I knew that I would write about Eli. I had to. He had a lesson to teach and whatever the outcome, if we can save one other dog, or educate just one other person about the necessity for heartworm prevention, then we will have made one baby step toward solving a giant of a problem.
Choosing not to give heartworm preventative in our region is a death sentence, simple as that. There just cannot be any excuses. We continue to receive Pugs in our rescue that are heartworm positive and we continue to treat them. I asked once, how bad the treatment was; and I was in return asked if I ever had the flu. Oh yeah; and I now obtain the flu shot every year. Heartworm treatment is like having the flu, only 10 times as hard and much longer, and there are no guarantees of the outcome. However, without the treatment the dog will die, as the heartworms take over every major organ in their precious body. Eli did not die from the treatment; he died from the damage already done to his heart and lungs before treatment could be started. Eli was just three years old.
The months Eli spent with us as a rescue were spent with one eye on him at all times. To try to itemize his clinic visits, hospitalizations, veterinary appointments, consultations, medications and continual care would just be too much to list. Suffice it to say that every day for Eli was high risk. He required four to five medications daily just to thrive; even so he fainted almost every day.
In the beginning a routine day was accompanied by 3-4 four episodes of unconsciousness. He usually would literally hit the floor and urinate on himself, then stand up, wag that tail; and look at us like... so???? Oddly, two weeks before he died I was taking care of another pug in our home and my husband called out Eli fainted, but he is fine; and I fed him. I stopped and thought of how routine this had become. While I knew in my mind that Elis chances at long term survival were low, and that he would not live without the treatment due to the damage already caused, he still may not live in spite of it. His ability to breathe was severely limited due to the pulmonary hypertension caused by the damage to his heart from the heartworms. His lungs were always congested.
On more than one occasion people would comment or ask me why didnt I just put him down. Eli? No way. Eli was special in many more ways than his ability to cope. He had a sense of humor that always took the edge off his illness; and a way of looking at us that would say dont worry... but we did. Every day we worried. We worried whether he was suffering; but on more than one occasion I was told he would let us know if he was. In the end, he did.
Eli was totally housebroken; and his only accidents were when he would faint with a full bladder. He loved people and loved to meet new friends by going straight up to them and parking himself until noticed. Even at his worst when struggling to breathe, he would wag his tail at the sound of our voices. He was 150% Pug and took over the same percentage of our hearts. Though we lost our fight, he touched our rescue efforts in a way that will only make us stronger; and we will continue to educate about the need for heartworm preventative.
We are okay, we are; it's just that while I knew, and we knew in our hearts he wouldn't live long, we were thinking in terms of six months, a year maybe. Just the week he died, I told our vet that he would not be placed. He had found his home. The last three weeks of his life Eli were his best, and his most peaceful. He had this look of contentment that I had not seen in the past. The Friday before he died he walked to the car with me to lock it up for the night. Now you have to understand that walking any distance at any time was hard for Eli as his breathing was always impaired. He didn't come back immediately but I didn't worry, he was a "no leash ever needed" kind of guy. Perfect. In, and out and did his business. Our daughter was home and we walked back down the driveway and he was stretched out on a new crate box we had gotten, and that is the picture on the website now. We took many pictures of him that night.
In his final days he started coming in and sitting on my lap in a demanding sort of way, and as always nibbled my chin. It seemed like that is all he wanted to do and I had prayed that possibly it was a sign he was getting normal for the first time in his life. I realize now that he was trying to leave me with a gift, and he did. On Monday he had started that stinking cough again and I took him in for lab work, and I wanted reassurance that his kidneys were okay as he had started to bloat. His lab work was relatively normal, but his lungs were horrible. They were not worse, but in spite of completing all of the heartworm treatments, they were not getting any better.
The morning before his death he collapsed when he was trying to eat, but you must realize that Eli always collapsed and fainted, and we just dusted him off and stood him back up. He had learned to wag his tail to let me know he was okay. That morning was different. I immediately began to cry, and it roused him. I took him in and laid him on the couch and his tail started to wag. Stinker. That night at bedtime he did it again, and I carried him to his bed and he just stayed exactly as I placed him. We brought him some fresh water and gave him his treats for later. Like every other night, we had told him we loved him and to sleep sweet. I went to bed knowing we would check on him throughout the night as we always did. In less than an hour my husband came in and told me he was gone.
Looking back I now know that everything Eli did his last week was for us. Even at the end, he waited until we left the room and turned out the lights. I find great comfort in knowing that he died in familiar surroundings, and with the security of his family. We are going to be okay, we promised him we would be. Out of every negative there has to be a positive. If you are reading Elis story now, and you do not have your dog on heartworm preventative, please vow to take your dog to your vet and have him or her tested; and purchase the prevention. There are so many choices, even to the point of a six month injection. If you have concerns or believe that the preventative is just too expensive, call your vet and ask them what the cost of treatment is should your pet test positive. We were too late to make a difference in Elis future, but because of Eli we may not be too late to make a difference for others.
For the sake of Eli, please help us to make a difference.
Canine Heartworm Disease
Heartworm Disease- Q & A
A Place for Hope
Alabama Pug Rescue and Adoption, Inc.