Boston "Boss" is almost 3 years old. He's a male, AKC registered Great Dane. He's black with white paws, white chest, white muzzle, and a little white tip on his whip-like tail. He came to us in March of 2009, severely underweight, food aggressive, dehydrated, with a urinary tract infection and a strong fear of sticks.
He was brought to us by a friend of a friend, who had an acquaintance that could no longer afford to feed him or her two other dogs (both Boxers).
First I'd like to digress by saying this is one ridiculously common situation that makes me mad as fire. These are not small breeds of dog. They are not light eaters, if that even exists in dogs. When you buy a puppy, it's going to grow into a dog. In fact, it only takes a year or so. PLAN AHEAD PEOPLE. That said, I'm glad this one decided to find the dogs new homes before much longer, because I wonder if the dogs could have survived. I know that one of the dogs didn't.
Boston is my second Dane, and I have always loved the breed, and even though we already had two dogs, I am honored that our friends thought we were the best forever home for him. Over the last year and half (almost) we have isolated his food allergies, brought him back up to a healthy weight, improved on the food aggression, and are slowly getting over the fear of sticks. We have had a few set backs. Namely, he has had several bouts of colitis, which are incredibly unpleasant to wake up to, but which we are beginning to recognize earlier symptoms of, and are learning how to nip in the bud. And he is still protective over food, only now instead of his own, he will growl when someone gets too close to my food, which I don't quite understand yet.
More importantly, Boston has become an integral part of our little multi-species family. For those of you unfamiliar with Great Danes, they are a very family-oriented breed. Our other dogs (German Shepherds) like to go play in our back yard for hours together. Boston, like most Danes, prefers to stay with his humans. He follows us inside, he follows us outside, he follows us to the kitchen, to the office, to the bedrooms, and sometimes even to the bathroom (which he doesn't fit in, by the way!). When we're doing errands around the house, he stays with us while we do it. When we're watching a movie on the couch, so is he. Danes are the epitome of companion animals, and should never be expected to behave otherwise, because they probably wont!
He has earned a very special place in our hearts, on our living room sofa, and in our home.
Last month, at a routine vet appointment for a booster shot, our Vet noticed a very irregular heartbeat in Boston. As a measure of precaution, she listened again a few minutes later. Still, she was very concerned. She referred us to the North Carolina Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), the same one I hope to be applying to in a few years, for a consultation.
The reason for the concern is a disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The name literally means "enlargement of the heart". Essentially, there is some stress on the heart, and with giant breeds that could simply be that he's so big it's hard to pump the blood to all those far away places, and the heart attempts to compensate for the stress by growing larger. This will allow the heart to pump a larger volume of blood at a time, and this mechanism works incredibly well for a while, sometimes for years. The problem is, it's not supposed to have to work for years.
Being from an Economics background, I like to think of this like living on credit cards. If you have a good job and available credit, and you lose your job, you could, in theory, survive off of your credit cards for a few weeks with just the bare minimum purchases until you got back on your feet, and then you could pay those credit cards back down, and it would be like it never happened. But if the job hunt takes longer than a few weeks, and if your car suddenly craps out and you have to buy a new transmission in order to get to interviews, and so on and so forth... Well obviously your credit is not going to support you indefinitely, and even when you do eventually get some income, it's going to be incredibly difficult to pay down the balance.
At some point, there's no credit left, and depending on how finances were managed before the job loss, some people will be able to support themselves longer than others.
When you extrapolate this scenario in terms of an enlarged heart, knowing that Boston's most critical developmental & physical growth period was riddled with poor diet, limited exercise, and possible mistreatment, not to mention just general instability and not great genes to begin with, it's easy to assume that Boston would not be able to live on credit for a particularly long time.
So the bill collectors begin to call. This is when the first symptom might be noticed. That irregular heartbeat our Vet. heard. This is the sound of a valve not doing it's job or a wall getting loose. Something in the engine stops working properly, and starts getting in the way. The Vet likened it to the sound of shoes in the clothes dryer. When I got to hear it for myself, she was absolutely right.
