Saturday, October 7 was my birthday. It wasn’t a day I was particularly looking forward to, because every birthday of mine just isn’t great. I would say that this year was no different, but I’d be lying – it was worse.
When I adopted my dog, Finn, in December 2016, I took him straight to the doctor. Included in the adoption fee is neuter/spay and rabies shots. I could not afford much more than that at the time, so I put it off. I knew dogs could get heart worms and other diseases, so I wanted to get it done quickly, but I just never got the money or I would forget.
Before you accuse me of being a horrible dog mom (I already believe it at this point), I love my dog and would take a bullet for him. Yes, I truly mean that.
Finn is my service dog. He does tasks for me directly related to my disability. He does things for me that even humans in my life don’t do. Because of that, he is my world. He is basically my son, just hairier than the regular son. He goes with me almost everywhere – I say almost because he’s not fully trained yet. He’s a very friendly dog, so he wants to say hello to everyone when we’re out. Not a problem, but when he’s on duty, he has to focus on me fully. I digress.
Friday, October 6 was like any other day. He accompanied me to my therapy session, just like every Friday. We then had to go pick up my mother from work, and then went to a couple places to do some errands. He was perfect. Well behaved and focused. But then that evening, I started noticing that he was breathing heavy. Obviously, I started to worry. I kept a close eye on him, but it got worse through the night. The next morning, October 7, I took him outside to walk him and let him use the bathroom. That’s when I saw it. His urine was nothing but blood.
I ran inside and asked my mother if we could take him to the emergency room. We loaded up and took him, not expecting what we would get told.
In the car, we were thinking it could be a kidney stone. I let my brain start thinking it could be just that, but it was much worse.
I don’t know how long we waited after the doctor took Finn to the back, but I know we were at the emergency room for almost 5 hours. The waiting in between was killing me. I needed answers. When we finally got the answer, it was devastating. Finn had Caval Syndrome, which means he had heart worms, but worse than just an initial diagnosis of heart worm disease.
Dogs with caval syndrome usually don’t make it. It causes liver and kidney failure because of the lack of blood flow to the organs. The heartworms are so bad and there are so many that it cuts off the blood to flow freely in the body. Obviously there are some dogs that do make it through this horrible situation, but that really means they weren’t in complete organ failure.
In Finn’s case, he wasn’t in organ failure. The blood in his urine was actually not blood, but actually hemoglobin. His blood was full of clumps, and it was dehydrating him. He was bad shape. He was dying.
From there, I was trying to get my brain back on track. It was a complete mess. I felt my brain and all the thoughts move around so much. I felt my heart break into a billion pieces. That dog is my world. He’s my best friend. The same sentence kept popping into my head: “I can’t lose my best friend.”
I gave the doctor permission to do more blood work. The results of the blood work would tell me if I could opt for surgery or would have to put him down. The doctor said it would take 30-45 minutes, and it seemed like 4 lifetimes. He came back in and said his bloodwork was okay. He explained to me what was happening with his blood. His platelet count was super low. Regular count is 100,000 to 150,000 but Finn had a whopping 27,000.
From there, he explained to me the dangers of not doing the surgery. Finn would die. He then explained the odds of surviving the surgery. We could go to Baton Rouge and get the surgery done there, where it would cost thousands of dollars (which I don’t have) and the odds of survival would be 50%, or we could get it done locally for only hundreds of dollars and his odds of survival would only be 25%.
What decision would you make at this point? I was thinking of the odds for or against him. I needed him to survive this.
The doctor told me about the local doctor and how he has saved dogs with this procedure. He said he trusted him fully. As much as I hated making the decision based on financial reasons, I went local.
Finn had to stay overnight two nights at the emergency room so he could stay on an IV to get fluids. If he came home with me, he would die. Obviously, I let him stay. Happy birthday to me. My best friend was dying.
The next day, October 8, I went to visit Finn, along with my mother, my niece, and my nephew. Finn looked okay, but nervous. Who could blame him? I told him, “Finn, you’re my best boy, which means you only get the best care with the best doctors. I will not give up on you.” At that moment, he put his head on my shoulder.
I gave him a couple pieces of his all time favorite treat, which is duck jerky, but then we had to leave. The doctor scheduled the surgery for Monday morning, gave me the instructions on when to pick up Finn, where to take him, and what the surgery does.
Monday morning, October 10, I picked Finn up from the emergency room at 6:00. I had an hour to spend with him before I had to bring him to the vet clinic. I drove around, but talked to Finn the entire time. I told him from the start that since he is my best boy, he only gets the best care. I told him everything would be okay, even though I didn’t know if I fully believed it. The entire time, even when I felt confident he would be okay, there was that little voice in my head telling me I needed to start finding out what I would do with all of his stuff. I was terrified that the voice would be right, so I worked even harder on pushing it further and further into the back of my brain.
