Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Trailer Park Kids and Parvo

It's been a trying couple of weeks.

Since I foster failed on Crookytail and he became a permanent member of Team Stupid (which is itself a story for another day), I'm trying to foster small puppies instead of full-size dogs for a while. Puppies can live in the guinea pig pen and will most likely get adopted quickly, so I figured they'd be a less time/space-intensive way of continuing to foster within our condo's limitations.

My first few attempts at getting foster puppies bombed out, though, because these guys have to be little to live comfortably in Biscuit's pen, and there just weren't any small enough that were up for rescue at the time. A couple of weeks went by, and then the Trailer Park Kids landed at the Robeson County Animal Shelter.

These four baby mystery mutts were "found" in a trailer park and taken to the shelter as strays. It's likely that the person who claimed to have found them was, in fact, the owner; quite often people try to duck responsibility for abandoning their own dogs by claiming that they're strays. But regardless, the Trailer Park Kids hit the shelter in early February.

There were two males and two females in the litter. The males are slightly curly-coated and are on the left side of that picture. The females, Jackie and Erin, have slightly shorter, straighter fur and are on the right.

As more and more puppies flooded into the shelter, and it seemed like these plain brown mystery mutts might get overlooked while adopters lined up for the wire-haired terrier pups and eye-catching merle Aussies, I pulled the two girls. Erin and Jackie went to South Robeson Vet Clinic to wait out their 10-day quarantines. A few days later, the boys went home with private adopters.

One week after Jackie and Erin left the shelter, RCAS shut down because of a distemper outbreak. Canine distemper is a constant threat in Robeson County, where a dense population of raccoons acts as a year-round reservoir for the disease. Although distemper is easily prevented by a cheap and readily available vaccine, many people in the county simply can't be bothered to save their dogs' lives for $4.

Dogs are vaccinated against distemper and parvo upon intake at RCAS, but the vaccine needs time to be effective. The outbreak gave them none. Within a week, over 40 animals lost their lives to distemper.

Because distemper is such a nasty disease -- the estimated mortality rate is 90%, and even dogs who survive often have severe, lifelong neurological damage, leading most shelters to euthanize animals immediately upon diagnosis -- and the Trailer Park Kids left the shelter just before the outbreak was announced, they spent an extra week in quarantine as a precaution.

On the last day of that quarantine, Erin collapsed with parvo.

Canine parvovirus is the other major disease that afflicts Southern shelter puppies. Although less of a death sentence than distemper, it's more common, because the virus can live longer outside of its host. Provided the pups receive aggressive and prompt treatment, parvo's estimated fatality rate ranges from 20% to 50%, depending on the age, size, and health of the puppies afflicted. Without treatment, fatality can go as high as 80 to 95%.

It's probable that Erin and Jackie were exposed to parvo before they left RCAS. Both had loose stools and were not in the prime of health when they arrived at the vet clinic, although they were initially diagnosed with coccidia (an extremely common, less deadly bacterial parasite that causes many of the same symptoms as parvo) instead. If that's the case, I fear the worst befell their brothers. None of the local vet clinics reported receiving them (as other puppies came down with parvo at the same time that the Trailer Park Kids did, RCAS rescuers made an effort to tally the cases and measure the extent of the outbreak), and untreated parvo in puppies that small and that young is almost always fatal.

Even with immediate and aggressive treatment, Erin died 12 hours after being diagnosed with parvo. Hers was an aggressive and fast-moving strain, and she and her littermates were small, young, and susceptible.

Erin's death was the first time I have ever lost one of my rescue dogs. It is an unhappy milestone, but one that every rescuer and foster has to confront sooner or later. If you do this long enough, eventually you will lose. Even if you don't go out of your way to take the hard cases (and I definitely don't), eventually you lose.

It happens. But knowing that doesn't make it much easier.

I never even met Erin, but that didn't make it much easier either. You second-guess yourself: what if I'd had the puppies boarded at a different vet clinic? What if I'd had her in foster care? Would that have changed the outcome? Or would it just have exposed other dogs to parvo and made things worse?

There's no way to know, and no way to change what's been done.

And, anyway, the story's not all sad.

Although she didn't show any symptoms other than loose stool (which, as noted, was ambiguously attributable to coccidia and not a sure indicator of parvo), Jackie was put on Tamiflu as a preventative as soon as her sister was diagnosed. This turned out to be a wise precaution, as she came down with full-blown parvo a day after Erin died.

Perhaps because of the Tamiflu, or because she was a little bit stronger, or just through the random whims of fate, Jackie pulled through the disease after three days of touch-and-go doubtfulness. As of this writing, it looks hopeful that she'll make a full recovery and be able to take a transport up to Philadelphia at the end of next week. Two weeks behind schedule, but we'll be grateful to have her at all.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, talk about heartbreak. I'm so so so sorry about that. Regardless of whether you officially met Erin or not, it hurts nonetheless.

    I was supposed to pull a schnauzer from our local SPCA last year. Plans were made and before I could get to him, he died of parvo. He wasn't even a puppy. I spent the day crying for this dog I'd never met.

    But this is why we're in the rescue biz -- to care about animals that other people don't, and sometimes that caring means grieving.

    Crossing my fingers for Jackie.