CRUCIAL INFORMATION, TOO LATE

I got the phone call while driving to Meridian, Mississippi for lunch with my sister. The necropsy on Olive was finally complete.

She had no cancer of any kind. The mass seen on MRI of her cervical spine was a benign fatty lipoma. Her liver, which appeared small on CT abdomen, was well within normal limits. In short, she was a perfectly healthy little girl.

Except for the parasite.

Olive had Babesiosis, caused by the blood parasite Babesia. It is likely she contracted it from a tick, as the only other usual form of transmission is direct blood contact, such as a transfusion or a dog bite. It resulted in hemolytic anemia, and her red blood cells were being systematically destroyed.

There is no way of knowing if Olive was bitten by a tick somewhere on our journey, or if she was a carrier. Even when treated, a Babesiosis infection may not entirely clear. Dogs with the condition can be permanent carriers. It is very possible that 30 days of prednisone, an immunosuppressant, given to treat inflammation for her neck pain caused the infection to resurface. We’ll never really know.

You might be asking yourself, as I did, how this parasite was missed given the battery of tests we threw at her. It can be difficult to confirm a diagnosis of Babesiosis; the organism can rarely be found in standard blood samples. Particularly during the primary infection, a dog with acute Babesiosis may be serologically negative. A PCR test, done postmortem, which checks for genetic material from Babesia, revealed the infection. And as this was a parasitic infection and not bacterial, all those antibiotics had no positive effect whatsoever.

Even if the parasite had been discovered, some of the treatment drugs, such as diminazine aceturate, can have quite severe side effects and still may not clear the infection.

I hope that sharing Olive’s story and discussing what caused her death will help someone down the line. All I could do after the telephone call was hang up and cry, realizing how sick she was. It made me wish I had made the decision to end her suffering sooner. It’s true what they say about hindsight.

HELLO, IS IT ME YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

I have never been the type of person to immediately get another animal when I lose a pet. It felt disrespectful, as if I was merely replacing the last one. I considered grieving to be the only way to honor the loss. When my cats Max and Oliver died, I waited two and a half years before getting Boss Tweed. And, I wasn’t really looking then. I just happened to see him when Maria suggested we go to PAWS Cat City, “Just to look.” (I’m the only one who came out with an animal, by the way!)

A few days after Olive passed, I loaded the Petfinder app on the iPad. My thought was, as I traveled, I could take my time and look for an area of the country in desperate need for dog adoptions, and a dog best suited to this lifestyle. I knew I didn’t want to wait as long as I did the last time, because a dog is such a good companion (and alarm system!) for a solo traveler like me. And, since I am not working and have nothing but love and unadulterated time to give, I also began to understand that the best way to honor Olive’s memory was to help another animal.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the need was great; over 80 percent of the animals in their shelters are euthanized. But, I could not find a suitable travel companion. In the South, so many of the dogs in need are of the large variety. I was looking for a smaller dog, able to navigate motorhome steps, who enjoyed traveling in cars and thus hopefully would enjoy traveling in the RV as well, who at the very least tolerated cats.

I widened my Petfinder search to adjacent states, and I noticed a pattern. Many of the dogs were listed as a bonded pair. When it came to cats, I always thought that “bonded pair” was a fiction created by well-meaning shelter volunteers to convince people to take more than one feline. But with dogs, it made sense, given their need for interaction and their pack mentality. It must be infinitely harder to send two dogs home together at the same time, and it broke my heart to think of splitting up soul mates; I narrowed my search to bonded pairs and anticipated a long wait to find the right family members.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Only three weeks after Olive’s death, sitting in the rig in my old hometown of Decatur, Mississippi, getting ready for the high school reunion, I saw Rocket and Pinkie on Petfinder.

imageThey were the perfect size. According to the Friends of the Jackson, Mississippi Animal Shelter, they were a bonded pair, housetrained, crate trained, rare barkers and friendly to cats. They were being fostered in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The next day, my sister and I were off to Vicksburg, two hours away, to meet the pups. At the foster mom’s house I was immediately smitten. In a chaotic and rowdy house with two young children and chock full of cats and barking dogs, they both ran up to me for love and head rubs, neither of them barking. It was clear that Rocket was still a puppy, as he was all gangly and falling over himself, which was adorable. Pinkie was more reserved but sweet as can be, soft to the touch, licking me and nuzzling her head under my hand.

I took them back to the rig that very day. After a three-day trial run, there was no question. Rocket and Pinkie belonged with me.

imageThe vet thinks that Pinkie is Rocket’s mom. She is approximately three years old, and he is approximately seven months old. She appears to be mostly Chihuahua. He appears to have Dachshund, Basset Hound, Yellow Lab, and who knows what else in his DNA.

imageIn the three short weeks that we have been together, they have both learned to sit and to beg for treats on their hind legs. Pinkie has mastered lay down, and Rocket has learned to shake. Rocket is letting Boss Tweed lick him on the head, but Pinkie isn’t all that interested in Boss.

imageRocket makes this hilarious growling sound when he plays with Pinkie, who acts so put upon and put out when she is forced to play with him. I haven’t decided if Pinkie is not that bright, or if she is contemplating world domination.

They love riding in the car.

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They also like the dashboard of the rig in the sun as we drive down the road, and they sleep with me all night. In the morning I am usually awakened by Rocket wrestling with Pinkie on the bed.

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Rocket adores his plush toys, which he takes out of the box one by one and deposits on the dashboard. Pinkie doesn’t play with toys, but she’s really into her faux antler bone. Sometimes she and Rocket chew it at the same time together, a la the dogs with the spaghetti noodle in “The Lady and the Tramp.”

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I must have been mad and delusional to think that having two dogs would not be any more work than having one! I don’t know what synapse in my brain failed to fire. But, I am getting the hang of it. I see how it would be a lot easier to have two dogs when you have a partner. We are all learning how to go on walks together.

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Rocket has learned to eat only his food and not Pinkie’s and the cat’s too. Well, honestly, the human learned how to feed them separately. Rocket and Pinkie settle down nicely in the crate when I go away exploring, and a baby monitor app on the tablet keeps me in touch on my phone.

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As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” I never expected to adopt again so soon after losing Miss Olive, and I miss her every day. Rocket and Pinkie present new challenges, but also new joys. They love meeting people and playing at dog parks – things Olive could easily live without. I may even throw in some dog park reviews on the blog!

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