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Preparing for adoption

by Jessica Rhodes, D.V.M. | November 20, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

I'll admit this article is personal to me. It is based on an experience I had recently with a sweet family and their newly adopted puppies. I will warn you it is a sad story. For me, sadness results in a drive to change things. I want to make this better for the next family that might go through a similar circumstance if not properly prepared. Here goes ...

To preface, I do believe that everyone involved in rescue has good intentions in their heart. Rescuing animals is a worthy cause and can be very rewarding! It can also be overwhelming, especially if funds or the volunteer pool are inadequate. Overwhelmed can quickly turn into chaos. Chaos means there is not enough help for the animals, and their health and welfare suffer.

It's a touchy subject because the alternative might be these animals are left with nowhere to go. I do not want that at all! My interest in this is purely as an advocate for animals and humans looking to adopt new animals. I do not have all the answers for the pet overpopulation problem. I greatly respect those who dedicate their lives to rescuing animals. I do think it is a heavy responsibility to take on -- one that requires a plan, funding, staffing, adequate space, a strong veterinary partnership, a knowledge of common diseases and symptoms, vaccination recommendations, and a commitment to make sure every animal is healthy at the time of their adoption.

Now, let me introduce our family. They did everything correctly. They had thought about adding a furry family member for a long time. They prepared their home, made sure they would be able to provide the time and care necessary for a successful adoption experience. They found a rescue group they wanted to work with and adopted two puppies from the facility. That was on a Saturday. After getting home with them, it became obvious over that weekend that the puppies were sick. Sneezing, coughing, runny noses. One was worse than the other; we'll call her "Puppy A."

The puppies came into the clinic early Monday, two days after their adoption. "Puppy A" had pneumonia. She also had three different types of intestinal parasites. She was running fever and she was pitiful. The way her chest rose and fell made it obvious that she was struggling to breathe. We began treatment for pneumonia and parasites and turned our attention to her sister. "Puppy B" had mild symptoms at the time. We treated her for an upper respiratory infection as well as the parasitic infection. I asked the family to bring the puppies in on Wednesday for a follow-up, or sooner if they became concerned.

The very next day, "Puppy A" returned. She had developed diarrhea with blood in her stool. Testing confirmed the worst. "Puppy A" was diagnosed with Parvovirus. Over the next several hours, she received intensive IV treatments in our isolation ward. Despite all our efforts, she passed away that night, The family was heartbroken.

By this point, "Puppy B's" respiratory symptoms were worsening. The family brought her in for a follow-up visit. As a precaution, we tested her for parvo -- negative, thank goodness! Her little nose was full of discharge and she now had a fever. We collected swabs for culture and adjusted her treatment. When the test results were in, we found "Puppy B" was fighting two serious strains of respiratory infection. We were worried, but hopeful the new medications would be effective for her.

The next two days, waiting for a follow-up visit with "Puppy B" were long. I was really anxious about her! When she came for her next visit, she had drastically changed -- for the better! She seemed bright, was breathing easier with less nasal discharge. Her family was pleased with her progress. The meds were working. We had every reason to hope for a full recovery.

Now, "Puppy B" is a healthy, happy pup. She is able to receive a normal puppy vaccine series and go about life as normal. We are still heartbroken for this family for their difficult experience during what should have been an exciting time for them. I know they will never forget "Puppy A" and how they lost her during the first few days of their new life together. We are all so glad for "Puppy B's" health and the future they have with her!

If you are considering adoption through an animal rescue, breeder, or shelter, please know to ask questions, such as: Who is your veterinarian? Can I call them for a reference? How long has this puppy been in your care? (If fewer than two weeks, be aware that symptoms of illness may not be visible just yet). What vaccines were given, and who gave those vaccines? Where are the medical records and can I request a copy? Have you tested and treated for intestinal worms?

Then, talk to your personal veterinarian. Get their advice on safely adding a new animal to your household. Pet adoption is a beautiful thing. I want that to go well for everyone! With a little preparation and awareness, it can be a wonderful experience!

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