I first became aware of the red merle male Australian Shepherd when my friend, an LVT at Lansing Veterinary Medical Center asked if I was interested in fostering a dog. My friend explained he was an older, “special needs” dog who was being treated for heartworm at the clinic where she worked. He had come from an overcrowded kennel where the 69 dogs had received no preventative veterinary care and lived in filthy conditions. I was familiar with the situation through the local news media. I had wanted to help when I first heard about the dogs being confiscated by Ingham County Animal Control back in April, 2009 but I already had two Australian Shepherds, I wasn't actively looking to add to the pack. I told my friend I needed to think about it and talk it over with my husband.
I was not put off by the seriousness of his medical issues. I have had several of my own dogs. I had worked in a vet clinic for many years while in high school and college and later rescued a young border collie who also was heartworm positive and had him successfully treated. He went on to live a long and healthy life. My husband agreed, as long as I didn't feel I was taking on too much. A couple of days later I called my friend a told her I would like to meet the dog, who at the time was being called George by the vet clinic staff.
I arranged to stop by the clinic after work the next day. She had me wait in a small room until she brought George out to visit. George tottered down the hallway into the room where I was waiting. My friend had some work to do so she left us alone after a few minutes. George laid down next to me and fell asleep while I petted him. My friend returned a short time later to see how we were getting along. I learned he had already undergone one heartworm treatment to begin killing the adult heartworms and would need to return to the clinic in a few weeks to have the second treatment. He would then, several weeks later, undergo a final treatment to kill the microfilaria. He would also have to be confined to a crate for at least six weeks after the second treatment. The heartworm treatment protocol had changed since the last time I had any experience with it, but I felt we could give George good care and at least a temporary home until he was feeling better. I made arrangements to foster George.
It took a few days to get the paperwork in order, and in the mean time George had returned to Animal Control for an inspection related to the court case against his owner. I went to Animal Control to pick up George about a week after I first visited him at the clinic. I filled out more paperwork, then had to speak with the Director of Animal Control, Jamie McAloon Lampman. Jamie was concerned about us fostering George as he had failed out of his first foster home due to being dog aggressive. They also had some issues with being able to house him with other dogs while he was at Animal Control. We had two dogs at home that he would need to get along with in order to stay with us. Luckily, our house is set up in such a way that we could keep the dogs completely separate from each other should it be a problem. However, we would not be able to keep him long term if they did not get along. Jamie agreed to let me take him.
George needed to be crated due to his ongoing heartworm treatment, so that made it an easy way to safely introduce him to the girls. I made him comfortable in his new digs, then brought the girls in for their first meet and greet. Indie and Nikki were quite interested in the new guy. George made some low growling sounds, but didn't seem aggressive otherwise. He seemed most concerned whenever food was involved, so he was confined to his crate for meals for a while. Two days later, with my husband present, we allowed the three dogs to be together in the same room with George, now renamed Cooper, on a leash. Cooper just flopped down in the nearby dog bed after much excited sniffing from Indie and Nikki. We kept him on a leash whenever he was out of his crate for a while. Partly to make sure we could get hold of him if needed, and partly because we had no idea if he was housebroken. Other than some very slight growling, which could be quieted with a “no” or “quit”, there has never been any aggression from him towards Indie and Nikki. He now hasn't growled in months.
About two weeks after Cooper arrived, he was scheduled to return to Lansing Veterinary Medical Center for his second Immiticide treatment to kill the adult heartworms. The treatment would be two injections, 24 hours apart into his deep lumbar muscle. Cooper would need to spend the next night or two to the clinic. While he was there he had chest films taken, blood drawn and my friend, the LVT, was able to scale his teeth without anesthesia. The first time I had looked into Cooper's mouth I was shocked. He had so much tartar that it was very difficult to see that there were teeth in there and his gums were red and inflamed. The scaling improved the condition of his mouth, and his breath tremendously. Cooper arrived back home with a large bag of medications and a very sore back. He was quite debilitated when I first brought him home two weeks earlier, such that he was unable to negotiate the basement or garage stairs. Luckily, his crate was located on the lower level of our house and he was able to go outdoors through the walkout slider. He was prescribed pain meds, and he definitely needed them for several days. The Immiticide treatment is supposed to be easier on the dogs and give a better kill of the adult heartworms than the old Caparsolate treatment, but it definitely took a toll on Cooper.
Several weeks later, Cooper returned once again to Lansing Veterinary Medical Center for treatment of the microfilaria, or immature heartworm, that circulate in the dog's blood stream. The week before Thanksgiving, I dropped Cooper off for the day at the clinic so he could be given his medication and be observed for the day. Most reactions to the microfilaria die-off occur in the first eight hours and may require veterinary intervention. After work I called to check to see if he was ready to come home, and he was. I picked him up and he seemed fine until two day later. At that point he became very lethargic, stopped eating and drinking. I wasn't sure if the symptoms were related to the heartworm treatment or not, so I called the clinic and arranged to have him seen. He was examined and the vet determined he was not dehydrated. We were unable to reach anyone at Animal Control, as it was quite late in the evening, so I agreed to take him home for observation and bring him back if he didn't improve or got worse. The next day brought no improvement, so back we went to the clinic, this time with the approval of Animal Control to do some blood work and treatment if needed. He spent the weekend at the clinic and was pronounced fine. I brought him back home to find the same lethargic dog I had dropped off two days prior, although I was able to get him to eat and drink a small amount. The long holiday weekend was approaching with little improvement, so I again arranged to take Cooper in for an exam. This time he required hospitalization and IV fluids, even though he had been eating and drinking a small amount at home, it was not enough to maintain his hydration. He was a very sick dog at this point. I wasn't sure at what point Animal Control was going to determine that Cooper was too big a drain on their limited resources, as they were taking care of all his medical expenses, as well as the expenses of the 68 dogs rescued with him. I needn't have worried, as Jamie approved all of the care and treatment he needed. A few days later, Cooper had improved enough to return home once again.
Since the microfilaria treatment, Cooper's health has steadily improved. He has a deep cough that wracks his body from the damage the heartworms did to his lungs. The cough has improved dramatically from when he first arrived. We hope it continues to improve. He had his teeth cleaned under anesthesia and the gum inflammation has completely resolved. He began blowing his dry, coarse coat in December and it has now been replaced by a much softer, shinier coat. Luckily, he enjoys being groomed and will usually fall asleep while being brushed. He will have to return to the vet the end of March or beginning of April for a heartworm test to determine if he is really clear of the devastating parasites that nearly killed him. His attitude and stamina have also vastly improved from a few short months ago. Cooper is now able to climb and descend the basement stairs with little problem. He is completely housebroken and gets along very well with Indie and Nikki. He also enjoys short burst of energy, running and playing with his sisters between power naps. He received his own bed for Christmas and he occupies it a good part of the day, but he also allows the girls to share it. He is truly a happy and healthy dog. We hope he will enjoy his new found health for many more years.
We are grateful to Jamie McAloon Lampman and Ingham County Animal Control for giving us their support when Cooper needed it the most and when the other 68 dogs rescued with him needed it as well.
We never spoke of when Cooper goes to his forever home, because he found it the day he walked into our home and into our hearts.