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Each day we open our doors, people and pets are provided with the help they’re seeking because of support we receive from our community. As I review and reflect on what we’ve accomplished through 2019, there are repetitive themes this year: pets homeless after their owners die, pets affected by their owners sitting in jail, pets sent by other veterinarians because their parents can’t afford their problem, senior pets whose senior parents are on very tight budgets, pets with all kinds of needs living with the working poor – young and old. The pace is so fast and relentless that it all becomes a blur. 

This is the 16th year I’m sending this letter to past supporters, and hopefully future supporters. In the whirl of activity that is life at Noah’s, it can be a challenge for me to choose which stories best illustrate what the year’s been like. Which are the most poignant, honest, typical, memorable? 

Thus, in the tradition of a High School year book, I’ve decided to bestow awards on just a few of the cases that are still stuck in my head and heart as this year draws to an end. 

(The narratives I’m sharing are full of personal, private, and sometimes painful detail. Names will be changed to safeguard identities, but the tale remains absolutely true!)

Most Memorable

This summer I spotted an appointment on our schedule, “Owner reports her dog has a prolapsed uterus. Needs to make payments.”. That grabbed my attention! It’s rare for an owner to give such a specific diagnosis. More troubling, if that’s the correct diagnosis, it’s a major medical emergency.  Jennifer assures me that the afternoon was the soonest the client could get a ride to Noah’s. As the appointment time came and passed, the appointment just as suddenly popped off the schedule. Concerned, I buzzed the front office and got my answer. “She’s not here and we can’t get her to pick up the phone.” I waited a bit longer and then called dear Dr. Villiard at Macon County Animal Services. I explained, “We need a welfare check on this poor little poodle STAT!”. (I then apologized for calling at 4 pm.) Dr. Villiard assured me they’d look into the situation and Officer Jason was dispatched to investigate. 

Thirty minutes later, Jennifer rings my extension to inform me, “Jason is on the phone for you, he’s at that house and needs to talk to you.” I picked up the receiver and could only hear blood curdling screams. Over the din, I find myself yelling “Jason, is the uterus outside the body?!” He’s not sure and I request pictures… all the while the screaming continues unabated. At some point I can make out words… “You’re not taking my dog!”, “You’re not taking my dog!” 

I requested Officer Jason put me on speaker phone and I switched into Crisis Counselor mode. “Betty can you hear me? Betty if you can hear my voice stop screaming I need to tell you something” “Betty please listen, I need to talk to you”. Finally, a small break, short enough for me to slip in “I’m not going to keep your dog, we just want to help you”, and “Betty, Jason has known me for many years. Ask him if you can trust me, he’ll tell you.” Another break and then the screaming resumed; “But I don’t have any money, I can’t pay you and you’re going to take my dog away.” At the first pause in the protest I assured her, “No, we’re just going to help you, ask Jason, we can help you and I promise we will return your baby.” 

Eventually, I negotiated that Betty would accompany Jason to Noah’s Ark, and I would be waiting for them. Together we’d let our doctors figure out what was going on and discuss our options. Thankfully, Betty’s diagnosis was not correct, but her pooch did have a life threatening pyometra. We see many patients throughout the year with this issue. Female dogs who are not spayed can develop an infected uterus that fills with pus. Without surgery and treatment, this condition is fatal. 

Betty did not come to Noah’s at the appointed time that summer day because she was terrified. Terrified that her pet was dying. Terrified that she would lose her if she turned her over to be treated. Terrified because she felt sure that she too would die if she lost this special companion. 

True to our word, we were able to get Betty’s baby successfully treated and back home. Betty and I have actually become friends and I regularly check in on her. As a bonus, we were able to help one of Betty’s friends, someone who gave her a ride to Noah’s. I approached this gentleman’s truck in the parking lot, and for some reason I peeked at the teeth of his little dogs. I let out a gasp, and those pooches ended up getting their teeth fixed…and I may have even gotten a tiny smile out of that grouchy guy. 

Most Touching

This winter Patrick found me to seek advice for a familiar problem…but with a twist. “There’s a woman on the phone, she sounds elderly, she says she’s blind and her dog is screaming. She doesn’t have anyone to drive her since her husband died. She’s really upset and doesn’t know what to do.” And that’s how I met Mrs. Clark. 

My nephew Andrew had only been on the job two weeks. I reasoned this was a great way to initiate him to all the different kinds of things we get ourselves into. Off we went to find Mrs. Clark’s home. 

