Sweet gentleman Hal – now a waiting game

Our sweet foster dog Hal, who has captured every heart in DREAM, came to us from an animal control facility in LaGrange, Georgia. He had been struck by a car and found by the road. Although he had a friendly, gentle personality, he limped from a dislocated hip, and the shelter didn’t think anyone would adopt him. They also had him tested for heartworms, and he was positive. Not a good result for a limping, frightened dog in a shelter with limited space and resources. He was a prime candidate for being killed to make room for other lost or abandoned dogs, with better “adoptability.”
A kind woman who works in LaGrange, but lives in Atlanta, knew about DREAM and asked if she could bring Hal to us. We took one look at those soulful eyes and said yes!
When Hal arrived, he was in sad shape with several health issues. He was extremely thin, and every vertebra in his spine poked out. He had a lopsided gait from the hip injury. And, of course, the heartworm infection.
But his face — his dear, handsome, richly red face. His eyes: clear and trusting. His tail wagged in greeting, even though he felt terrible — sick, weak, and frightened at so many new places and people in only a few days. We can only imagine that he thought feeling terrible was normal!
We took care of Hal’s standard vetting first (vaccinations, fecal test) and discovered that he also had an infestation of almost every intestinal parasite you can think of. He was dewormed three times and pooped out mounds and mounds of various worms. Whew! What a mess (and what a parasitology lesson!).
It was time to address Hal’s more difficult problems. We decided to take care of the heartworm first. Hal stayed at the vet for three days, enduring the painful injections. Luckily, his side effects were minimal, and off he went to his foster home to recover. While he recovered from heartworm treatment, we had to keep his heart rate down so that the worms would not break off as they die and cause further injury or death. So: strict crate rest for 60 days. We wanted to use this time for him to gain some weight and fully heal from all the invasions to his heart and tummy. We planned to take care of his hip injury after he was generally healthier. It did not seem to be causing him pain.
Our well-laid plans did not come to pass. Hal had trouble with diarrhea. We originally ascribed this to all the worms, but even after the worms were gone, he still had issues and sometimes did not seem to know that he was “going.” The vet diagnosed a neurological issue, probably related to the injury that hurt his hip. Somehow the nerve signals were not always making it through their pathways, and although Hal was housetrained, he sometimes could not control himself and small amounts would leak out. The vet said this was probably permanent. We decided to try to control this with diet, so that his stools would at least be firm. His foster mom tried several different foods, and some worked better than others. Hal seemed on the road to recovery again. Through it all, he was loving, gentle, cuddly, and (when he felt well) very playful! What a spirit.
On Christmas Eve, Hal had a severe bout with diarrhea and became dehydrated. His foster mom rushed him to the emergency vet, where Santa gave him fluids and kept him warm until he could regain some strength. The vet now wondered if Hal also had food allergies that were complicating everything, so Hal began a bland diet. He went home Christmas Day and did well for a couple of weeks. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe we had finally found the solution for Hal’s tummy troubles, and we could get him healthy enough to address everything else.
Not yet.
On January 7, Hal’s foster mom returned home from work to find him unable to walk. He had vomited several times and had lost all of his food to vomiting and diarrhea. His gums were pale, indicating dehydration. Most frightening, his body temperature was cooling. Foster mom and dad rushed Hal back to our wonderful emergency vet, with Hal cradled in Ashley’s lap and David battling the rush hour traffic at breakneck speeds. They arrived, covered in Hal’s “liquid souvenirs” and breathless with worry for our handsome gentleman. Hal’s temperature was too low to register on the electronic thermometer, and he had lost 3 pounds. He lay on the table awake, though, accepting our kisses and reassurances that we’d do everything we could to make him feel better. The vet advised a night of fluids, a heating pad, and antibiotics to stabilize him, and a reassessment in the morning. As they carried him into the back room, he watched us over the vet tech’s shoulder.

Sometimes I just hope that our foster dogs can sense that we have their best interests at heart, even when what we humans do doesn’t make any sense to them. Surely what happened that night couldn’t have made sense to Hal.

In the morning, the vet reported that an X-ray revealed what might be a foreign body in Hal’s stomach. Possibly a partial fish skeleton. We were horrified and gave the go-ahead for surgery to remove it. Maybe this was the answer — he had somehow been carrying these bones around all these weeks, and they had caused all these problems, perhaps even perforations, a vicious cycle keeping him from ever getting well.

Hours passed. We waited for word.
The vet called with surprising (and weird) news. The “foreign body” wasn’t foreign. Part of Hal’s intestinal tract was necrotic — dead — and had begun to calcify, so it showed like bones on the X-ray. There could also be a rare, but deadly, fungal infection going on, but only a biopsy would confirm that. And of course, cancer is a possibility. We had a decision to make while Hal was still under anesthesia.
Poor boy is only 4-5 years old, and has never had a break. Yet he is one of the most gentle souls I have ever known. If he weren’t so thin, I’d think he was the Buddha. We said, “Do what you need to do. He deserves his chance.”
Dr. Miller and Dr. Stacey removed the dead pieces and sewed the remaining ends back together. They cleaned out all the leakage in his abdomen. Hal made it through surgery, and he made it through the night. We became cautiously optimistic.
Samples of the offending parts were sent to UGA for analysis. Hal woke up and wagged his tail.
When you volunteer with rescue, it is inevitable that you will lose a few dogs in your care. Sometimes they come to us with such advanced disease, we cannot help them. Luckily we have had only a few of those in the past 7 years. Each one broke my heart. I don’t want to add Hal to that list. But if we do, I know that we gave Hal a few months of feeling safe. A few months of feeling loved. A few months of not worrying about where dinner would come from.
Without DREAM, Hal would have suffered alone. And I am proud, I am honored, I am GLAD to be a part of Hal’s not being alone, even if it is painful.
Albert Schweitzer said, “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
Today, Hal’s foster mama visited him. He wagged his tail and he rolled over for a tummy rub.
Now we wait. We wait to see how Hal will respond, and we wait for the results from the lab. Apparently, days 3 – 5 are critical days.

And we keep our eyes wide open, along with our hearts.

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