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Twenty Seven Days with Benny

Benny passed away this morning, euthanized at 11:51. He was a ten pound rust-colored miniature pinscher, only five years old. Benny came to our animal hospice shelter just 27 days ago. Florida's Rainbow Ranch is a long-term shelter in a home setting for 36 varied types of dogs and cats but all unadoptable because of age, medical problems, or behavioral issues or sadly because they simply were not wanted anymore.

Lonnie Phillips, the Rescue Chair of the Miniature Pinscher Club of America, called us in April to see if we could make room for Benny. This stocky but small red MinPin had been at the Jacksonville City Animal Shelter for three months. His humans had taken him there because they didn't want him anymore and no rescue group had room for him.

When taken to the Jacksonville shelter, Benny quickly endeared himself to the staff. He was initially chosen for their adoption program. However, when Dr. Alvarez, the shelter's veterinarian, checked him over, she tragically found Benny to be unadoptable because of a serious heart murmur and the presence of heartworms. But because of Benny's abundant energy and constant cheerful demeanor, Renee Kinsey, the Rescue Coordinator at the shelter, decided that Benny - at minimum - should have a chance to spend his last days away from the concrete kennels of the county shelter. Sadly, all the rescue groups contacted couldn't take Benny because of his terminal condition. None had room to receive Benny because he would take precious little space for an undeterminable amount of time from an adoptable dog. Although at capacity, we decided to make room for possibly terminal Benny here at Rainbow Ranch.

So, on April 18, I drove the two hours to Jacksonville, quickly finding the shelter where Benny had been kenneled for three months. After registering at the front desk, I wandered the reception room. After a short wait, in marched tiny Benny pulling along the very tall kennel technician who held his blue slip lead.

This exuberant little five year old dog took to Rainbow Ranch as if he'd been here his entire life. Benny spent long hours each day in the dog park at Rainbow Ranch digging out mole trails, chasing and leaping for dragonflies and basking in the warm sunshine on the cool Bahia grass. An enthusiastic eater, Benny could demolish his breakfast and dinner in seconds. What a happy dog! I even entertained the hope that, as strong as he seemed and as energetically as he played, Benny just might outlive the heartworms. I could give him Heartguard® to prevent more larvae from maturing into adult heartworms. I thought and prayed that Benny might make it - he was such a trooper! After all, he was only five years old. But heartworms live for five to seven years.

Henry, another heartworm positive resident at Rainbow Ranch, is a three year old English setter and was being treated for heartworms when Benny arrived. Henry, however, is younger than Benny and, of course, much larger. Eradicating this simple to avoid infestation and the resultant excruciatingly painful disease costs an average of $360 to $500 here in Florida! Treatment also requires, depending on the extent of the worm population, thirty to sixty days of rest and limited activity. While treatment is effective, it is at a substantial cost to a dog's freedom and with some risk.

Dr. Butch Aten, Rainbow Ranch's local vet, assessed Benny's medical condition as grave and untreatable. Never to know whether the serious heart murmur was congenital or a result of the heartworm damage, I stiffened when Dr. Aten gently nodded his head affirming what Dr. Alvarez had assessed. This was a seriously ill dog, not at all like Henry who could survive with treatment. To treat Benny's condition would kill him.

Totally oblivious to his poor prognosis, Benny joyfully loved the Ranch, sniffing all the delicious scents outside and discovering which cuddle beds and open crates were the softest inside the house. Benny chose an antique Morris Chair in the corner of the fireplace room for his preferred sleeping place. Interestingly, this had been Henry's favorite spot. Henry seemed to understand that Benny needed his chair so Henry moved over to the loveseat. Benny could be found nestled under the dog blankets in Henry's chair consistently for his naps. Reluctant at first, Benny found out that being a “house dog” was preferable to living outdoors.

On a Friday just after dawn, I was leash-walking Henry to keep him from running after his heartworm treatment earlier in the month so that he would not have a heart attack caused by the worms dying inside his large setter chest. While passing Benny, I noticed Benny didn't seem himself. Indeed, his frenetic digging mole holes had stopped. Going inside after this first morning walk, Benny did not eat his breakfast. He didn't want his dinner either. His urine, always darker than normal, was turning bright rust red, as vividly red as his shiny coat. I rushed Benny back to Dr. Aten at Baseline Animal Hospital on Saturday morning with a urine sample when the little dog chose not to eat his breakfast again. I stiffened again as Dr. Aten explained softly that Benny was dying - dying too soon - dying after only 27 days. Benny died while cuddled in my arms in the soft pink towel Dr. Aten gave him, his head held tight against my breaking heart. As Dr. Aten quietly administered the injection to stop this failing and needlessly infected heart, Benny mercifully and painlessly crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

You see, it was all so needless because Benny's humans either didn't know or chose not to give Benny a heartworm disease preventive. It really is inexpensive - an average of $3.99 a month - the cost of a fast food value meal! I've never met a dog that didn't devour the yummy little tablets or the chewy chunks given monthly to prevent the heartworm larvae from becoming the adult worms that killed Benny. Here in Florida, heartworm disease is a real and probable eventuality because the larvae are carried by mosquitoes. Once bitten by a mosquito bearing the heartworm larvae, a dog most likely will become a host for the heartworms, a type of roundworms. Popular over-the-counter de-wormers, when correctly given, eliminate intestinal roundworms but aren't effective at all with these insidious worms that ultimately invade the arteries and veins and chambers of dogs', cats' and horses' hearts.

That's what happened to Benny. Without his monthly heartworm preventive, Benny's living body became the home for these large seven to eleven inch worms. No, this isn't a pretty picture. Nor is it comfortable writing or reading about Benny but this is reality in Florida. As the worms grew and multiplied, Benny was to become anemic, to grow weaker, and painfully die as the worms congested his heart, literally shredding his red blood cells.

Wasn't Benny worth $3.99 a month? That's just one meal at the corner fast food restaurant! Wasn't he worth the one minute a month to hand him a yummy heartworm preventive morsel that could save his life?

I guess Benny's humans didn't think so.

For only 27 days, Benny enjoyed the freedom of Rainbow Ranch to run and romp with abandon and comfort in knowing that we gave him our unconditional love. Now, for eternity, Benny is gone. Benny deserved more than 27 days.

For more information about the tragedy of heartworm disease and its prevalence, contact www.heartwormsociety.org/CanineHeartrwormInfo.htm or simply talk to any veterinarian!

©2005 Rainbow Ranch