Sometimes, rescue is about very difficult choices. When we pick a dog out of the shelter, we leave behind other perfectly deserving dogs who will not survive the system. There is nothing wrong with these dogs; there are simply not enough homes available to absorb the torrent of pit bulls pouring into the shelters due to the backyard breeding epidemic.
Last weekend, we had a very difficult decision to make about Gilbert. This is a long story, and it’s a crazy story, and it’s a suspenseful story, and it’s a puzzler of a story, and it’s a true story, and for all of these reasons it will be told organized by proper dramatic structure (because long crazy stories need some sort of organization, after all).
If you want the short version of the story, scroll to the very end of this post and look for the “The Very Short Version of the Story” section.
Now, without further ado... the long and complete version of "The Amazingly True Story of Gilbert’s Near-Death Experience and the Little Boy Who Helped Save Him"
Part 1: Exposition
Gilbert the 1-year-old brindle pit bull is in a foster - to - adopt situation in Marin with Angie (human mom), Eddy (human 11-year-old boy), and Maxine (canine sister).
A couple months back, Gilbert came down with mange rather out-of-the-blue; he’d had a gorgeous coat up until this point. After trying a variety of remedies, we decided to go the Ivermectrin route in mid-December.
Gilbert started vomiting 6 days into the Ivermec, and was quite averse to taking it. Angie stopped administering it, called the vet, and he called for a second course.
Again, Gilbert starts vomiting 6 days into the Ivermec. This time, though, he hasn’t stopped vomiting even though Angie has halted treatment.
Part 2: Complication
Flash forward to last Friday. This is the situation:
Gilbert hasn't eaten in a week and vomits uncontrollably if he’s given anything but water, and he's slowly and painfully dying before our eyes. He won’t eat, he’s so weak he can barely sit up, his muscles aren’t working right, his pupils are dilated, and he has two vets with different diagnoses.
Vet 1: He prescribed the Ivermec and has never seen anything like this related to the medication. (Neither have we, and we’ve used it before.) As of Friday, Vet 1 thinks it's a blockage and wants to open him up immediately. X-rays are inconclusive and show nothing but gas in his system, but there could be something hiding. Gilbert's abdomen is not distended. The risk here of course is that he’s very weak, and if it's something else like Ivermec poisoning, another round of anesthesia + surgery could be too much for his compromised system.
Vet 2: He thinks it's Ivermectrin toxicity. This vet thinks that Gilbert’s vaccines + the anesthesia from his neuter are what set off the mange in the first place (which seems like a good theory - healthy dogs don't generally just get mange) and that the Ivermec was the final straw. He wants to prescribe some holistic remedies, and if the dog hasn't eaten by Sunday morning, it would be time to go to the emergency vet to possibly do an exploratory surgery to determine whether there is in fact a blockage not visible by X-ray, because that would be our final hope.
It turns out that there is no cure for this kind of poison, just supportive care. (We call Davis and have a long talk with them, and they second this.)
The bottom line is that we have a dog exhibiting a very strange collection of symptoms, making him very difficult to diagnose. Unfortunately, he’s dying while we’re trying to figure it out.
In the middle of all this, of course, is an 11-year-old boy. Eddy absolutely adores this dog. Eddy in fact has come to Angie mid-week after yet another vet appointment to offer up his life savings of $188 for Gilbert.
(We didn’t take his money.)
Eddy has a heart condition and is slated for heart surgery the following week. So, as you can imagine, things are a little stressful all around.
Friday, incidentally, is about the time that we’re all wishing that Dr. House is a real person, that he’s a vet, and that he’s at our disposal.
So: Despite Vet #1 generously offering to open up Gilbert for free, we decide to give the dog’s system a chance to tell us definitely what’s wrong with him for the next day or so.
It’s at this point that Angie foregoes usual foster bootcamp protocol and starts letting Gilbert sleep in the bed, because he really doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.
Part 3: Turning Point
Unfortunately, Gilbert goes downhill further with an Exorcist-like purge and then spends all of Saturday without moving. Eddy gets him onto the couch and they watch "The Dog Whisperer" together all day. Gilbert is too weak to move and so they bring water to him (and food, which he refuses).
