I thought I’d share the guiding principles I have developed in the past five years of fighting for distemper dogs. These basic ideas are what has helped keep me sane and keep perspective during this battle. It may be useful for others who are advocating for these dogs.
1) Expect resistance. Veterinarians are trained to follow procedures they learned in school or read in scientific journals. This is reasonable. Until a treatment is published, most will not listen to any claims of a cure for canine distemper.
2) It doesn’t hurt to ask a vet if they are interested in an unpublished treatment. But when they say “No,” just move on. As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
3) Make everything clear and transparent. Answer any questions you can. Admit when you don’t know the answer. Keep track of all outcomes good and bad. Post those numbers publicly. Spell out the procedures clearly so that any veterinarian or scientist could replicate and test the treatment if they wanted to.
4) Leave the door open for anyone to find the information needed to save a dog. Do not argue with someone who is doubtful. Until the treatments are published, pursuing the NDV treatments requires a leap of faith. You can’t force that.
5) Don’t blame the dog owner. How the dog got infected with distemper is secondary. The reality is there is a sick dog who needs treatment. Talking about what they should have done after the opportunity is gone is not helpful. Instead, educate the owner about the possibilities and the limits of the treatments with their current situation and let them decide what to do. Later, you can talk about what will make a difference with other dogs in their life.
6) Even if they did not follow your earlier advice and the dog has progressed from the early stage into the neurologic stage, do not blame the dog owner. Just work with them in handling the new reality. They weren’t ready to make that leap of faith before. They still need you now.
7) Encourage vaccination wherever you can. Preventing the disease is the most effective way of beating it. However, understand the limitations. For example, vaccinating dogs on intake at a shelter is a good idea, but if the dog had already been exposed to distemper before intake you could have an outbreak of disease. So, keeping newly rescued street dogs away from other dogs for a couple of weeks would be ideal.
8) The owners are the best ones to be advocates for their dogs. Since I am not a vet or a scientist, I have no standing to tell a professional what they should do. But an owner who has a sick dog in front of a vet is in a position to say, “Please, my dog is dying anyway. I would like you to try this treatment.” It has been in moments like this that progress has been made.
9) Remember you are not an expert unless you have been to veterinary school. The vets are the experts. The NDV treatments were discovered by a veterinarian – Dr. Alson Sears, now retired – and what we are doing on the Kind Hearts In Action website is transmitting this information from one veterinarian to other vets. One day, this information will be available in published scientific journals. Hopefully, soon after that, this campaign of email, websites and social media will not be needed.
10) Vets are the ones who are qualified to diagnose and treat distemper dogs. We do not encourage non-vets to treat dogs on their own. We also cannot diagnose dogs via email, no matter how many videos and lab reports are sent to us. We can send people broad advice, which is posted on the website, but the judgment needs to be made by the vet who has the patient in front of them.
Remember the end goal: That people should be able to go to the vets, not a website, to save their dogs from distemper. Since most can’t do that yet, we keep working.
June 10, 2014