I talked to him until I had to leave him again. I got back in the car, went home, and cried. And prayed. And cried some more. And prayed some more.
The thing is, for the past 6+ months, I was only about 10% sure God was real. I struggled with the fact that I felt like he didn’t listen to me, didn’t love me, or just forgot about me. There were always people who needed him more than me, so I just kind of stopped talking to him. I stopped going to church (for another reason also), I stopped reading the Bible, I stopped praying, I stopped wanting to even talk about him. The “God situation” turned into a touchy subject for me. I felt like if I told someone I was doubting him, they would get offended, because that has happened before.
In another blog, I will talk about this. It’s much too long a story to put into this one.
When all this started happening with Finn, I still didn’t want to acknowledge God or the fact that he could possibly heal my dog. But I did it anyway. I prayed, and I prayed hard. I cried and begged God to heal my dog, my best friend. I prayed with my mom. I prayed alone. I prayed with Finn.
One thing that blows my mind throughout all of this is the fact that despite Finn being “just a dog” to some people, they knew how much he means to me. They knew how bad I would get if I lost him. How depressed I would get. How suicidal I would get. I didn’t plan for it; I never do. But it would have happened, and I know that.
I have over 600 friends on Facebook, over 8,000 followers on Twitter, and over 800 followers on the joint Instagram account for me and Finn. I can safely say that Finn had hundreds of people praying for him, sending him well wishes, thinking about him, and what whatever else. People would ask about him in my Facebook messages, DMs, comments, and texts. People told me that they were praying for him and me. That blows my mind! I had never even thought to ask for prayers for myself.
Monday morning at 8:30, the surgery began. The doctor called me, told me what he planned on doing, and I said “I trust you, but I’m also praying.” Hours passed, no update. I decided to call my mom at around 11:30 because I needed to hear her voice to calm me down. She decided to call the clinic for an update. I waited for her update…
I honestly don’t know if she said anything before “good news” because those two words are all I heard. She had talked to the doctor and he said that Finn was a trooper and made it through the surgery. I got off the phone with her, and I broke down crying. I even fell to the floor. I remember saying “thank you God” over and over again. Finn was okay. He lived. He’s going to continue to live. I get to keep my best friend for longer than the 10 months we had each other.
Later on the same day, the doctor called me to update me. He basically told me the same thing he told my mom. He did an ultrasound of Finn’s heart and it was full of heart worms. He went through Finn’s carotid artery to his heart. He pulled out 33 (!) worms, some of which were 9-10 inches long. He did another ultrasound after the surgery and didn’t see one worm. He had mentioned to me before the surgery that he wouldn’t be able to get all the worms out, but that the treatment in the coming months would kill those.
We visited Finn, and he looked strong. He was on the IV and in ICU. He cried to come home with us, and it broke my heart, but knowing he would be okay helped. The doctor showed us the worms, which grossed me out but also made me angry. They had almost killed my dog. The doctor then showed us the ultrasounds that he took of Finn’s heart before and after the surgery. We were absolutely amazed at the improvement. The doctor said if Finn eats and his urine clears up, he could go home the next day.
The next day, October 10, I called to get an update. Finn was doing wonderful! He could go home at 4:30. At 4:30, my mom, my two nieces, my nephew and I all piled up in the car to bring Finn home. The doctor came in to talk to us and gave us an update and instructions for follow up care.
He was eating, and his urine had cleared up by noon.
Now I write this in the present tense.
Finn is sitting next to me as I write this. He has stitches in his neck which look like it’ll leave a pretty good battle wound. He’s sleeping peacefully; no heart murmur, no heavy breathing. I see him dreaming, and I pray he dreams good dreams. I pray that God puts a thought in his head that his mama did everything she could to save him, and that’s why she had to keep leaving him with the doctor. Because I did. I did everything I could, and for some reason, it worked.
I don’t know why God decided to not give up me even when I had given up on him. But he healed my dog. There’s no other way that Finn would have survived. Yes, I know the doctor knew what he was doing and I will always credit God and the doctor for saving my dog.
I always knew Finn had the heart and soul of a warrior, and this weekend proved it. He was an absolute rock star.
And now, as I sit here on the couch with my best friend next to me, alive, I can only tell you these things:
- It’s okay to cry in front of doctors, whether it’s a human doctor or an animal doctor. I’m pretty sure Dr. McDaniel and Dr. Craig have seen plenty of criers in their careers, and I was 1,000,000% one of them.
- Trust the doctor. He knows what he’s talking about 95% of the time. In Finn’s case, everything was 100% the whole time. I got nothing but the truth the whole time.
And the most important thing:
God is real.
If you want to follow Finn’s recovery, look up the hashtag #FinnTheWarrior and follow us on social media.
Facebook: Ali and Finn