Today, we lost our little puppy Claire-Bear. She was our little angel, our scruffy princess, and she was loved so much more than we could possibly say. She deserved at least a decade more on this planet with us, but tragically she was taken by the horrible Distemper Virus. After a long, hard fight, her suffering has finally ended. To memorialize our precious baby, I want to share her story.
Claire was given to us when she was just one week old. She was way too little to be away from her mother already, but here she was. She was so tiny, she could fit in the palm of my hand. Claire was so young, she could not eat out of a bowl, she could barely walk and was just able to toddle around, and she could not even go to the bathroom on her own.
Having such a young puppy was a new experience for us. We had to research things like how to make her go to the bathroom. Since she was so little, she did not know how to pee on her own yet. After researching, we learned how to stimulate her gently in order to let her go potty, and I had to do this several times a day for a week or two before she was able to go without assistance. At her age, she also had to be hand-fed puppy formula through a syringe every 2-3 hours. For the first few weeks we had her, I was giving up my sleep in order to attend to Claire’s every need. She stayed in her room, just tied on a tiny puppy leash so that she wouldn’t wander off while I was napping in between feeding sessions.
Claire grew fast, but she didn’t grow much. She turned out to be a small dog, at least when compared to our other two hyperactive beasts. She had green eyes when she was given to us, but after a month or so they started turning brown. As her eye color changed, so did the rest of her appearance and she turned from this smooth, infant dog into a scruffy little thing. We believe she must have had some type of terrier in her to give her all the scruff she grew.
Claire was so energetic. She was so happy whenever she was with people, she loved people and she loved to play. David and I would stand at opposite ends of the house and take turns calling her, and she would run back and forth between us at full speed, so thrilled at this game we played. Even though are other two dogs are primarily outdoor dogs, with her small build and doting love, Claire became an indoor dog, unplanned as it was. We just adored her too much to not have her around.
She was pesky, but in an adorable way. Our bathroom door is kinda like a stall door, it doesn’t go all the way to the ground and there’s just enough room for little Claire to pop in and out. So she did, a lot. There was no privacy with Claire around, but we didn’t mind. Nothing amused us more than to be taking a shower and seeing her scruffy little face pop in to let us know we were missed.
Sadly, Claire was going to have a tragic life, and god, the things we would have done differently if we had known. We decided to wait until she was 4 months old to get her vaccinated because if they are vaccinated before that age, they have to come in every 2 weeks until they reach 4 months of age to have the vaccines redone, and we didn’t have the money. We figured, she’s just in the house anyway, we’ll just wait.
The same week Claire turned 4 months old, just days before we were to get her vaccinated, she got sick. She became very lethargic which was extremely unusual because she was such a hyperactive puppy. We took her to Horseshoe Vet Clinic the same day, before she had any other symptoms, out of worry. Without any other symptoms though, it would be hard to diagnose her. The vet took a blood test, but the results would not be ready until the next day. We brought Claire back home to wait for the results, but before the day ended, she got worse. She started vomiting, and we immediately ran her to the vet again, this time Vets In Practice because it was a Sunday and Horseshoe was already closed for the day. We asked them to do a test for Parvo Virus as this was our worst fear as we know how deadly it is. The test was done, and she was positive. Our little baby had Parvo and we were devastated.
That day, we left Claire there at VIP for confinement. All we cared about was that she got the best treatment possible; we’d figure out how to pay the bills later. We just wanted her to have her best chance to survive. David, Tita Neneth and I went and visited her every single day for 4 or 5 days while she was in confinement. The last day we went, there had been significant improvement and the doctors said she was out of the danger zone, and we were able to take her home! We were so relieved and glad to be bringing her back.
She was our miracle, she beat the odds and survived Parvo. However, this would not be her only trial. We were to bring Claire back to VIP for her vaccinations after a couple of weeks, to give her body time to recover and regain her strength. Claire steadily improved for the first week, and she seemed almost her usual self again. But then, something horrible happened. Apparently there was rat poison in the house that David and I didn’t know about, and Claire found it and ingested some. She was once again rushed to VIP for emergency treatment. She was given the antidote and we hoped that would be the end of it.