Gilbert sleeps in Angie’s bed and makes it through the night.
On Sunday, after a billion phone calls, Angie takes Gilbert to the emergency vet in San Rafael. She tells them the entire story (leaving out the detail of the 11-year-old who offered up his life savings to save his dog).
The vets decide to do another round of X-rays. This time, they find that he does have a blockage – it seems that the Exorcist-purge moved it, and not it’s visible via a big lump in his intestines.
The good news is that we have a diagnosis.
The bad news is that the surgery estimate is $4000-$7000, and that might not cover aftercare.
At this point, we stop wishing for Dr. House and wish desperately for that Back to the Future guy and his DeLorean so that we can travel back to Friday and take up Vet #1 on his generous offer. It’s also at this point that the dog’s Rep (yours truly) seriously considers finding the answers to all of this at the bottom of a bottle of Paradiso…
Unfortunately, decisions have to be made immediately. There’s no time for fundraising, for much discussion, or even remotely for a bottle of tequila.
See, here’s the thing: we can't spend that kind of money on a single dog, and neither can the foster family.
Though it’s unthinkable and the worst-case scenario, we have to discuss euthanasia here. We talk to the vet clinic to explain the situation, and we don’t leave out the salient detail of an 11-year-old boy who’s about to have heart surgery and wants his best friend home.
After a lot of phone calls and calculations and wheedling and discussing various scenarios, the vet agrees to go in and try to stay within a budget we've discussed.
Phew. Hurdle one: jumped. Now there’s just the tiny matter of a very sick dog who needs to be stabilized for surgery, the surgery itself, and recovery.
Part 4: Resolution
Gilbert is at the vet clinic all day to stabilize him (his electrolytes are way out of whack), and the surgery takes place around 9PM.
It turns out that Gilbert has some sort of plant matter in there - possibly a pinecone, they can’t tell. Unfortunately, some of his intestines have died off, and they remove 1.5 feet of his intestines and reattach them.
The best guess by everyone is that poor Gilbert had Ivermectrin toxicity and was feeling so sick that he ate a bunch of plant matter to make himself feel better, thus getting a blockage. Seems that both vets were right.
Fast forward to Monday morning at 8AM, where our bill is maxed and Gilbert theoretically needs to be moved somewhere cheaper (or free). We discuss various options (including risking it and taking him home), but eventually decide to just leave him there because it’s safer for him, though there are lots of minidramas and phone calls throughout the day about money, his health, his stress level, etc. Monday is a very stressful day for everyone - most especially Gilbert.
Monday night and Tuesday however are lots better, and he goes home Tuesday night to a very relieved Angie and an ecstatic Eddy.
The vet staff at the clinic is apparently receiving calls from everyone - all vets, and staff - that have been involved with Gilbert. They tell us they've never received so many inquiries on a single animal. We think Gilbert's pretty lucky to have so many committed fans.
Of course, even with the deeply discounted services we receive, we do cut into our bank account much more than we’d usually do, and we’re going to be doing some post-op fundraising.
If you’d like to help with Gilbert’s surgery and aftercare costs, please donate via PayPal, or send a check earmarked for Gilbert to:
P.O. Box 320776
San Francisco, CA
We’ll keep everyone updated on Gilbert’s recovery, and we may even sneak in an update about Eddy as well. For now, rest assured that both dog and boy are doing just fine and are overjoyed to be back together.
Funny irony point:
Gilbert’s coat actually looks great. The Ivermec did its job - too bad it almost killed him, in a roundabout way.
We’d like to offer heartfelt thanks to Dr. Ray, Dr. Todd, Dr. Zumpano and everyone at the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin for giving us so many price breaks on treatment and taking such good care of this dog. Without everyone working with us throughout the long ordeal, we would not have been able to save Gilbert.
The Very Short Version of the Story:
Gilbert had to undergo an expensive and emergency treatment to save his life, and we’re fundraising to cover it. Your help is, as ever, appreciated.