Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The story of the dog that “does not do vets”...

When treating the more than average challenging animals that people keep as their pets, meeting them in their own home environment is always a new experience and it is never boring. Actually it’s always a special treat to go to a pet’s home - for a Viking vet liking a good challenge... 

For the most successful outcomes when dealing with these “special needs” animals - and their families - it is important that treatment can take place in the safest and most comfortable surroundings possible and on their own terms, with ample amount of time to hand - a privilege not afforded in normal eight minute consults which is why I left normal vet practice behind many moons (owooooo...) ago - almost ten years ago to be exact!

One such very memorable, special and unpredictable patient I have ever had the pleasure to meet (and treat) at home in my nine years as a mobile vet in Sussex, was one bright sunny Saturday afternoon when I was called out to treat what the owner, Dona, called “a large dog that does not do vets” and who had suddenly become very lame on one of his hind legs! The owner strongly recommended I looked up information of this dog breed prior to coming out - as many devoted owners of rare breeds often do. I only wish I had this time...

So this is not at all an unusual description for a mobile vet to hear as we get many calls to treat rather unsociable and/or very large canines - or particularly delicate and sensitive felines at home (which is actually most cats I would think) or the just extra precious and rare breeds of pets. The eight year old lame dog that I was called out to treat this sunny afternoon clearly fitted all of those descriptions.
What I learned, soon after arriving at the big iron-gated house on one of the distinct hilltops of Brighton, was that this particular dog, greeting me in safe distance from the other side of the garden pool, with the unfamiliar breed name to a UK based Danish vet anyway, was the one time that I probably should have looked up this particular breed of "dog" - just this once. The registered breed name had worked as the “undercover” name trademarked to this very large dog type and what had enabled his otherwise unlawful import with his family to the UK seven years prior: Kono, as my new patient was called, had the distinct and unfamiliar breed name of "Native American Indian Dog" and. was. clearly. all... WOLF - or rather – an immensely handsome and shy version of a large wolf hybrid - half dog, half wolf!

Kono greeting me from the distant, safe side of the pool
The result of this type of breeding native to the USA is a unique, quite unusual type of dog, bearing all the expected characteristics of a wolf; shy, independent, extremely handsome and stoic - and with very strong flight reflexes. And also hypo-allergenic apparently.

For a vet, that translates into a very difficult task to help him indeed, especially at a time when he was feeling very low, extra vulnerable and unable to move his legs as he was accustomed to.

Now Kono’s lovely owners, Mr & Mrs Roche-Tarry, were merely unaware when they went to acquire a hypoallergenic dog, that this handsome dog possessed some very unique characteristics.

A Poodle - hypoallergenic and pretty
His owners had given the task to their two teenage sons to research for a hypoallergenic dog to suit their mum’s multiple allergies and the whole family were all very excited to introduce a new furry family member into their household. Well, unsurprisingly the two budding young men were somehow not impressed about having the obvious choice, a fluffy Poodle!

So living in America at the time, they kept researching and after much digging they finally found this unusually named dog, a Native American Indian Dog (NAID). The parents were very impressed with the real effort and devotion their sons had shown in helping their mum have her dreams fulfilled to be able to finally have a furry family member and so they lovingly trusted their normally very responsible sons to have found a lovely bundle of non-allergenic fluff to liven up the house...

Fast forward to 18 months or so later, I think the first time they came home to their house in America with this “fluffy bundle of joy” sitting now fully grown, on top of the low roof of the house in the very nice and quiet neighbourhood, vocalising and howling at the moon in his best Hollywood wolf style, convincingly reluctant to descend, was perhaps the time the Roche-Tarry's may have slightly regretted this decision. I think there were perhaps more than a just a few such especially memorable episodes living with his human family over his lifetime.

That Saturday afternoon I was particularly pleased to have over 7000 home visits under my belt as all the hard earned “tricks of the trade” treating animals at home could now be unleashed to good use dealing with this handsome fellow .
Now Kono was definitely more than an average challenging patient I thought looking at him from across the garden. This day his “mum”, Dona, called me because he had suddenly become very lame on one of his hind legs, having known a bit about the specific breed traits of this dog before coming out on a home visit, would possibly have been quite helpful. Well, the ability of improvisation is a key quality and also quite the survival predictor of any mobile vet which I had already learned the hard way after years of "straying" from the safety of the clinic with relatively well-behaved dogs kept on leads.
Kono was very calmly standing in all his handsomeness, in safe distance on the other side of the pool – also safe for me, I thought, when it suddenly dawned on me that this dog looked far more wolf than dog. I was sincerely hoping my faint memory didn’t fail me and that the main trait of a wolf is not severe aggression, as some people may think, but rather avoidance and shyness.

