He was only about eight weeks old but the little golden retriever puppy that had just arrived through our emergency service was very sick. He was so weak he could not even hold his head up, and instead lie silently on his side, with every breath seeming to require all his energy.
“This is so sad.” The senior veterinary student remarked, tears welling in her eyes. I nodded, not wanting to speak because I could feel the emotion rising within me too.
“Who is this little fellow?” Our emergency technician exclaimed with worry in her voice as she returned from answering a phone call. She immediately began to clip and prep his fuzzy forelimb to place an intravenous catheter, almost as if she knew what the student and I had discussed regarding needed care for the puppy. I struggled to tell her the truth, as it was an ugly one we are forced to face in our profession from time to time.
The puppy had been found a few days before, and seemed to fall ill almost as soon as he set foot in his new home. We had no way to discern if he had been dewormed or seen by a veterinarian prior to being taken in, and unfortunately his owners had not set aside additional funds to care for him beyond fulfilling his basic needs. They had contacted their family for help, but had so far not heard a reply. We had discovered by doing a few tests that he had become so sick due to severe intestinal parasitism. The worms had established such a serious infection that the puppy was very anemic, to the point of needing a blood transfusion to even survive the night. Without owners who could afford to provide this care for him, we were contemplating the only solution that existed.
The intravenous catheter was placed in an instant it almost seemed, although time always ticks away faster during those moments when you dread the outcome you know is coming. “It’s ok little one. It’s ok sweet boy.” Our technician kept whispering to the puppy, gently stroking the crimped fur behind his ears.
“I’m sorry about this everyone. They just have no way to care for him. At least he won’t be suffering anymore, because I know he’s hurting now.” I said quietly, sliding out the door to inform the owners that we were ready. When I returned to our triage room, I immediately noticed that the mood had swung in an undeniably positive direction.
“I’m going to take him Dr. Rainey. We will save this little dog. And his name is going to be Francis.” My technician stated emphatically. The owners agreed to sign him over and the two have been inseparable since, with Francis making a complete recovery after almost a week in the hospital and several blood transfusions. He is now an exuberant 10 month old, never failing to make everyone smile or brighten the day as our unofficial ER mascot. This memory will always live in my heart, reminding me that sometimes we do get our happy ending.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)