Struggling with loss

I struggled with what to write about this week, and finally decided I’m just going to write about what is most on my mind. These past two weeks have been really hard on me personally and as a doctor. One of my least favorite things is losing a fight. I always go all-in with my patients, especially when they are young and fighting something that I think we should win. Something treatable, curable…something they should recover from. So when we lose, when I lose, I take it to heart and take it very personally.


What makes this worse, is when we are talking about my own dogs. It is a blessing and a curse that I consider every single Harley’s Haven dog my own dog. Looking at it that way allows me to ensure I am always making the right medical decision – we never treat our rescue dogs like rescue dogs. Every one of them gets the same level of care and respect that an owned dog (or my own dog) would receive. The downside though, is that when we come up against something that I can’t fix, it crushes me as an ‘owner’ and as a veterinarian.


I’m sure most of you know exactly what I’m talking about, and have been following the stories of our ‘plant puppies’ litter and their battle against parvo virus. Parvo is a horrible, relentless virus. I HATE parvo. It strips away the joy for life and happy puppy energy from a baby, and leaves them sad, depressed, and fighting for their lives. Parvo is HIGHLY contagious – it is spread through feces of infected dogs, and can live in the soil or contaminated surfaces for months if not cleaned/disinfected properly. It causes horrible, profuse vomiting and diarrhea. Though our rescue partners down south do the best they can, the sad truth is that they deal with so much parvo, it is very difficult to avoid exposing young puppies who don’t yet have the immune system (or full vaccination coverage), to protect them from this deadly virus. There is no cure – with parvo you support them, and hope that their little immune systems can rally. The general statistics for survival with parvo are really bad – it is estimated that approximately 50% of puppies who contract it will eventually succumb to the virus. Thankfully at PRAH and HH, we have MUCH better statistics. We treat parvo pretty regularly, and we haven’t lost a puppy to it in five years. FIVE YEARS. So I’m sure you can understand a bit more how devastating this loss has been for me.

Three of our plant puppies became sick shortly after arrival 2 weeks ago, and we have moved the earth to try to save them. First Mican was admitted, then Frydek, and third poor ZZ. The nurses at PRAH have been amazing – they have poured their heart and soul into these puppies, spending countless hours caring for them with giving lengthy treatments, cleaning them, holding them, singing to them, trying to get them to eat, and so much more. My heart swells with pride for the amazing people I am honored to work beside day in and day out. As we watched the boys slowly slip away last week, we rallied and spent 5 hours on our Sunday evening adding more treatments, and placing feeding tubes to try to give them extra support. Through it all….they got worse. On Monday, we made the decision to transfer them to Metropolitan vet to give them 24 hour care, and be able to add transfusions (which is just not something we can do at PRAH – we do most things, but a 24 hour emergency hospital, we are not). We have never had parvo puppies go for so long without getting better – we transferred them when Mican was on day 9 of treatment, and Frydek on day 7 – such a long time to not be turning a corner. So long to be suffering and struggling. The doctor and team there is amazing, and they picked up where we left off and added protein transfusions and kept fighting for them. Unfortunately, through it all – Frydek worsened. To the point where I could not justify continuing on, and we decided we needed to let him rest, it was no longer fair to ask him to keep fighting, he was suffering.

His amazing foster mom went and picked him up, and brought him to PRAH so myself and the nurses who fought so hard for him could all be there to say goodbye. He slipped away surrounded by people who loved him and fought for him, and know that though his life was short, it was important and he mattered. I cannot put into words the devastation of having to be the one to end his suffering. But looking at his little face, I know it was the right choice, it just really really sucks sometimes to have to be the one to make it. On top of my own heartbreak, my heart also breaks watching my tough, bad ass nurses and fosters sobbing right along with me. We all care so much, and I just want to protect them from hurt, and sometimes I can’t. As hard as it was, I am glad he is free now, and I know Harley was there to greet him, and I’m so glad we could give him freedom from pain as the final kindness. Now, we brush ourselves off, and get right back in the fight – we still have 2 more babies in this fight, and I hope and pray that both of them can find their way through to the light on the other side.

I’m sure there will be more updates on these babies, but you can follow their story over on our Harley’s Haven page, and hopefully in a few weeks I can come back and add an addendum here that they are both doing great and living their best lives. I think my biggest takeaway with sharing this story would be to please vaccinate your dogs for parvo – it is so easy to protect if we just get puppies vaccinated, so we can protect them and cut off the spread that infects others. And secondly, be kind to your veterinary professionals – we all care so so much, and are in this fight with you for your pets. So try to remember that the next time you get frustrated you are waiting, or call and we are busy – we are busy because we are giving our all to each and every one of our patients. And we will keep fighting, because that is what is right, and that is why we are here. Hang in there Mican and ZZ, you’ve got this.


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