Today marks exactly 1 year since we almost lost Penelope, our darling little polka dot dachshund. Brian and I adopted her back in 2013 from a shelter that saved her and 12 other dachshunds from a horrific situation at a puppy mill. She had been abused and was not remotely tame when we took her home. It took many long months of rehabilitation and intensive training to teach her how to be a happy and relaxed dog, and she will always be a work in progress.
Last September she had been with us for almost a year and was doing so well and loving her new home in LA. Then one day she started behaving strangely. First she began sleeping with her mouth open, but we just thought it was a cute new quirk. Then, she started drooling and standing with her head pressed against the wall. Her eyes appeared vacant and our normally energetic girl was lethargic. When those neurological symptoms popped up, we knew something more serious was going on. We took her to a veterinary ER and they told us that it looked like she had consumed something poisonous, so they would keep her overnight to observe her. We prayed that whatever she had eaten was not lethal and would pass out of her system. We spent a long and tear-filled night at home.
In the morning we received a call from the ER saying that she appeared to be improving so we should come pick her up. We were so excited to have her back, though it was a little hard to tell if she had improved or not. She still seemed dull and lethargic. We took her home and all took a nap since it had been such a long night. When we woke up a couple of hours later, I was shocked to find Penelope to be barely responsive. Her face was soaked in drool and I could not fully rouse her. We bundled her into the car again, this time heading to the VCA in West LA which we knew had a very good reputation. I will never forget that car ride as long as I live. Tears still come to my eyes whenever I think about it. I clutched Penelope to my chest as Brian drove. She was barely conscious and I kept my hand pressed to her little heart to make sure that it kept beating. We could tell that we might lose her at any moment, though we still did not know the cause.
When we arrived at VCA, we ran inside with Penelope. The moment the receptionist saw me cradling Penelope’s limp form, he rushed over. I briefly relayed her history to him and he whisked her away to immediately be triaged. Brian and I sat tearfully in the waiting area for what seemed like hours, though I actually have no idea how much time passed. Finally the urgent care vet came out to speak to us. There were three possibilities for what was wrong with Penelope. The first was poisoning, the second was a brain tumor, and the third was a liver shunt. They would have to keep her overnight to do a bunch of tests to figure out which it was, and if she could be saved. Going back home again without her was extremely painful, but we could tell she was in good hands.
The next morning we got a call telling us that she was doing a little bit better and that we should come get her and to talk to the vet. We didn’t get our hopes up since we had received a similar call from the last ER. When we arrived and they brought her out, we were completely overjoyed to see her sprint to us! She was so happy and herself again. The vet told us that they had begun treating her with medication for a liver shunt incase that were the problem, and she had quickly improved. This was proof enough that this was her diagnosis. A liver shunt is when one or more blood vessels go around the liver rather than pass through it, and so the blood does not get filtered. That unfiltered blood makes its way back to the brain and gradually poisons it, which causes the neurological symptoms that she displayed.
We took her home and started her on a rather impressive collection of medications as well as a special food. To this day, she is on 3 different medicines for her liver and has to take one or more of them every 8 hours. We are incredibly blessed that she has responded so well to the diet and medication, because many dogs do not. Most dogs with a liver shunt have to have a horrible surgery with an incision that runs the entire length of their underside. Not only is this surgery very painful, but the rates of failure, infection, and mortality are all quite high. Dogs with liver shunts do not usually live quite as long as other dogs either. Penelope is already beating the odds by living a completely normal life with her meds and diet, so I am praying she will continue to beat them by enjoying many long and surgery-free years.
Happy 1 year of being healthy, Penelope! Here’s to many more to come.
Emily (& Penelope)
Skirt – American Apparel
Top – Brandy Melville
Shoes – Christian Louboutin
Necklace – J. Crew
Nail Polish – Zoya “Sam”
Lipstick – Revlon “Raisin Rage”