On Wednesday, August 24, 2011, I saw a Facebook post about a young male pit bull who was on a local shelter’s euthanasia list for that evening. I see these posts all the time; overcrowded shelters are the norm in DFW. He was an “average” looking pit bull – tan in color, almond-shaped eyes, heart-shaped head, floppy ears…just another pit bull on death row. Something about this particular dog stuck with me, though. My father’s dog had died earlier that month and he looked so similar. I thought, if this dog is alive tomorrow, I will foster. Temporarily.
Somehow, the dog made it through the night and was scheduled for a 9am euthanasia. I offered free advertising for any rescue that would pull him. No response. I offered t-shirts, blog posts, any free marketing I could provide. Nothing. Finally, a rescue group said they would take him if someone would foster. Fine, I thought. I’ll foster. Temporarily. The dog’s name was Percy.
On Thursday, August 25, I picked Percy up from the shelter and was frankly a little surprised. I’d had pit bulls as a child and absolutely love the breed. But maybe because I was smaller back then or we’d owned bigger dogs, I was a little taken aback about how small this dog was. A pocket pittie, I thought. Later, I would be told that he needed to lose weight. Shows how much I know about how big a dog should be.
During the next few weeks, I doted on Percy as much as my other three dogs would allow. He moved very slowly, as though he were an old dog, and seemed to want to sleep all the time. He had terrible diarrhea, which I initially attributed to new food and new surroundings. He drank several gallons of water a day, and wasn’t that interested in his food. He went to a few adoption events, but he seemed to get more lethargic as the days passed so I decided he wasn’t ready to be adopted. He needed to get healthy first. I tried everything to stop the diarrhea – bland food, pumpkin, Imodium – but nothing helped. Eventually his diarrhea turned to a bloody liquid, and he was diagnosed with Giardia, a common but debilitating illness, which is usually treated with antibiotics and cured quickly.
A few days after he started his medication – Friday, September 23, 2011 – I came home to find my house in a state of disarray. Cushions were off the couches, papers were strewn everywhere, and I thought I’d been robbed. The dogs were very agitated, and Percy was extremely anxious and whiny. I checked the house and found nothing missing, but noticed one of the cushions was completely soaked. I was shocked – Percy had had a few accidents in the house but not on the couches. I took Percy for a quick walk which seemed to calm him down, but a few minutes after we got back he started pacing again. Suddenly, he jumped on the couch with no cushions and laid down. I tried to get him off but he wouldn’t budge. I thought, those springs have to hurt him; I’ll see if I can get a blanket underneath him for cushioning. But before I could look for a blanket, Percy started to convulse. For 60 agonizing seconds, his body turned rigid and his lips pulled back to reveal all his beautiful teeth and his head and body shook violently. He unconsciously emptied his bladder, which explained the soaked cushions. I had no idea what to do, so I did the most dangerous thing in this situation – I put my hand in his mouth so that he wouldn’t swallow his tongue. I had no idea that he could have bitten down unconsciously and severed my hand. I had just heard somewhere that’s what you do for a person having an epileptic seizure.
Sixty seconds is a long time but eventually Percy stopped convulsing and got up and jumped off the couch and ran into a wall in a panic. Then he ran into the TV. I went to him and tried to calm him, but it was clear he could not see. I made a quick call the emergency vet and screamed at my other dogs who were still trying to get my attention (and their dinner) to get out of my way. I loaded Percy in the car and sped towards the emergency room. I tried calling several people and finally got in touch with my friend Heather and asked her to please meet me at the hospital. I don’t remember much about the drive except Percy was still whining in the back seat and I was begging God to please let him be okay, while cursing at every driver who dared get in my way.
We arrived at the ER and I explained to the vet what happened, and they took him into the back for tests. That would be the last time I’d see Percy that night. Heather arrived at the hospital, and the vet came out to tell me that Percy had had another “grand mal” seizure, a term I would hear a zillion times over the next two days. Heather asked a ton of questions and he answered them all, but all I could do was cry. He said the estimated charges for the night would be $1,500. I had no way to pay this, but Heather handed over her credit card and told me we’d figure it out later. I am still speechless when I think about that act of kindness.
