By Lex Lepiarz
On August 31, 2015 a woman's engine light switch on as she was driving through Northeast D.C. As she pulled over, she glanced toward a group of kids who were kicking around something dark and furry. Realizing that something wasno't right, the driver ran up to the kids to find a small, senior-aged pup who would come to be known as "Brina" - named for this wonderful person who was responsible for saving her life.
When the woman brought Brina to the Washington Humane Society that evening, she was so severely matted with excess fur that staff was unable to tell if she was a male or female, and her eyes, nose, and mouth were completely obstructed; she resembled a featureless mass of dark, dirty wool.
One thing was clear though—the matted hair on what appeared to be her left leg had constricted so tightly that it cut through her skin, which was infected and had exposed bone. Brina received immediate emergency medical care, and her leg was subsequently amputated, plus pounds of matted hair were painstakingly shaved away.
Post-operation, Brina returned to the New York Avenue Adoption Center to recover. It was at this point that Brina entered my life. As an operations manager for WHS, I was introduced to her through my employees, who had her set up in their office to rest until a foster could be found for her. Clearly shocked from the ordeal that was her life before WHS, Brina would not leave her bed and she provided no indication that she could see or hear us.
That night as I drove home from work, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to get out of the adoption center. I made it all the way home, but something just didn’t feel right. Once I got home, my boyfriend and I ended up driving back to take Brina back with us for what was only supposed to be a long weekend.
Famous last words.
When we took Brina into foster care, we knew that she needed to recuperate from her amputation surgery with rest, antibiotics, pain medications, and some old-fashioned love. We knew that she was incapable of producing tears on her own, so her eyes would require drops and ointments indefinitely. We were unsure of whether or not she could see or hear.
We knew that she would need a dental cleaning and tooth extractions. We knew that she still needed to be spayed before she could be adopted. We knew she needed a comfortable, safe place to stay until she found her forever home. No problem. But then things changed.
On the day that Brina was scheduled to be spayed, I received a call from a coworker. She had just received the results of Brina’s medical tests, and there was no way that it was safe to do any type of surgery—Brina was life-threateningly anemic. The tests were re-run.
We were hoping they were wrong.
While not as anemic as initially seen, Brina’s red blood cell count was not within the normal range. WHS veterinarians concluded that Brina was experiencing a very specific type of anemia called immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), and due to the fact that a wide array of serious medical issues could be at fault, likely due to her advanced age, it was decided that Brina would be a “fospice” dog, which is a dog in a foster home receiving hospice care. There would be no spay surgery. There would be no dental work. There would be no sedation in order to take X-rays in order to determine internal abnormalities.
Even vaccines could now threaten her life by challenging her immune system.
Time went by. Brina had quickly adjusted to having three legs, frequently letting us know that our pace was not fast enough for her while on walks. She ate like a champ and started playing with toys. When I would take her to work with me, people would comment on how active and happy she was. Basically, nothing seemed to bother her. Ever.
After all other treatments had concluded, we decided to re-draw blood in order to check her red blood cell count and look to see if anything was abnormal with any of her organs. To the surprise of many, the anemia that Brina had been suffering from had vanished, but now her platelet count was inexplicably high. An ultrasound was performed, which provided no significant findings. Further diagnostics would put Brina’s life at risk.
So, there we were… Fospice care was still the recommendation and Brina was still available for adoption. What to do? Brina had been in our care for two months and she had learned the routine. She knows to walk with my “fast dog” (who she out-runs on 3 legs) and she learned that the grey striped cat will tolerate being used as a pillow. She knows that a light tug on her leash means that she is about to run into something so she should course-correct.
Brina knows which food dish is hers, and where it is placed, regardless of how well she may or may not see or hear. She is patient when receiving her eye medications four times a day. She gets excited at bedtime when it is time to get dressed in her “bedtime sweater.” She seems to have a blast mimicking hilariously bad behaviors that my other dogs exhibit, as though she is a little parrot.
I know that stress can have a serious physical impact on animals, just like it can have on people. What would happen if I allowed Brina to be adopted? No matter how amazing her adopters might be, would the stress of adjusting to new people, a new environment, and a new routine be too much for her sensitive system?
It is unclear how many months or years Brina has left. I understand that but is it fair for me to expect someone else to be ready for the implications of adopting a dog requiring hospice care?
Looking back, perhaps I was simply creating reasons to justify why we should keep her—which we did.
We can only speculate about what her life once was. You can fill in the blanks with your own thoughts on her past based on the condition she was in when found. But we do know this: today Brina is a happy, comfortable senior dog who thinks of us as “her people.” She chose us. Truly. Every day is the best day ever (!!) according to Brina, every animal in the household is her best friend, and every breakfast and dinner is the most delicious. Our home is her forever home, for however long her forever happens to be.