Recently, a local television station featured a story about a dog named Queen.
A neighbor, Michael, noticed that the dog was losing weight and appeared frightened. It became clear that her owners had moved out of their home and left her behind.
He began feeding her and giving her water. He even took the time to construct a makeshift shelter. But as the polar vortex made an unusual foray south, the temperatures began to plunge. Michael’s concern escalated as the thermometer dropped below freezing and he noticed ice on her coat.
He notified Charleston County Animal Control, who came out and attempted to catch the dog but to no avail. Growing frustrated, he emailed the Charleston Animal Society. In a heartfelt letter, he described a terrified and frightened dog that was in danger of freezing to death.
They sent Aldwin Roman, who is the manager of anti-cruelty and outreach at the animal society. Again, attempts to bring her in were unsuccessful. Somehow, Queen survived the cold, and a few days ago, she was rescued by the Charleston County Animal Control and taken to CAS.
Dr. Sarah Boyd of CAS said that she expected that this would be an essentially feral dog with little adoption potential, but when Queen arrived, they realized what a sweet and well-socialized girl she was. She was very gentle and friendly and would clearly make someone a great companion.
The next step was to spay her. This is a routine procedure, especially at a rescue facility. But even routine procedures can have complications. When Queen was anesthetized, it became clear that something was very wrong. Her normally pink tongue and gums became blue. Her status turned critical. After all that she had been through on her own, she was now possibly going to die.
The team quickly began to reverse her anesthesia, and gradually nursed her through anesthetic recovery. A chest X-ray revealed the problem.
Queen had a diaphragmatic hernia. A hernia is, basically, when an organ, or organs, bulges out of the compartment that normally contains them. The diaphragm is a muscular wall that divides the thoracic and abdominal cavities. It is the movement of the diaphragm that acts as a bellows and draws air into the lungs.
Queen had apparently suffered a severe trauma in the past that had caused the diaphragm to tear. This allowed the stomach, liver, spleen and intestines to fall into the chest cavity. The problem is that these organs take up space and crowd out the lungs. In this case, there was a severe limitation to Queen’s air capacity. She could do OK , even appear normal, when she was awake. But when anesthetized, she could not control her breathing and make the extra effort necessary to sustain her. That’s why she almost died under anesthesia.
Last week, I (Henri Bianucci) conducted surgery on her to repair the defect. The goal of the surgery is to pull everything back into the abdomen, and then close the defect in the diaphragm. The surgery can be difficult, but the greatest risk is the anesthesia. The key is to orchestrate the procedure so that the surgery can begin immediately after anesthesia begins. The quicker they are opened up, and the contents removed from the chest, the better.
When we began Queen’s procedure, it became clear that this was an old injury. She had been living with this for months, possibly years. Worse, the stomach was trapped in the chest and it had bloated somewhat, severely restricting her lung capacity. Fortunately, the surgery went well and her prognosis is excellent for having a normal life.
Dr. Boyd commented to me in a follow up e-mail that this dog benefited from a “community of animal caretakers.” That’s a really elegant, and accurate, way to describe it. It began with a private citizen who could not turn a blind eye to the suffering Queen was experiencing.
Next, a government agency, Charleston County Animal Control, made several attempts, and finally succeeded in capturing her.
CAS then provided a place for her to be taken to, cared for, and eventually adopted.
When they recognized a serious surgical problem, they enlisted our facility to help. It was truly a team effort in which each role was different, but none the less essential than another in bringing about a successful outcome for Queen.
I’m proud to be a part of a community like that.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.