An hour or so later, the vet came out again and asked to see us all (my boyfriend had arrived by then as well). He told us that Percy could probably have a normal life, but that they needed to keep him overnight for observation. He said the diagnosis was canine epilepsy and it could possibly be managed with medication, but that was not guaranteed. They would know more in the morning. I had to leave Percy there.
The next morning, September 24, I called for a status update, and the news was not good. Percy had to be heavily sedated throughout the night. He’d had several more seizures and developed cortical blindness. He was panicked and running into the walls of his kennel and had not stopped barking. The vet told me there was nothing they could do. When the sedation wore off, the worse his condition got. I went back to the ER to visit with Percy and I could hear him screaming as soon as I walked in. The vet told me that I should let him go. Percy probably had brain damage, he still could not see, and was in pain. While I visited with him, the prognosis seemed spot on. He knew I was there but he couldn’t see me. He was scared and seemed to wince every time he tried to move. I asked them to keep him for a few more hours while I made arrangements. I would not let him be euthanized in a cold ER. I wanted to bring Percy home and let him have some time on a soft bed and I wanted to hold him as he left this earth.
On the way home, I remembered it was my mother’s birthday. I called to tell her happy birthday, and got some more bad news: my father was in the hospital himself. He had a heart blockage and had been admitted to the ICU. I had no choice but to call the ER back and ask them to keep Percy one more night. I told them to keep him comfortable but not to give him anything else that might make him panic. If they needed to sedate him all night, as long as he wasn’t conscious of his pain, that was fine. I knew the bills were racking up, but I didn’t know what else to do. I made a ChipIn account and asked DallasDogLife readers to help by making a small donation, and my boyfriend drove me to the hospital to see my father.
At the hospital, it was touch and go. My dad was in good spirits but my mother, who is normally very strong in these situations, was not. When I was able to talk to her alone, she told me that she had just gotten word a few minutes earlier that my uncle (her brother) had passed away. It was my mom’s birthday, and we were in the hospital with my dad and she was not going to be able to attend her own brother’s funeral in Florida. This had to be the worst weekend of my whole life. The only bright point was that when I checked the ChipIn account, I had to close it immediately. “Percy’s Angels,” as I later called them, had donated over $1,700 for his hospital bills in a matter of hours. I would not have to sell my car or borrow money from my parents, who were clearly in no position to worry about my foster dog. Angels, I cry when I think of your kindness.
The next day – Sunday, September 25, 2011 – we went to pick up Percy early in the morning. He was heavily sedated, still blind, and not moving. I came home and got him as comfortable as I could. The ER had left the catheter in his arm to facilitate the euthanasia. I called Dr. Rebecca Westbrook of Loving Paws House Calls to come to my home to help Percy cross the Rainbow Bridge. She would come at 2pm. I decided that Percy could have anything to eat that he wanted – he had been on a bland diet for weeks and now that he was about to be free from his suffering, I wanted to give him a great last meal. I fried some chicken, made some pasta and veggies, and as the food was ready, I’d feed it to him. He started to perk up, and he stopped whining. As I’d go back into the kitchen for more food, he would try to follow me, but he could not stand. He’d simply paw at the floor and try to drag himself up.
I helped him into the backyard to go to the bathroom and he collapsed when I tried to let him stand up to urinate. But he struggled and eventually got back up. I carried him back into the house and kept feeding him. It was 1 pm, and I knew I didn’t have much time time left. I laid down next to him and he sniffed my face. I smelled his paws and his face and his ears, and tried to memorize the smell. I brought him more chicken.
At 1:30, Percy got up. He took some wobbly steps and stumbled, and then tried again. I fed him more chicken, and watched him closely.
At 2:00 PM, Dr. Westbrook arrived. All the dogs – Percy included – went to the door to greet her. She asked, “Which one is sick?” I told her I didn’t know what to do. Only hours before he was on death’s door, and now he was walking. I didn’t want to make him suffer but I didn’t want to make a mistake.