It was not the end of it, however, as it turned out that the poison she had ingested was a slow-release poison. For a few days, it seemed as if she was just fine, but suddenly, she took a sharp turn for the worse again. Unbeknownst to us, the poison had been wreaking havoc on her system all this time. We took her to another vet this time, The Pet Project, which had been recommended by a friend. It’s got a more personal feel than any of the other vets we’d seen, and we liked the doctors there straight off and decided we were going to stick with this clinic in the future. Anyway, Claire had to be confined once again. There was internal bleeding and we were so scared that we were going to lose her. Just after we’d gotten over the Parvo scare, she had another horrible incident, and we were terrified.
One of our other dogs, Buster, was brought in to give Claire a blood transfusion. The blood transfusion helped immensely, and Claire started to get better. After a few more days of confinement and round-the-clock care, Claire was able to come home again. Buster had saved her life, and he doesn’t even know it. Even though he doesn’t know it, we will forever be grateful to him for giving us a little more time with Claire.
Claire got better, and after a couple more weeks, we were finally able to get her vaccinations done. We were so relieved, and so happy that she was still with us. Our little miracle, our survivor. She was so strong and brave, and we were so grateful for that. But, the powers that be were not done with her, it seemed. She would have one more trial, and she no longer had the strength to fight it.
One day, we noticed Claire seemed lethargic again. We tried to just hope it was nothing more than her continued recovery, but then a new symptom appeared. Her head was shaking uncontrollably, like a seizure, and she was twitching. (Click here to see a video of what Distemper twitching looks like.) Once again, we found ourselves rushing her to The Pet Project, asking for them to save our little girl once again. After a quick exam and upon hearing our description of Claire’s symptoms, the doctor did a blood test for Distemper. It came out positive. We were shocked, she’d already been vaccinated, right? The doctor’s theory was that she’d been exposed somewhere right before the vaccine was given, so she wasn’t exhibiting symptoms yet. She also theorized that the reason we didn’t see any of the early distemper symptoms(runny nose, coughing, etc.) was because the vaccination masked the early symptoms.
The seizures and twitching were signs that the distemper had already entered into the neurological stage, the most fatal stage, without us even knowing it was there. We were so devastated. We’d never had any experience with distemper before, so we spent the day researching. We found the website Kind Hearts In Action to have a wealth of information about the virus, as well as the Newcastle Disease Vaccine that, while still fairly undocumented, had shown signs of being the closest thing to a cure that exists for distemper. We realized immediately that it was our best hope, and we learned everything that we could about the NDV. Since Claire was already in the neuro stages, her only option would be the spinal tap. If the virus is caught before it goes neurological, the NDV cure has a 90% survival rate. When it’s already neurological, however, even the spinal tap is only a 50% shot. But 50% was better than her odds without it, so we opted to have it done.
Thankfully, The Pet Project offers the NDV treatment, and the doctor was very accommodating and helpful. Distemper is so highly contagious, however, that we could not bring Claire inside the clinic once she had been diagnosed, lest we put other dogs at risk. The spinal tap was done in the driveway. It was a super fast procedure. Claire was given anesthesia, and once it kicked in, the spinal tap itself only took about 2 minutes. The longest part was waiting for her to wake up. She woke up, and we readied ourselves to take her home. At this point, we had an IV for her that we’d had for a few days already, to support her since she was not eating or drinking on her own. Based on Claire’s condition and her own experience, the doctor estimated that she had a 30% chance of survival. Much lower than we’d have liked to hear, but we are glad that she was realistic with us and didn’t try to give us false hope.
The doctor said that we should know within 3-5 days if the spinal tap had worked. We should see some sign of improvement by then if there was any hope left to be had. So we waited and we watched, looking for some sign of life. At this point, Claire was not eating at all, she could not even stand up to pee. She just peed on herself and we’d clean it up, and we syringe-fed her a mixture of canned dog food, Ensure, cerelac, water, and barley supplements. It was as if she was a baby once again, she was fully reliant on us.
5 days passed, and then 7, and there was still no improvement. The seizures had stopped, but that was only because of the medication. The twitching, the hallmark of distemper, remained constant though. We were told that even if she survived, the twitching would most likely be permanent.
After more than a week with no improvement, we started to lose hope and were forced to face reality. We knew that she would probably not survive. We even discussed euthanasia, wondering if it would be the most merciful course of action. We decided to give her a little more time though, hoping against hope that she was strong enough to fight this last battle.
Sadly, she was not. She crossed over the rainbow bridge yesterday afternoon, August 14th, 2015. We were all absolutely devastated, though not surprised. She was such a brave, strong little fighter, but she’d been through too much and could not beat this last, horrible virus. We at least take comfort from the knowledge that she is no longer suffering. How we wish she could have had years and years with us still.