Lisa and Lee Pulaski love their Labs. Just over 11 years ago, they had just one, a treasured boy named Rocky. When Rocky was almost 2, his mother — who belonged to a friend of the Pulaski’s — had puppies. Lisa and Lee thought it would be wonderful for Rocky to have a little brother.
They went to see the puppies, who were weaned at just 4½ weeks, and, in addition to finding Levi, they discovered Sarah . . . and just knew Rocky needed a little sister too.
The expanded family went everywhere together, especially loving trips in the RV to Lincoln City. “I would lose my dining room table,” says Lisa. We’d put it down and make one huge doggie bed.
Rocky passed early from unexpected heart disease at age 8. Lisa says that after their brother passed, she and Lee became even more bonded with Levi and Sarah. “Once you lose one you hold on a little tighter,” she says.
In May 2012, just after the pair turned 11, they embarked on a time of what Lisa calls “amazingly parallel.”
“The first sign that something was wrong,” says Lisa, “was a day Sarah refused breakfast. She’s food motivated. Then, when she didn’t want dinner either, I knew something was definitely wrong.”
They went to their regular vet, suspecting possible heart issues because of what had happened to their half-brother, Rocky (he’d had a different father). “I was out of it; so gone,” says Lisa. “I thought ‘I can’t lose another one like this.’”
Thankfully she didn’t. They visited a heart specialist who thought Sarah might have a twisted lung after taking a liter of fluid from her chest that had blood in it. The heart specialist sent them to Dr. Tim McCarthy at CVRC.
“I didn’t realize Dr. McCarthy’s history, and I went in asking things like, ‘Have you done this type of thing. . .’ ‘Do you have experience with this . . .’ ‘Are you comfortable doing this.’ Then I went home and researched him and I was so embarrassed! I told his staff he just seems like such a good old boy — there was just no arrogance about him at all. It turned out his experience with this procedure was extensive.”
Dr. McCarthy removed a mass from Sarah’s chest “as big as a grapefruit.” “I asked them to compare it to something so I could understand,” Lisa recalled with characteristic good humor.
Sarah recovered “really well,” aside from one prescription that caused a reaction. That medication was stopped, and she continued to heal well.
“Then all of a sudden after we got Sarah through that,” Lisa says, “Levi starting groaning. I didn’t think of it until then, really,” she says, “but when Levi started groaning getting up or laying down I remembered Sarah had done that too. Now after surgery she doesn’t do it anymore.”
Lisa says finding Levi’s problem was “a complete fluke.” In the middle of a remodel, one room had paper protecting the pad until new carpeting was installed. Levi slipped on it twice, and after the second time “he wasn’t moving right.”
Thinking the problem was related to his legs, Lisa started planning for a cart, or “whatever it took.” Their regular vet took x-rays of Levi’s legs . . . and found a suspicious shadow over his back.
They scheduled an appointment with Dr. McCarthy, who found masses not unlike Sarah’s — except there were three, a large one in his upper chest, and two smaller masses in his lower abdomen.
Where Sarah’s procedure involved an incision from the side (and 43 staples!), the doctor performed separate surgeries for Levi’s two areas. Making an incision “from stem to stern and opening his chest,” Lisa says, the doctor removed the larger upper mass. This one, described in Lisa’s preferred manner, was said to be “the size of a cantaloupe or personal watermelon.”
It had been decided going in that if the doctor couldn’t get all the masses he would close Levi up and let him live out his life. Happily, the doctor felt he got it all, and according to a follow-up x-ray, he had.
Where Sarah had one surgery, Levi had two, with several tests done before the procedures. “When most dogs go to a place where they had something they didn’t like done they’re not keen to go back.” Lisa found it remarkable that “Whenever Levi went in he couldn’t wait to get in the door,” adding that it was obvious he’d received a ton of love and attention from everyone at CVRC.
Recovery went well for both Sarah and Levi, says Lisa. “They’re both so good. They’re older, but they’ve always been good when it’s time to be quiet.” Levi did split his staples open after the first surgery, but it happened so close to the second that Dr. McCarthy was able to resolve the matter quickly.
One thing Lisa really appreciated about the recovery process was CVRC’s 24/7 phone access during aftercare. “I could call at 1, 2 in the morning, and talk to the technician who was actually taking care of my baby,” she says. “It was just so comforting — I just loved it.”
One challenge during Levi’s recovery, related to his sensitivity to medication, was a loss of interest in food. Lisa began buying family packs of steak to entice him to eat, and it worked. Brother and sister are still enjoying steak in their diet today.
Lisa and Lee call Sarah and Levi their “miracle babies.” Having been weaned so early they were sickly pups. “Within days of getting them they were sick and throwing up. They had Parvo.” The Pulaskis were told that most people euthanize puppies in such cases, but Lisa wanted to know if there was a chance. The doctor told her 50/50, and she said “That’s a chance” and proceeded with treatments that proved successful, if expensive.
“I’d do anything for them,” she says. “They mean the world to me.”
These days, Lisa says, “We just enjoy them and go with ‘everything’s going to be good.’ We’re going to have another 20 or 30 good years,” she says with a loving laugh.
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