I asked her if I could do anything in the mean time, or what symptoms I should look out for.I was instructed to keep his regular schedule exactly the same, and the only other thing to look out for is sudden collapse. After doing some additional reading on my own, I've discovered that in some dogs, they get pulmonary edema as a secondary issue because of the heart not pumping the blood efficiently through the lungs. This is basically fluid in the lungs that causes difficulty breathing, and prompts a pretty distinctive cough. It may or may not occur in DCM patients.
So we set up the appointment with CVM, and it's tomorrow, July 14th.
Boston will begin preparing tonight at 9:30, when we put away the food bowl for the 12 hours before consultation. Then, tomorrow we'll leave for Raleigh at 8:30am with the folder I keep his medical history in, as well as his pet insurance policy information (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way!)
We should arrive at CVM at 9:30 and fill out a few forms, then go over his medical history (or as complete as possible) and get the basic physical, and they'll give me the walk-through of what the tests are like, and what they do, and why we need them.
The most common tests for this disease are a chest Xray, an EKC, and an Echocardiogram (Ultrasound). The Vet may choose to do one or all of these tests, or may have another test they would like to try also.
After about an hour of that, I'll be excused, and they'll take Boss back to get him ready.
5 - 7 hours later, I'll get a phone call informing me that I can come get him. I have the option of waiting in the lobby during that time, or leaving. I'll probably leave though because I'll need to get my mind off of it.
When I get there to pick him up, I'll spend another hour going over the tests, and discussing a plan of action with the Vet.
The truth of the matter is, even if it's not actually DCM, it is something that needs to be taken seriously. The strange rhythm is bad, and will need to be treated, either surgically or pharmaceutically, depending on the cause.
The reason I brought this up is because I believe that there is a real person to blame for this. Maybe one could argue it's several people to blame. Honestly, we are facing a very real and very devastating loss. Financially, we are facing huge expenses. We are facing these because of human irresponsibility.
To clarify, I acknowledge that organs fail, and that all creatures pass away, even my own. But the irresponsibility of humans in Boston's past have expedited the process.
His previous owner did so by being at best a generally bad owner, and at worst being a neglectful or abusive owner. I don't have proof of the latter, but have no doubt about the former.
His breeder did so by:
a) pairing 2 dogs to sell puppies, instead of doing lineage research to find out about the genetic health problems of the resulting litter. I don't know the breeder, and although I've only looked a little bit, I haven't been able to find her. It may be the that this is just an incredibly unfortunate coincidence, but the likelihood is quite small that this would happen to offspring so young, if the breeder had been more responsible.
b) by finding a truly horrible home for her puppy. A responsible breeder should find a stable environment for the puppies in a litter, and from what I know of Boston's owner (which is more than I will put on the internet), she hadn't been stable in quite a while. This breeder, and gajillions like her, is the reason rescue groups and animal shelters are overflowing. She is the reason PETA thinks the AKC is a evil company, which it's not (I'll save the rest of that rant for another time). She is the reason people think dog breeders are horrible neglectful animal mis-treaters.
There are good, honest, people in the world that truly want to build better breeds, myself included. Stronger, healthier dogs without genetic predispositions to life-threatening illnesses. Or even those that have a predisposition for survival and to thrive. They really do exist! Unfortunately they get overshadowed by those that are irresponsible and focused on making money. Or maybe they're focused on something else, I don't really know because I don't understand. Suffice it to say they are not focused on the dogs or on improving the breed.
Anyway, tonight and tomorrow are going to be a challenge. I already have rocks in my stomach and have lost my appetite. I'm so ready to get it over with, but so not looking forward to bad news. I'll be saying my prayers, crossing my fingers, and making sure my babydog gets a very tasty dinner tonight, and knows how much we love him. That's the best we can do for now.