Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bad Karma Dog

Hunter (left) and Sebastian, the morning after the fight where my arm was injured

This post will be totally non-TTC-related, but with all the drama going on with our dogs, I feel a need to write about it.

I have had Sebastian for nearly seven years. I adopted him from a local golden retriever rescue organization when he was 10 months old, at the start of my second year of law school. My previous dog had passed away several weeks before, and my house seemed empty without a dog. I had wanted a golden retriever since college, and although I felt a bit guilty about getting a purebred dog, my guilt was eased by adopting a dog from rescue. (It was also much cheaper than buying a purebred golden puppy and thus within the budget of a full-time student.)

Sebastian is a wonderful dog. He is friendly, extremely smart, and lovable. He was exceptionally easy to train and earned his "Canine Good Citizen" certificate by 16 months. Sebastian thinks everyone he meets--human, dog, even cat--is his new best friend.

Here is Sebastian at the beach in Puerto Penasco last summer at low tide:

When MM and I met, he told me after our third date that he was allergic to dogs. This revelation actually annoyed me at the time because we met on an online dating website where my profile had prominently displayed photos of my large, hairy dog. For a while we were both worried that he and Sebastian would never be able to live together because of MM's allergy, but with a visit to an allergist and three daily medications, things have been fine.

Despite his allergy and advice from the allergist, MM never even considered asking me to give Sebastian away because he knew I wouldn't. Sebastian is like my best friend, companion, and child.

In law school I lived with a friend who had a Dalmatian older than Sebastian. The two dogs were about the same size and were best buds. After I graduated and my friend moved in with her boyfriend (now husband), Sebastian and I lived on our own. I could tell that he missed having a buddy in house, and I often thought that someday, when I could afford a house of my own--it's hard enough to find an apartment that will allow one 75-lb dog, much less two--I would get him a companion.

MM and I moved into our house last September. Ever since before we moved in, we had been talking about the possibility of getting a second dog. We looked into getting a miniature Schnauzer (MM's childhood dog's breed) and a beautiful 2-year-old German Shepherd whose owner was moving out of the country and had to give him up. MM talked about our buying a golden retriever puppy, but I was against a puppy because they are too much work. . . . not to mention the expense of buying one from a reputable breeder, the only way I would go (in our area, it would cost $1200-1500).

In April, MM finally agreed with my idea that adopting a second golden retriever from Sebastian's rescue group would be the way to go. We could get a slightly older dog who would be past the puppy phase (but not past his/her prime), and do a good deed by giving a dog who needed one a home. (Not to mention that this route would be cheaper than buying a puppy.)

After a few weeks of waiting and checking the "available dogs" section of the group's website, Hunter was recommended to us by the volunteer who had done our home study. We (and Sebastian) met Hunter at a local dog park and really liked him. We were told that he was about 4 years old, that his previous owner kept him in the backyard to be used as a stud for his breeding operation, and that he was slowly getting used to living inside, though he was still anxious about many things. It was thought that going to a home where the resident dog was calm and secure would be a steadying influence on Hunter.

Here is Hunter on the first day he came to live with us as our foster dog:

Hunter is a very loving and lovable dog, but after the events of the past few weeks--crowned by the Rima.dyl incident on Monday night--I have secretly dubbed him "Bad Karma Dog." (MM says that nickname is mean and gets annoyed when I use it. . . . but I believe it is apt.)

In the first several weeks in our home, Hunter had a variety of problems, some of which we had expected and some we had not. He gradually got over his fear of MM (he is afraid of men) and his anxiety over every "strange" sound in our home. He caught on easily to housebreaking and has had only two "accidents" ever, the first on the day we brought him home. We had expected all of these things due to his history.

I made reference in this post to some of Hunter's history and problems. By the end of June, Hunter had healed from his earflap surgery, his facial paralysis and skin excoriation had resolved, and he was seeming generally more confident and comfortable. MM and I were congratulating ourselves on what a good deed we had done in taking him in. It was about that time that he injured his tail and the fights between the two dogs started.

After having a trainer come to our house, the boys have been getting along a lot better. The tension level between them is much lower, but at the same time, we have had to make a few changes in the way we interact with the dogs to achieve this and will have to continue them.

As of the writing of this post, the jury is still out on whether Hunter will lose his tail due to his fracture: the vet believes that he may lack sensation to some areas. As a result of this injury, Hunter has been on two pain killers, Rimadyl and Ultram, for over two weeks.

When I arrived home from work Monday night, Sebastian greeted me with the vial of Ultram tablets in his mouth--thankfully, untouched. I then saw that the Rima.dyl vial, which had contained 23-25 tablets that morning, was ripped open and empty on a dog bed. A quick call to pet poison control revealed that ingestion of this whole vial would be a 50-fold overdose for either dog, and because I had no way of knowing who ate what, I rushed both dogs to the emergency vet clinic.

This latest escapade, which has required a 48-hour hospitalization for each dog to prevent liver and kidney failure from Rima.dyl overdose, has cost us about $4000. An aneurysm nearly burst in MM's head when he realized what the cost of treatment would be; he has a huge aversion to debt. We have been saving this money for other things, like fertility treatment or a trip to London which MM is longing to take.

All told, Hunter has probably cost us close to $6000 since we adopted him. So much for thinking that adopting from rescue was a more economical route than buying a puppy from a breeder. Though I suppose a puppy we bought could have issues, too. (Look at Marley from the book Marley and Me.)

Because I never had a single dog-related problem or unanticipated expense prior to adopting Hunter, I can't help but attribute all this expense to his arrival. Maybe I just got off light with Sebastian all these years; who knows?