She asked to sit down and review his medical records. She looked over all the medication he’d been given and said, “No wonder he was acting erratically. He was so high! The food probably absorbed all the excess medication.” Percy came over and licked her face. She closed her bag and told me, “I think you should wait. You can always call me if he has another seizure and I’ll come back, even if it’s in the middle of the night. You can always decide to do this later. But you can’t undo it once it’s done.”
Dr. Westbrook got up to leave. She hugged me and said it would be okay, no matter the outcome. I started to ask her to wait and she said, “There’s no charge.” Once she was out the door, I collapsed on the floor. Percy came over and looked at me like, What’s wrong with her?
Over the next few days, I watched Percy like a hawk. He got on a daily medication ritual and got really, REALLY fat. He drank twice as much water. A month later, I switched vets and got him on an arthritis medicine and a new feeding regimen. Percy started to move like a young dog. He started to jog. He found his voice. (My dad also got better, and was put on a healthier feeding regimen as well, although he didn’t stick to his the way Percy did.)
On December 30, 2011, I officially adopted Percy.
I don’t know much about Percy before he came to live with me. I know he was neutered as a puppy (he still squats to pee) and that he had some kind of surgery as there is a long scar on his abdomen. I know he loves all people and takes orders from a bossy Chihuahua named Buster. I don’t know how or why he ended up in the shelter. I don’t know if his people knew that he had epilepsy and they couldn’t deal with him any more. I also never knew his birthday, but decided that it would be September 25. So tonight, Percy (and the rest of my babies) will have a dinner of fried chicken to celebrate.
What I do know is that the medication (Flagyl) we used to treat the Giardia can sometimes have the side effect of seizures. But because Percy had multiple seizures in a 48-hour period, it is standard practice to treat him as though he has canine epilepsy. Percy’s last seizure was in the ER one year ago.
Percy is still not, and maybe never will be, “all there.” He is different, that’s for sure. He howls like a Basset Hound. He has facial ticks and yawns constantly. But he is my love, that dog. I love him differently than my other dogs, because I feel like for a moment, I gave up on him and I want to make it up to him. But he never gave up on himself, and I think about that any time I wonder if I can do everything I have dreamed of doing. You really only need to believe in yourself, and never stop, not even when it seems like all is lost.
I have wanted to write this tribute for a long time, mostly so I could acknowledge everyone who donated to Percy’s care during that horrible weekend. I call you all Percy’s Angels, because you saved his life.
So thank you, from the bottom of my heart to: Dog Star Pit Bull Rescue · Heather & Gatsby · Franchini · Kali · Wonton, Matzo Ball & Pierre · Alva · Tara · Donna · Julie · Paula · Fort Worth Foodie · Jenn · Nina & Wally · Molly & Harrison · Marlon · Ashley · Oscar & Zoe · Susan & Sadie · Kim & Trooper · James · Patricia · Heather & Sasha · Pamela · Poo B Gone · Kristi · Jeanne · Stacy · Rebecca · Heather L · William · Cheryl & Fritz· Alex · Olivia · Kimberly · Bo & Jesse · Shahla · Darryl · Regina · Sylvia · Mimi & Gordo · Anthony · Michelle · Ines · Judith · Patricia & Pepper · Thuy
Angels, you will never know how much you mean to me. The amounts donated ranged from $3 to $300, and every cent was appreciated. People called me to see if I was okay, people offered to be there with me when Percy took his last breaths, people asked if I needed food or company. Some of these people I knew, some I’d never met. But they all cared about me because they cared about a dog named Percy.
I have learned that for the most part, people are good. This is important to remember, especially when you see animals treated cruelly. There are more good people than bad, and I’m so happy to have learned that lesson in my lifetime. Sometimes I need a reminder, and Percy’s “birthday” is a great time to reflect on all the wonderful people there are out there. So thank you again – from all of us at DallasDogLife.
-Yvonne, Percy, Buster, Chewy, and Fudge