People who responded when help was needed

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Apr 01, 2008

This month's Diagnote contains two true-life tales, one of them written in response to the October 2007 Diagnote entitled, "When others need help, will you make a difference?"

"The fax" was written by Dr. Bonnie Muffoletto (DVM-Cornell, 1992), of Ithaca, N.Y. I call the second story simply "Skippy."

The fax

Seven years ago, I was a solo practitioner with a small staff. They were in charge of taking care of the faxes, lab work to the files and junk to the recycling bin. My receptionist kept one of the faxes and left it on my desk where I was sure to find it, followed by a group attack on the cause of the fax. Rumble! Grumble! Insults went flying, along with an audible huffing at some unknown person.

Then I learned the grumbling was about the new director of a nursing home about 30 miles away.

The nursing home had two pets the residents had purchased and then financially and logistically cared for since the day of their adoption. One was a purebred yellow Lab named Duke.

After years of living at the nursing home, Duke became obese, arthritic and diabetic. It was difficult to stop the residents from feeding him. Some had dementia and they all knew he would stay with you longer if you fed him.

The new director decided that Duke was too much work. The dog was old and had to take several prescription medications. This, combined with the fact that he urinated on the floor, meant that he should be euthanized. What does that say about Director XX's feelings toward incontinent seniors on medications? My staff instantly named him Dr Kevorkian.

So why the fax?

Two nursing-home employees were mailing every pet-related business in a wide area to try to find a home for Duke by Monday. But no one wanted an 11½-year-old diabetic dog with hip dysplasia and who needed arthritis meds, insulin injections and a special diet every day.

Thinking about how many lives Duke had touched prompted me to tell the nursing home to call me if no one else called by Saturday.

Well, no one else who called was interested once they learned that Duke needed daily insulin injections. Under risk of divorce, I had Duke brought to my hospital Saturday morning. I thought perhaps I could get him better regulated on insulin so that he wouldn't pee on the floor. Then I could find him a home. Right. No, really, I was sure someone would adopt him.

Duke arrived in a sport-utility vehicle with two crying women. The entire back of the SUV was filled with Duke's paraphernalia: raised tray with dishes, homemade stockings, drugs, food, toys, bedding, collars and leashes. At 11½, his life was suddenly stashed in an SUV parked at a vet hospital 48 hours from his scheduled demise. The two women were upset but grateful.

We learned that they had been betrayed by their new director, and then required to lie to the patients about what really happened to Duke. The official story was to be that Duke went to the vet to have a procedure and died under anesthesia. Director Kevorkian's act represented cowardice at best.

I had not expected my husband Tom to come into my office that Saturday, but he did. While he was petting Duke, he casually asked who owned the dog. I have never seen my staff hustle out of the room so fast. Instantly my husband said, "Oh, no! This isn't the dog from the fax is it?"

It should be noted he didn't want to take the "fax dog" when it was first mentioned. So he asked, "Why did you take him without asking me?" I replied, "Because you would have said no, and then you would have been more upset when I brought him home. "I'll find him a home," I assured him. He said I wouldn't and he was right.

Duke was the perfect pet. He slept most of the day sprawled on the couch. He loved our toddler and he loved the other dogs and cats we had. Duke rode to work with me every day like he was born to drive. He slept in the treatment room or greeted clients.

The puppy pictures the nursing staff sent with Duke were so cute. But at 11½ years old, he had multiple papillomas, at least 20 lipomas and a muscle-wasted rear end. It was his big, brown eyes and his tendency to wiggle when you looked at him that really touched everyone's heart. Well, that is, everyone except the stone-hearted Dr. K.

Duke also had rather severe degenerative myelopathy that was apparently not noticed nor mentioned before I adopted him. But he was able to have a reasonable quality of life for two more years before he could not walk without falling. Then I had to admit his quality of life had deteriorated to the point that it was time.

Everyone in the office was crying the day I put Duke to sleep. But the extra two years he lived kept replaying in my mind. We took a trip to the Adirondacks, where he was able to swim and chase ducks.

I also thought of the days he had in the barn eating manure, and his short escapes to play ball with the neighbors' boys.

I remembered the time he swiped the chili pan off the stove; I kept blaming the younger, stronger cattle dog that was better able to leap up and grab such a heavy pan — or so I thought.

All these events and more would never have occurred if Dr Kevorkian's maneuver had been followed. What if those two women at the nursing home had never sent the fax? And what if my staff hadn't put it in a conspicuous place on my desk? — DR. BONNIE MUFFOLETTO