I have always had healthy dogs. I was always convinced that crosses rarely got sick, and that by adopting dogs, I would not have a problem. Well, Coal proved that theory wrong.

He was dropped off at my old clinic in 2011, and what appealed to me about this young lab X was that he was calm. I took him home to foster, and my daughter fell in love- so we adopted him. We still had our elderly collie Foster, and I thought it may help in the transition when he passed. My daughter was 16 at the time.

In 2012, I realized that his calm attitude was too calm. So we ran some bloods. This was when my life was in turmoil, and I was leaving my old clinic. Sure enough, I realized that he had a liver shunt- a congenital condition where his blood vessel bypassed the liver- and usually in large breed dogs, it is intrahepatic, which means harder to correct. We ended up at St. Hyacinth, where I thought the specialist could tell my daughter the bad news- but she didn’t. She told me that there was a new procedure that could be done – placing a stent and coils. It would cost $6k.

Well, we did the procedure, there were complications and after a 2nd procedure (yes, even as a vet, it was over 10K!) he responded for a bit, then had incontinence issues, went back again, and after medication, well, learned to live with his quirks.

Fast forward to 2016, where he seemed to have a good winter. His daily walks he would be energetic for a few minutes. He would bark annoyingly at the other dogs trying to get them to play, but after 10 minutes, drag behind from lack of energy. We nicknamed him “tiny Tim” and my husband would put on a Cockney accent claiming that Tim should be allowed to be naughty (Charles Dickens Tim of course). As a result he was allowed more allowances than any other of our dogs ever had. We loved it when he played with a stick- he had a peculiar way of bounding at it with all four feet off the ground- rather like a fox. He would always greet me getting out of my car by leaning on me, and having a 2 minute cuddle- the only time he was allowed to jump up on a person.

His relationship with my good friend’s dog Guiness was remarkable. Ever since he was small, he would go very low towards Guinea, paw him and lick his face submissively. Guiness would have none of it, and would growl throatily, even nip at his face. But this happened over and over, and obviously just became the way they greeted each other. We always said we wanted to capture this behavior on video.

Unfortunately, time ran out for Coal. Over the course of a week, he became bloated, and anemic. Ultrasounds and palpation revealed an enlarged spleen. When he finally collapsed on a Sunday night, I called my colleague Dr. Cote and asked her “is there anything that you know of which had a good outcome when a dog is bleeding into his abdomen with a large spleen?” She answered no. I had lost my perspective, and needed someone to tell me to use common sense.

So we let him go.

I believe there is always something to learn about having an animal. In this case, Coal was sent to teach me about chronic illness in dogs, and that sometimes as veterinarians, just because we can do something, we shouldn’t always do it. There is not always a reason why, it is not necessarily because of the long term medications our animals are on (Coal was on just about everything), it just happens.  It has added a perspective that I am willing to discuss with clients, going through similar situations. In effect, he taught me to be a better veterinarian.