Longtime pet foster parent Melissa Freels had cared for 12 pets who had gone on to forever families. Then along came foster #13. Jerry, then a 2-3-year-old Pomeranian mix, never left.
“The way it all happened,” Melissa begins . . .
“Jerry had been with me since December 2012. In May 2014, I adopted my son from Haiti, which had been a long, involved process.”
Returning home with her son, Melissa’s pet sitter told her “Jerry seems kind of depressed.” After a few days Melissa felt something really was wrong and took him to the vet. “His red blood cell count was dangerously low, and my vet referred us to Cascade.”
“It was funny,” Melissa continues, “The month I had taken off to help my son get used to his family and new world, we ended up at the vet — a lot. So this really gave him a crash-course in how important our pets are for us.”
Few cultures outside the US treat pets as family. Many simply can’t afford to.
Jerry was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. While his body would produce baby red blood cells, it would later destroy them.
“Jerry is a quirky dog,” says Melissa. “He’s very sweet, but he doesn’t like going out and being around other people or dogs, so it was stressful for him.”
The situation was also scary. “At one point we were at the vet twice a week monitoring Jerry’s blood levels and getting transfusions. One thing that came out of it is that Jerry’s become more trusting of people — the staff and doctors at Cascade are like second family now. It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna go see our friends now!’ Even when I drop him off to spend the day.”
“Cascade was really honest about his prognosis, and how optimistic we could be,” Melissa continues. “The prognosis was always . . . guarded.”
“They were also great about working with my vet. I had to do so much blood work regularly, I couldn’t always get to Cascade during the week because of work. So I’d get blood work at my regular vet at Crossroads, who would send it to Cascade.”
Less than nine months into treatment, Melissa says Jerry was doing great and that Dr. Tobin felt he didn’t need such frequent checkups.
“Then he relapsed,” Melissa says. “I joked with him, ‘You just want to see your friends!’”
“But the relapse was bad. His red blood after the relapse was 9 percent — normal is 40.”
Jerry received three to four transfusions within two weeks, some at Cascade, some at an emergency vet. “Dr. Tobin and Dr. Donovan were great about being available on weekends to answer questions,” says Melissa. “I was like, ‘Dear God, please get me through the weekend so I can get to Cascade Monday.”
“Knowing they were always available was really reassuring. They knew exactly what was going on with him, and I didn’t want to go to anyone else.”
In time, “Jerry made it out of that,” Melissa affirms. “At a checkup, the vet who made the referral to Cascade told Jerry, ‘It’s amazing you’re still with us.’ And it is. It’s been tough. He’s on a lot of meds — seven pills in the morning and seven at night,” she says. “And it did affect his personality. Prednisone can make you grumpy, and he didn’t play with our other dog as much.” Now being weaned off prednisone, Jerry is once again playing with the other dog.
“Initially I hid his pills in food. When he relapsed, he wasn’t eating much so that didn’t work. Now I just pry open his mouth and shove them in — before I couldn’t do that. He’s definitely become more trusting having spent so much time at the vet with different people.”
“Still, he’s a funny dog; he’s uppity,” Melissa laughs. “He lets you know when he doesn’t approve . . . . If he knows something’s in a certain closet — like the vacuum — whether you’re going for the vacuum or not, he’s barking. And he barks in the lobby [at Cascade] to let them know we’re there.”
“One really cool thing . . . this, coming from a seven-year-old . . . I was on Facebook one day and saw a post on Cascade’s page in appreciation of staff or vet techs. I told my son, ‘Look, there’s Jerry’s doctors.’ My son said, ‘Are those all the people who love him?’”
“It was very sweet. I told him, ‘yes, it is.’ They’ve been great; I totally trust them.”
Epilogue: Melissa reports that in early December (2015) Jerry’s red blood cell count was 40 percent.
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