, and Dr. K assured me they would keep him comfortable while they waited for the results. They would keep him at the front of the office with the staff, he said, so he could be near people and not be afraid. I could tell he wasn’t optimistic either, so when the phone rang a few hours later, I was prepared for a conversation about euthanasia.
But that wasn’t what I heard. “He’s got an e-coli infection,” Dr. K. said. “We’ve got him on antibiotics. You can pick up any time.” With his immune system so low, Furry was very susceptible to infection. It was another scary diagnosis, but it was treatable. He was coming home after all.
Within a few days, he started eating again. A month later, we saw the first increase in his red blood cells in almost six months. His tail started to go up instead of down. He began to greet us at the door. His tail actually wagged again.
A year after that awful rush to the doggy ER, Dr. K. declared Fury’s blood work “normal”. Dr. K. scratched Furry’s neck to coax a doggy smile, and announced, “We brought you back from the brink! Yes, we did!” The staff cheered, remembering the day they gave comfort to a gravely ill patient. The receptionist happily gave Furry an extra treat.
At Furry’s last check up, I smiled quietly as I listened to Dr. K teaching a new assistant about autoimmune disease. “This dog was almost gone. Nothing more we could do but wait and hope,” he explained. “He really is a miracle.”
I don’t know what saved my four-legged son. Was it the prayers to Baby Jesus, the dedication of a caring veterinarian or the love of a human family…or a whole lot of all of that?
I’ll never know for sure, but I am thankful for my miracle dog…skunk-stink and all!