We found the house easy enough, the barking pack of tiny terriers was our first clue. We let ourselves in, since no one answered the door. The first thing that hit me was how very cold it was in the house. It was February, and we were in the middle of a cold spell. The house was also quite dark, although there was enough light to navigate. We found Mrs. Clark in her bedroom. 

We visited a bit and learned that Mrs. Clark had lost her husband a few months earlier. She was not completely blind, but legally blind. Her furnace was broken and she could not afford the repairs yet. With the furnace broken, she stayed in her room with her half dozen companions and one small space heater. 

We collected the dog that Mrs. Clark was concerned about. As we left, I snooped a bit and noticed very little food in the house. Mrs. Clark told us she wasn’t worried about food for herself, but if we could spare any dog food, she’d be grateful. 

It broke my heart to find this sweet woman alone and cold. Although her pooch had to stay in the hospital a few days for some rather complicated surgery, I got shopping. I bought an electric blanket, a bunch of groceries, vanilla ice-cream (her dog’s favorite), and we brought dog food. That evening I had Andrew deliver our care package on his way home. Mrs. Clark was overwhelmed when he appeared and said, “The Lord answered my prayers and sent you!” Andrew, a full fledged northerner who knows nothing of miracles explained, “No, it was my Aunt.”

We try to make time to check in on Mrs. Clark. She always has a gift of some item from her home waiting for us. We’ve provided overdue care for several of her other dogs throughout the year. The little ones are her family and her constant companions. Mrs. Clark also gets the award for most memorable thank-you letter. Just part of what made it so special is that it included this adorable phrase in her precise cursive: 

“I will never forget you, Andrew and Dr. Todd for all you have done for me. You will always be in my prayers. I love youns and I will see you soon. PS. Sorry I didn’t get the vase cleaned. If you go to Dollar General and get purple powder, that cigarette smoke will come right off!”

Most Bizarre

SPOILER ALERT! Although the first two tales have had (relatively) happy endings, this one does not. If you prefer to skip stories with blood and bad endings, head straight to the next section.

At 1:30 pm on a September afternoon, a frantic man and a stoic teenage boy burst into our lobby carrying a very large Labrador with blood gushing out of his mouth. Staff swooped up the dog and ran to our treatment area. While Dr. Thomas struggled to identify the source of the bleeding, I began to interview the family. 

I learned that these folks lived adjacent to the national forest and their family dog “Skipper” had been out for just 15 minutes. When Skipper came back into the house, he staggered and then collapsed. Blood started coming from his mouth, first slowly, then profusely. 

As Dr. Thomas examined the mouth he could immediately see that the tongue was so swollen it might soon block Skipper’s airway. He took emergency measures to open his airway. Our theory was that Skipper had encountered a rattlesnake and made the fateful decision to investigate. The snake may have reared up, and its head must have ended up inside Skipper’s mouth. We don’t know if the snake survived, but it did get in a whopper of a venomous bite before the altercation ended. 

Snake bite season started early in 2019 and we had a higher than usual number of cases—we treated at least a dozen, three one particularly bad day. Also unusual was that there were several reported rattlesnake bites. Rattlesnake bites are more serious than Copperhead bites. 

We’ve never lost a patient to a poisonous snake bite. To improve our treatment protocol, this year we brought in anti-venom. Once a patient receives anti-venom treatment, recovery is usually quick and complete… almost like it never even happened.  

Skipper was not so lucky. We began administering anti-venom, and for 5 long hours the staff worked constantly on him. Despite our efforts the swelling in his tongue barely subsided, and the slightest movement started his tongue bleeding all over again.

At the end of the day the family decided that they could not afford the 24 hour care that would be required. They were extremely worried about affording the care we had provided. Dr. Thomas advised that the prognosis was grave. The anti-venom had not performed as expected. Some snake bites cause large areas of skin and tissue to slough off. This bite was on Skipper’s tongue. Dying tissue in that area would be awful. We collectively made the decision to ease Skipper’s suffering, and we let the sweet guy rest in peace. 

Most Moving

This fall, an established client, “Susan”, brought a new patient to meet Dr. Todd. The patient, “Sweetie”, had only been with her new family for a week. Susan rescued Sweetie when she learned that her nephew, and Sweetie’s caretaker, had died unexpectedly and sudde