The "dog" that does not do vets...
I spent the next 45 minutes with the owner trying to get nearer my reluctant patient in order to find out how I could best help him. As we all slowly moved around the garden, it was obvious he was in pain with his leg but still able to move with great agility so while gaining his trust by moving slowly, I discussed the best approach to help him with his "mum". After the experience gained on nine years of home visits, we always tailor our treatment to the individual patient - and owner - as all have very different personalities, abilities and needs.
We then agreed it was best to simply start Kono on pain relief and anti-inflammatory treatment for ten days or so to see how this would help him as a clinical examination was simply out of the question. After one hour, Kono had realised I was not a complete foe but willing to chance it that I was merely here to do no immediate harm to him. Without looking at him, he let me sit next to him and stroking him gently without him hardly noticing I even managed to sneak in a quick injection of pain relief into him to get him feeling better very soon. The follow up treatment was handed to the owner to give him in his food every day.

Luckily Kono responded very well and was able to move even better than normal immediately and for the first week or two and the owners were very pleased. We all hoped this was merely the beginning of osteoarthritis – a very common disease in large dogs – and apparently also wolves.
But the triumph was short lived - suddenly after two weeks on treatment - Kono became even more lame than to start with and was in more pain than ever. It was decision time. Should we try to find a diagnosis with all the stress and upheaval of getting Kono X-rayed at a clinic or should he have even stronger pain relief and stay at home in peace and see where this lead to but without him being in pain? At this time, Kono was only 8 years old and as a hybrid wolf-dog breed was estimated a much longer life expectancy. 

So the owners and I thoroughly discussed our options: would it be worth putting Kono, the shy reclusive wolf-dog, through the immense stress to have X-rays at a clinic to find out once and for all what was causing his lameness and pain?
The owners told me the story from when Kono was only six months old he had coped with being transported all the way across the Atlantic when he moved to Brighton with his owners seven years prior so it may be possible to get him to the vet. In favour of taking this action was that he actually liked going in the car as that to him usually meant going to “pastures new” and long walks on the Downs. So after “buying some decision time” for a few more days on much stronger pain relief, the owners finally decided they could not bear living with the unknown and seeing Kono struggle.
I referred Kono to The New Priory Vets and the owner managed to get him there in one piece and the skilled staff somehow managed to knock him out and take X-rays. However he was so stressed when he woke up in cage confinement after his anaesthetic, that he completely savaged his cage while the nursing staff tried their very best to try and calm him from the outside.  But only when the owner came could she calmly woo him out of his cage to take him home after his frustrating “meal” of metal mesh and bars.
However high the stress levels of all parties involved, Kono finally had a definite diagnosis: the X-rays revealed very obvious osteosarcoma – a nasty bone cancer – of his femur. The owners were understandably beyond devastated - as was I - his vet: my very first wolf patient, that I had gotten to know quite well by now and made him trust me, while knowing that under all his fierce, rugged good looks, he was actually such a lovely, kind and gentle animal. Now he suddenly did not have very long to live.

A very handsome boy still...
Once again life had proven to be unfair to the gentile, as Kono was only eight years old and likely to not have long before his quality of life was just too poor even with large amounts of strong pain relief. The lurking worry was that he would suffer a devastating fracture which is the worst possible outcome of the weakened effects of cancer in the bone.
Before his pain got too unmanageable, the rest of Kono’s loving family - their now two fully grown sons - flew in from both Spain and America to be with Kono on that last evening. They celebrated his special life, and shared his wolf-dog antics, with many memories, stories - and glasses of champagne. I then arrived to gently sedate and send him off on his very last journey. Already having built trust, this time he just let me give him the quick injection as he seemed to somehow know I was only there - yet again - to help him not suffer.

That night Kono peacefully snored his way into eternity, surrounded by all his loved ones while resting in his favourite spot.

Kono in his prime - with his blonde "normal" dog friend
Kono, exhausted just a few days before his journey ended

KONO, a handsome and lovely boy, R.I.P.