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2006-02-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Natale made me break a rescue vow. For almost 3 months I tried to ignore him at Babylon Town Shelter. I saw him bouncing in his cage, but always walked by, because he looked too much like an Islip Shelter dog I brought to Last Hope who hadn’t found a home. This handsome Retriever mix would be too much competition.

Before Christmas another volunteer couldn’t stop raving about the Babylon boy after she exercised him. Reluctantly I went outside to see. She was right. This fellow sat patiently on the park bench and let me dress him as Santa and Rudolph for BEACON poster pet shots. At that moment the pup became “Natale”, my new paesano. By then, his Islip twin had been adopted.

The plan: Natale would go to the Last Hope Dog Center, where he’d be an easy “sell”. He was young, neutered, and extremely well-mannered on/off the leash, in the tub, in the car. If we bleached him blonde, he could almost pass for a purebred Golden retriever. Natale seemed as healthy as an ox. He’d be the dog you’d choose if you were looking to compete in World Class Frisbee since he could spring on all fours over 6 feet off the ground. All he needed was a little publicity.

Natale at Babylon Town Shelter Natale at Babylon Town Shelter Boy, was I wrong. His athletic stamina made the serious medical problems soon discovered at the Dog Center so much more shocking. First he tested positive for heartworm on 2 different tests, but his blood didn’t reveal any telltale microfilariae. An occult heartworm diagnosis is trickier so Natale had a chest x-ray to see if there were changes near his heart. When dogs are neglected, heartworm is always a possibility. (Many of the Katrina dogs were already heartworm positive before the storm because they weren’t on preventive.)

Natale’s x-rayed heart looked OK, but (and this is a very big BUT) his diaphragm was ruptured, pushing most of his abdominal organs up into his chest which can compress the lungs and irritate the heart. This form of “diaphragmatic hernia” is rarely congenital. Natale, who had been a Sunrise Hwy. stray, had most likely been hit by a car, but no one knew this. He sat, actually vaulted, in the shelter for 3 months showing no signs of distress. The muscle tear would have been easier to correct immediately after the trauma, before adhesions formed.

Natale’s injury was at least 3 months old, so now the complicated repair could only be attempted by a veterinary specialist. This operation and the recovery were both considered risky. To make matters more confusing, a radiology seminar suggested there was a chance he could live out his life like this with no further problems. His easy adoption fizzled.

My vet gave me a crash course in diaphragmatic hernias, and ended his email with: “Do you know where Bill Gates lives?” Natale sparked a financial/ ethical dilemma since I had sworn never again to spend a humane group’s treasury on a single rescue. It was one thing to commit to the expenses of a known special needs dog, as Last Hope often does, but Natale was a surprise. Take a figure like $5,000. Is it wiser to invest that money to try to save 1 young dog with costly, dangerous surgery, or definitely save 10+ young, healthy dogs that will die in a town shelter, just because their time is up? As for the wait and see prognosis, you could do this, or opt to spare no expense, if Natale were your own pet, but you could never in good conscience adopt this foster dog out “as is”. He was a medical time bomb. We had to

Dr. Laura Hinton operate or put him down.

Although I love Natale, I was the only one who entertained the second option. The Last Hope volunteers are more compassionate than me. He was scheduled for a surgical consult. Last Sunday, Natale sped up the process. After the Open House (where

he leapt non-stop for a larger audience), our jumping bean had trouble breathing and standing. We rushed him to the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care (CSVC) in Westbury. More tests clarified the diagnosis.

The next day Dr. Laura Hinton, the chief of surgery at CSVC, performed her amazing handiwork, putting Natale back together again without the synthetic mesh that she thought she might need. She had so much to undo. Most of his organs were crushed through the hernia, rerouting the blood supply. His liver was flipped; his stomach perforated. His breathing had been labored because there was fluid

around his lungs and he

had learned to rely on his ribs rather than a diaphragm to breathe. Dr. Hinton fixed all that. Now we had to hope he survived the post-op.

A few days later I got a frantic call from Last Hope to go to the hospital to coax a depressed Natale to eat. The staff adored him but felt he may respond better to a familiar person. The next morning I arrived with a smorgasbord that was wolfed down by the improving patient. Dr. Hinton came in to explain the surgery, and I apologize if any of the details here are wrong, because it’s hard to pay attention when you’re shoveling handfuls of rotisserie chicken into a bottomless pit. Natale is convalescing with cage rest at another vet now. We have to stall his silly trampoline routine as long as possible. After that, we’ll deal with his heartworm, and, if all goes well, a permanent placement.

There’s a life lesson here: anyone whose pet is hit by a car, must take the animal to a vet for x-rays even if the pet seems fine. Injuries like Natale’s may stay hidden. Although I’ve spent all Last Hope’s money, I still have 3 requests: Natale would recover much better in a comfortable foster home. Call 661-6164 or 643-2284, if interested. Also don’t forget that the next Last Hope fundraisera Low Cost Vaccine Clinic this Sun. 2/5 from 12 to 3 at Cozy Pet, 765 Deer Park Ave. N. Babylon – can help Last Hope and your pet. Heartworm tests are available too. Call 669-2099. Finally, does anyone have Bill Gates’ address and phone number?

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