In my last blog, I wrote about my little hydrocephalic foster puppy, Hernando. He was born with a potentially fatal condition and a poor prognosis, yet he pranced through every day with the greatest of joy. At five weeks of age he saw a neurology specialist who was amazed by his confidence and attitude. First time away from mom? No problem, let me lick your face. Being poked and prodded by a stranger in a white coat? No problem, let me chew your shoes. He appeared to be a classic case of hydrocephalus but was perfectly functional without the cognitive deficits that are usually seen with the condition. Hernando’s zest for life was contagious and he gave no thought at all to the future. I felt like there was a lot to be learned from this tiny morsel of a dog who weighed barely a pound. He was a lesson in living for the moment and finding your joy.
I really wanted Hernando to be the one who surprised everyone. He was born into my hands, never knew a flea or a harsh word. His little world was warm and clean and sweet, with a loving mama, siblings to play with and gentle humans to cuddle. The vet felt that he had some chance of a normal life, although not a great one. He seemed too full of personality to do anything but thrive. Hernando’s mama, Pippa, was an amazing mother who doted on her litter of 9 in spite of the mild cough she had when she came to me as an abandoned pregnant stray. The puppies were wormed several times and got their 6 week vaccines right on time.
I had no way of knowing that the vaccines were too late. Mama Pippa was already harboring a deadly virus that was slowly infecting all of her body systems and those of her puppies. As Pippa and the puppies began to show some mild symptoms of illness, I took them to the vet and started them on meds and sub-Q fluids. I treated them diligently and when they didn’t respond the possibility of distemper was mentioned. We saw a new vet and added more medications.
I wish I could say that Hernando never had a bad day, but he hated being poked with needles and would have a tantrum and cry and bite me when I did it. I would cry with him, but the fluids were keeping him alive and I couldn’t stop. I realized that there was a lesson even in the hard days, for as soon as the treatments were done, Hernando would immediately forgive me and cover me in kisses.
As the illness progressed, I sought the experience of yet another vet. I was desperate for hope but distemper is a relentless, brutal disease that often leaves its rare survivors with lifelong problems. In more than 25 years of fostering hundreds of dogs and puppies, I had never even seen a case of distemper and the more I researched it, the more I worried.
Hernando continued to decline and died in my arms on his eight week birthday, of a disease that would have been entirely preventable had Pippa been vaccinated as a puppy. I dripped anguished tears on his tiny body and tried not to torture myself with what-ifs.
Sadly, I lost the entire litter and sweet Pippa too. I was so grief stricken that I wanted to quit rescuing. I didn’t feel able to continue to have my heart broken this way. Yet almost immediately I realized that I couldn’t quit. There are so many in need. It is critical to do more to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. I decided to donate money from sales of my book to a local charity, Compassion Without Borders. They go into the very kind of poor, uneducated communities where Pippa came from and provide vaccines, spay/neuter services and other veterinary care to dogs in need. Every vaccine and surgery saves lives.
I will never forget the tiny lives that shared my home for two months. My heart will never be totally healed but seeing other dogs get the care they need helps to ease the pain.
Sweet dreams Hernando. You were loved by many.