First day home – January 2011
Our dog Ellie just turned seven years old last week. SEVEN. I feel like we just brought her home last year. We adopted her when she was five months old and “only” fifty pounds. We tend to be suckers for the animals that are less likely to be adopted (ferret with adrenal disease, bearded dragon missing a foot, toes and part of a tail), so when we went looking to adopt a dog, it’s not surprising we ended up with Ellie. Elmira (her full time – we kept it but shortened it) was found abandoned on the side of the road in eastern Washington, and her mom and most of the litter didn’t survive. She did, but with scars thanks to distemper and mange. Her teeth have never been great since distemper messes with enamel and she has spotty patches without fur from the bout with mange. Going into it, we knew she might have some additional health challenges, but we adopted her anyway.

5.6 miles round trip hike
Ellie has a very sensitive stomach and gets car sick, so we had to work to find a way to get her to travel places with us (even a 10 minute drive to the vet would involve her puking). Thankfully, Dramamine has helped her immensely and has stopped the car sickness, though she does tend to drool a lot while in the car. Over the years we’ve taken her hiking and camping, and she’s always kept up with us. When she was younger, I would take her on five mile runs with me and my husband would take her trail running, but as she’s gotten older, we’ve stuck mostly to walks and very short runs.

A year and a half after we adopted Ellie, we brought home Sasha, another rescue puppy who had been found running on the streets and is missing some of her bottom teeth – likely early trauma made it so they never grew in. She’s been a constant companion to Ellie and a watchdog over our son. Since we both work during the day, Ellie has been much happier with her puppy sister to keep her company.

Lounging on the couch, her favorite pastime
While she may be part Labrador Retriever, she has played fetch only once in her life, is absolutely terrified of water, doesn’t care much for food or treats, and would prefer to hang out on the couch than run around outside. She loves all people and most animals (our cat Blue is her BFF) and is generally a very happy lovable girl. She’s been a wonderful addition to our family and we’ve been lucky to have six and a half wonderful years with her so far. She’s part Great Dane as well, though, so she’s already an old lady at seven years old and has started slowing down a bit in the last year or so. I’ve been in denial though, as she is still – and will always be – my puppy girl.

Early last week, we noticed that Ellie was breathing heavily and wheezing from time to time, especially after barking or running outside. I had originally hoped she was just hot, or some other minor irritation, but by Wednesday morning, it was obvious there was something really wrong with her. I called the vet and got her in to an appointment that afternoon. She was acting happy to see everyone and didn’t seem to be in pain, but her heart was beating so quickly that they had a hard time even measuring her pulse rate. At that point, our vet told me to take her straight to the emergency room so a specialist could take a look at her. He keep repeating that he was “so glad we brought her in,” which definitely got me really worried. Our vet’s office is amazing though, and our vet stayed on the phone to get in contact with the emergency clinic, gave them an overview over the phone, and sent over all their paperwork in advance of our arrival there. They also waived the fee for our visit with them since they were just sending us on our way. Our vet might be pricey, but they are awesome and I feel like they always do their very best for our furry creatures.

We got to the ER around 4:30pm, and an hour later, a vet came out to talk to me and tell me that they suspected heart disease. We talked for a while and I came away convinced that if Ellie responded well to medication that she would still have a good quality of life. While I am willing to spend money on emergency services for my animals, I refuse to drag them along in pain just because I’m unwilling to say goodbye. While she won’t be allowed to go on runs any longer, as long as the medication works, she should be able to live a good life, for however long that is. Since she doesn’t like running anyway, I wasn’t too worried about that stipulation.

Unlike people hospitals, veterinary emergency clinics require payment up front of the low end of the expected costs, which ended up being about $2,000 for Ellie (expected high end was $2500). As I signed the paperwork allowing for her care, I was so thankful that we are in a place financially that we can afford to hand our card over for that size of an unexpected bill. While it means that things will be tight around here for a few months, I was able to pay the bill at the time required so that she could get the care she needed to save her life. My heart breaks for those who have to put down or give up an animal because they don’t have the funds to cover emergency costs. Animals can bring great joy into our lives, but they definitely aren’t the most frugal choice to be made, especially if you choose to care for them as a family member. I have never spent $2000 at one time on anything other than my college education, house, car, and the medical bills associated with my son’s birth, but I paid it willingly now to take care of our dog. I firmly believe if you choose to bring an animal into your home, they have come to their forever home and will be treated with love and care for as long as they live. She may have only cost $75 to adopt, but she is well worth much more to keep her happy and as healthy as she can be. 

After paying the bill, I left and headed home and waited to hear the full results of the tests. The call came a few hours later that they had confirmed that Ellie has dialated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), which means she won’t ever fully recover from this, and she likely has only 6-12 good months left with us (a few years if we are very lucky). She’s now on a handful of pills to reduce the fluid around her heart and to help her heart pump, but we were able to get the medications at Costco for $48, so the ongoing cost should be more reasonable than the up front emergency care. 

New morning pill routine

When we went to pick her up, the vet informed us that the emergency care actually came in $13 UNDER the estimated low end of costs, so we had a small amount put back on our card. While it’s not typical to be relieved by an unexpected $2,000 bill, it was much better than the $2500-$3000 than I had expected.

Ellie is now home and resting and being pampered and loved on. She’ll go back for a follow up next week, and I’m crossing my fingers that we received some good (decent) news. I can only now be thankful that we are able to afford to take care of our girl and hope that we have some really good time left with her.