Mater gets to be a puppy again

Here is Mater today. You wouldn't know that Mater had been a couple of days from being put down to avoid the misery of distemper.

This is Mater.

Mater already has an interesting tale to tell at the tender age of 6 months, but only because of Kind Hearts in Action, we are able to show the above picture just two weeks after he was diagnosed with canine distemper.

We picked up Mater from the local animal shelter already malnourished with little hair on his ears due to a fungus.  Except for a missed case of some worms, we figured it wouldn’t

Here's Mater when we picked him up from the shelter. We were happy to find him. My son named him on the way to the shelter even before we saw him.

take much to bring this pup around and make him a part of the family.  He made a quick impression.  He bonded immediately with us and his older brother, a pound mutt we have had for 12 years now.

A week after we brought Mater home, I noticed that he was developing a dry cough.  Our initial thought was kennel cough that was picked up before he left the shelter.  We let it go for a couple of days before I took Mater to our usual vet.  He expected it to also be kennel cough and prescribed some antibiotics and anti-cough medicine to take over the next 2 weeks.  One thing he did mention that I didn’t pay much attention to was that it could be distemper.  I probably should have listened a little more intently, but he didn’t seem to emphasize it too much.

I went away that weekend for a business trip.  On the day before I came back, my wife mentioned that Mater wasn’t really eating much anymore, was very lethargic, and looked even skinnier than before!  I told her to get him some soft food, as his throat was probably sore from his coughing spells.  He was probably tired from the medicine he was taking.  We hoped.

Upon returning from my trip, just a week after the coughing had started, I started fearing the worst- distemper.  Mater rarely left his kennel, would only eat a few mouthfuls of food, and had lost over 10% of his already low body weight.  I knew that I needed to see the vet the next day.

Driving to the vet, I wasn’t sure that I would even be able to bring Mater home.  He didn’t want to move much and only perked up to go outside for his breaks.  The vet didn’t have to look for long before telling me that Mater had distemper.  He could run tests, but he had seen this enough times to see the symptoms- crusting nose, gunky eyes, non-productive coughing, loss of weight, sensitivity to light, and so on.  There would be no saving Mater if this was true, but just in case it wasn’t distemper, I was given a different antibiotic to treat the developing pneumonia free of charge.  I could tell the vet felt sorry for what we were about to go through.

I went home pissed off!  This dog had endeared himself to us.  His personality was perfect, he had had only one “accident” in the house even while deathly sick although this was the first house he had lived in, and he was a fighter.  I had to find some videos of other dogs that went through distemper to see just how bad it would get so I would know how soon to put Mater down.  The first few videos were terrible.  I could tell that I would have to take Mater back to the vet in just a couple of days just so he could avoid the attack on his nervous system.  He had already had the respiratory symptoms for about 8 days at this point so he didn’t have much longer until twitches and seizures would set in.  The last video I looked at piqued my interest; it was of a pair of dogs that were taken to a vet in New Mexico for treatment of distemper.  One of the dogs lived, one died.

With visions of an overnight drive to New Mexico already racing through my mind, I watched the movie clip to see a seemingly easy procedure done to save a dog that had distemper.  Fortunately for Mater and me, there was a website address at the end of the video that saved me the drive-

It was already late in the afternoon so I quickly skimmed what I could to see if this was a legitimate website.  If my vet said that there is no cure, then there is no cure.  This had to be some type of scam.  Against my better judgment, I emailed Mr. Ed Bond for some info on any local vets.  An email came back within minutes with the name of a local vet.  Yep, a scam, but I was dealing with a dying puppy.  I decided to call the vet.

The lady on the other end of the phone seemed patient enough with me when I asked her about treatment for distemper.  She, in fact, talked about it like it wasn’t necessarily a big deal.  I tactfully brought in my final question, “How much?”

I laughed at the answer!  Not because of the high cost but at the ridiculously low cost.  I jumped at the first available appointment the following afternoon.  My hope was that Mater would make it through the night and wouldn’t develop any symptoms that would show that the virus had entered his nervous system.

Mater did make it through the night and to the vet’s office.  The vet explained what I had already read through on the website.  Mater would need 3 serum injections, 12 hours apart, and some more penicillin for the respiratory infection.  Mater’s white blood cell was in the normal range, a good sign.  I told you he was a fighter.

At home, we waited for my wife to come home from work.  She thought that Mater already looked livelier although it would take 24-36 hours to get back to normal.  Mater’s next serum shot would have to be done by us in the middle of the night.  To make a long story short, we visited an urgent care clinic at 4 in the morning where a nurse offered to inject Mater out of the kindness of his heart, as we weren’t the best at getting just under the skin.  Even better would be the next injection where I was the only one around.  I got lucky and it went right in.

My wife arrived home from work a couple of hours after the last serum injection.  With nervous anticipation, she called out Mater’s name.  Joy rang out as Mater ran around the corner towards her already on a fast path to recovery.  This was the same day I had originally set aside to put Mater down after the last visit to my regular vet when I was told that there was nothing that could be done.

It has been less than two weeks since Mater received his treatment.  He is back to being a puppy- chasing the ball, chewing on my slippers, wagging his tail by the door when he needs to go outside.  I bet Mater feels fortunate to be here.  I know we feel fortunate to have Mater here and to be able to spread the word that there is a treatment for distemper.

Craig Blackburn
Feb. 20, 2012

Mater's first bath, the day after we picked him up.