Even worse than all the unexpected expense is what poor Hunter has had to go through. In the span of only three months, he has been neutered, had kennel cough, had surgery for removal of a earflap, has experienced unexplained right-sided facial paralysis for nearly two weeks, developed severe skin excoriation in reaction to bandaging after his surgery, and currently has a hairline fracture at the base of his tail that may lead to amputation of his tail. Now he is hospitalized for treatment of a Rima.dyl overdose and at risk for liver and kidney failure (though by last report early this morning, both dogs are doing well).

It almost seems that a little black cloud follows Hunter around. We know that he was neglected in his first home, and we believe that he was abused also. (Some of his reactions, especially to men and to loud noises or sudden movements seem to indicate that he's been yelled at and hit.) On top of all that, he has had now had to suffer through more health problems than lucky Sebastian has experienced in his entire nearly-8 years of life.

MM and I love Hunter; he is very sweet. We are not entertaining the idea of returning him to the rescue group (as some might suggest after all these problems). In fact, we are investing even more money in him by starting him in a 6-week basic obedience class beginning this Saturday in hopes of further building his confidence.

But when will the drama and expense end?


  1. As the ex-owner of two dogs for the past 16 years, I can honestly say that I notice that the expenses come in clumps. I wouldn't have any dog-related expenses for months, and then both dogs would be sick at one and require $$$$$. It will end though - and your love and devotion will not go unnoticed. It might seem that he's bringing bad karma, but for the good deeds you are doing to take care of such an innocent animal soul? Good karma will follow. I promise!

  2. Fur babies and their expense. I sympathize.

  3. Poor Hunter - and you! That's a lot to handle in a short period of time. I hope his bad karma is behind him and that easier days are ahead for all of you!

    Your dogs are adorable!

  4. As I mentioned in a previous comment, we also have 2 rescue dogs. Both came to us with medical problems, though because they were discovered before adoption the rescue paid for them. Even without the expense, the responsibility of dealing with them was a lot.

    I feel the same way about my B as you feel about Sebastian. But when I got her, some of her issues were more like Hunter. The rescue thought she'd be fine in a home where the owner was gone for most of the day because she had been used as a breeding dog as well and was left outside all day with her mate (but away from people). She also is wary of men, a bit hand shy, and terrified of anything that moves on it's own (like in the wind) and thunderstorms.

    When we got the second dog, it took probably six months before everyone settled in and now we rarely have behavior problems.

    As for the medical... We just had a stretch of our own. M-dog was in the ER for three days in Dec and then B-dog was dx with cancer in Jan. Oh, the expense! I ended up decided to pay the $600 a year to get M-dog insurance. It won't pay for his pre-existing conditions (repaired acl and allergies) but would have paid for an ER visit like the one he had last year.

    I hope that things settle down for you guys soon and you can enjoy your sweet pups.

  5. OMG what a mess! He's very very cute though ;)

  6. I do sympathize with your situation. But being a dog lover and owner I worry what it would do to his psyche for you to return him. He does not understand why he has been abused and then placed in home after home. Taking a rescue dog always poses risks and my heart goes out to hunter and his future fate. I hope you and your husband find it in your hearts to keep this dog and love him unconditionally through thick and thin. Think of it as training for when you do have a child. Trust me this dog is peanuts when it comes to child rearing.

  7. jschreffler, fear not: we are not even considering giving Hunter back. I agree that it would be psychologically devastating for him to have to go another home. And despite the stress and expense, we are quite attached to the fella.

    You are likely right that this is good training for child rearing. I hadn't viewed it in that light. Hmmm. . .

  8. My cousin (not the hyper-fertile bitch on FB that I complain about on my blog) has a philosophy...

    If you can take care of a plant and not kill it, you can take care of a dog.
    If you can take care of a dog/cat and survive, then you will do fine with a child.

    I truly believe that puppy training (okay, we cheated our puppy is our friend's who we get on long holiday weekends) is exactly like child rearing. The puppy enjoys waking us at all hours of the night.

    Stopping by for an ICLW visit...
    No. 95: The Unfair Struggle (male-factor infertility, good friends, neighborhood rumblings)

  9. I think it's wonderful that you rescued Hunter. Eventually, he will pay you back 100 fold for that $6000. My first lab was the love of my life (besides my husband) and since we haven't been able to have children, he filled the role of our kid, too. Over the course of his 11 years we spent several thousand dollars, including $8000 to save his life at the end - and I'd do it all over again.

    Hope the puppies are feeling better soon!

  10. Happy ICLW!

    Oh no! Poor Hunter! He does have a little black cloud hanging over his head. Good for you and MM not giving up on him. I hope all calms down and you have two VERY healthy dogs, soon!

  11. Hope your dogs feel better soon...and I hope that you get your BFP soon.

    All the best.


  12. Our boxer (our newest/youngest dog) required more vet visits and expenses in his first year of life than our older lab had in her 6 years. We were going in at least once a month for crazy things, and not leaving without spending at least $500. It was crazy. He now just turned 2 (and PLEASE knock on wood) we have not had any crazy vet visits for about a year.

    I can't explain it. Why we have one dog that went in for her yearly visit, and why the other was so opposite?

    But we love our dogs, they are our children since we don't have any of our own so we spend crazy amounts of money on them (even for way silly stuff)!

    I hope that it all works out for you (dogs and TTC)


  13. Hunter is so luck to have you guys as his new owners. So sad what that dog must have been through. Hope all issues resolve soon.

  14. I have a friend who is a vet who tells me all sorts of stories about the crazy stuff he finds inside dogs' stomachs -- during surgery costing thousands of dollars. People pay whatever it costs because they love their pets, but they also kick themselves when they realize that they could have saved $4k on surgery if they'd put their flip-flops away instead of letting the dog eat them.

    Hope Hunter has a speedy recovery... and stays out of trouble!



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