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Running scared

When I was a child I was animal mad as many of you will know. Consequently I read all the animal books I could find, which obviously included all the Black stallion books and all the James Herriott books. I loved them all and could never get enough. As a child I was also, as I am still, incredibly emotional. Mum always jokes now about how just the theme music from Lassie could spark an outburst of tears and no one wanted to be around if Lassie got injured! The story that upset me in the most profound way and one that I always remember is the story from one of the Herriott books about a dog that got dumped out of a car by someone who had had enough of it. I couldnít even begin to comprehend this and still canít. James Herriott tells of how the dog is found running at full speed along the road as it desperately tries to catch up with its owners and find them. He describes the blind panic on its face. This story absolutely breaks my heart every time I think about it. I canít help but think about if it was Pan or Badger that had got lost and were scared and helpless.

All this said you can imagine my complete horror when a dog was brought to the surgery and it soon became evident it had been abandoned to a similar fate. The dog in question was a very earnest looking lurcher and had been found collapsed and exhausted in some woodland nearby. On closer examination we found that all of the dogís paws and pads were red raw and bleeding from the running. There was some concern with the dogís heart too because the rhythm was very abnormal and it was clear that its circulation was very poor. His chest was heaving and every vein in his face popped out grotesquely as he struggled for air and it seemed life.

We quickly took his temperature and it was dangerously high at 107 degrees. With any hyperthermia this elevated temperature for any length of time can be rapidly fatal because the blood starts to literally solidify in the veins and shock and death ensue. Our main priority was to treat the circulatory collapse and get his temperature down as safely and rapidly as we could. His bleeding feet suddenly got shuffled down the list. A drip was set up and we gave him a high dose of steroids to help with the shock and antibiotics to combat any infection that could be getting a hold while his system was shutting down.

The nurses grabbed towels and soaked them in cold water which were then draped over the poor hound to cool him down and the fluids were run in just about as fast as we could. We also gave him a dose of a drug called heparin that helps to stop the blood clotting with the extreme temperature and shock.

Very gradually but surly his temperature started to come down and his desperate gasping calmed and eventually stopped, leaving just a slightly laboured chest movement. This too gradually returned to normal.

Quite remarkably within a few hours he had made an amazing recovery and was sitting up and looking around. We started to attend to his cuts and bruises and dressed all his feet to make him more comfortable and protect the damaged areas and allow the long process of healing to start.

The fluids we had given had started his urine production going as they had rehydrated
his kidney circulation and the first time he urinated it confirmed that he had been running to exhaustion and hadnít just damaged his feet in some accident. His urine was so dark brown it almost looked black. We sent it over to the practice lab and sure enough it had massive levels of a substance called creatine kinase- a certain indicator of extreme muscle activity and severe muscle damage in the body.

By the following day the irregularity in his heart rate and rhythm had returned to normal and an ECG showed that everything was working as it should be. After another day in the hospital he went to the local rescue home to be cared for while his feet healed and he could be found the good home that he deserved.

In the heat of the moment when a dog is in a life- threatening state you tend to go into automatic pilot and simply get on with doing what is necessary to make everything right and get the animal back to health if at all possible. It is after the event that you can start to ponder the whys and wherefores of the situation and it is this time that is often so soul- destroying as a vet. I sat at home that night and felt totally miserable despite doing a very good thing for that dog. The fact is I shouldnít have had to. What kind of person could be so cruel as to leave a dog to run itself almost to death in fear and panic simply because they couldnít be bothered to take the time to take him to a rescue centre. The thought of what the dog had been through upsets me more than many cases I have ever come across. It is sad to say but when I see the trusting and devoted look on these faces it always makes me realise that as a species we could and should learn a lot from our canine companions. Itís about time we could call ourselves dogsí best friends.

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