Special Needs Puppy: Make Me A Match

October 22, 2013 - 9:26 pm
Irradiated by LabRat


This is Major. Today she’s about nine and a half weeks old, and she’s the remaining puppy from Kang’s last (most recent and really last, I plan to spay her as soon as her milk finishes drying up) litter.

The reason Major is still here, and why she’s getting a post here as opposed to having been the first or second puppy sold, is that she has a congenital heart condition. If it had been something straightforward like a PDA, I would have ponied up for the corrective surgery and sold her once she had recovered; unfortunately, the consultation I had with a veterinary cardiologist revealed what she’s actually got is pulmonic stenosis, a different and much less common (the cardiologist commented she’d simply never seen it in an Akita before now) issue. We do not yet know how severe the stenosis is- she was too young at the time to get a good picture- but the cardiologist suggested it wasn’t likely to be mild. We’ll know when she is old enough to have another, clearer ultrasound done in another month or two. She also has a defect in the wall between her ventricles, which the cardiologist said may either be making things worse or actually helping; apparently they often occur together and the treatment for THAT defect on its own is giving the patient an artificial case of stenosis. Apparently Major is very medically interesting! I could have done with boring, personally.

Major has no clinical signs that there is anything wrong with her heart. She was diagnosed as young as she was (around five weeks) because she had a loud heart murmur (stenosis apparently produces very dramatic murmurs) and I wanted to know what was going on. Depending on how severe it is she is increasingly likely to show such signs the bigger she gets. Right now she is a very active and exploratory puppy who appears normal in all respects unless you have a stethoscope.

Depending on how severe the stenosis turns out to be and what the topography of her heart is, there are options for treatment and prognosis. At the least she is very likely to need beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and yearly cardiac ultrasounds for the rest of her life. Depending on how things shake out she may be a good candidate for surgery. The surgery only helps, it does not cure; it has a success rate, with success being defined as “successfully turned a severe or moderate stenosis into a moderate or mild one”, of about 75%. (Apparently some patients simply heal back the way they were.) Like pretty much all cardiac surgeries for dogs, it would require a veterinary cardiologist with some specialized equipment and cost somewhere in the range of 3-5k. The outcomes for severe stenosis vary all over the map; anywhere from death at around a year of age to living into their teens and dying of something completely unrelated to their heart. Prognosis and outcomes get significantly better with treatment and surgery, but a dog diagnosed as such will always have a risk of early death, the more severe the stenosis the bigger the risk.

Because of all this I’m looking to place little Major without taking money for her, unless said money is for transport expenses. If treated as I believe appropriate she will be far from a “free” dog, though exactly what the costs will be is pretty variable and hard to predict now. I am not willing to euthanize a pup with a perfectly lovely temperament who is as likely to life a full life as an abbreviated one; she will stay here as long as it takes for us to find the right home for her. While she is here she will receive whatever treatment is appropriate for her at the time and be raised and trained as a normal puppy. We do not want to keep her; three Akitas is more than enough Akita, and four would be doing a disservice to her, us, and the other dogs, but I’m aware it may take me awhile to find that home.

If it were not for her heart condition she would have been the first puppy placed; she was first pick by temperament for more than one person or family waiting for a pup out of this litter. She is confident, friendly and social even when stressed (she has been very sweet with all the veterinary personnel she has met so far), fearless, and very bright. She is easy to handle, talkative (she has some sort of comment about nearly everything, though she is not barky), and was the big explorer of the litter- she was always the first to dive into anything new and was the first to escape the whelping box as well. She is as well on her way to housebroken (she is a house puppy, just like every other pup raised here) as it’s possible for a nine week old pup to be, and while she is here she will learn everything I consider mandatory for a civilized housedog to learn- come, sit, down, leave it, mine (the response to back away from anything on the floor that a human moves purposefully toward). She will also be crate trained and will be some degree into learning to walk nicely on a leash, depending on how old she is when she is placed.

Heart condition or no, she is an Akita, and will come with every plus and minus that breed normally has. She was the smallest pup in the litter and while she did do some catching up in size to her siblings once transitioned to solid food, that was only up to a point and I now suspect she will always be a smaller bitch- in which “smaller” means likely to finish up at 70-80 pounds instead of 90-100 like her mother is and her sisters are likely to be. Still most people’s definition of a Big Damn Dog. Her mother, brother, and a distant cousin all coexist happily in a mixed group that includes one intact female and one mature intact male (i.e. our little pack here), so she comes from a line that is really quite good with other dogs by Akita standards- but she is still an Akita, which means she’s likely to be relatively dominant with other dogs even when well socialized. (Her mother is THE alpha bitch- I worry less about the young intact male when it comes to strange dogs.) She is also likely to come with prey drive- and the longer she stays here, the more likely it is that Kang will teach her to be a ruthless hunter, which is either a plus or a minus depending on your point of view. (Minus if your neighbor has cats that roam; plus if you want every varmint that comes within your property lines eliminated, which is what Kang does.) She is pretty biddable- again by Akita standards. If you want a dog that lives to please you, this is not the breed for you.

She will grow up to be a guard dog. She is social enough she won’t eat strangers on sight, but as she matures she will start to be suspicious of them and she will need socialization and guidance to channel those instincts productively and install good Identify Friend/Foe software. If she is like her mother in some other respects she will also be a pretty decent ad-hoc therapy dog, seeking out the sick and hurting- but THAT won’t be apparent until she is fully mature. She has had lots of early socialization and exposure to new people and new kinds of sights and noises and other novelties, but like any pup she will continue to need it as she grows to develop into a stable adult. Her parents both like children, but lacking any of my own and any belonging to close friends and relations, she has not met any yet.

So far several people have been interested, but everyone interested so far has either lacked the financial resources or the emotional resources to deal with the potential realities and costs of her heart condition, or else with the part where she’s an Akita and even a healthy Akita is still a pretty big undertaking. (It has been a pretty even split which was the deal-breaker.) Thus I am widening the net. If you are interested in little Major please contact us at the blog e-mail (nerdsatomic at gmail dot com), which I promise will actually be checked; I am happy to chat more about the breed, her parents, her condition, or her.

23 Responses to “Special Needs Puppy: Make Me A Match”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Best of luck in finding the right home for Major. I hope she finds just the right family to become a part of.

  2. William Says:

    Wow, looks like one of those Panda cubs they keep putting up on the news. Just imagine the funds that would be expended if one of those had similar issues, as if they are inherently more valuable.

    Which leads me to wonder or suggest, as it is going to be the rare individual who is willing and able to afford such potential financial, physical, and mental cost…if there is viability to the idea of a group-funded (i.e. donations) adoption or placement of her in a facility with the idea of training her as a companion dog to many, such as at a VA facility or similar? I’m betting it would be fairly easy to raise $5K or better, with her placement and progress, pics and interactions with her “clients”, maintained through a dedicated blog?

  3. Old NFO Says:

    I wish I could… But my travel just won’t allow it… Best of luck.

  4. Tam Says:

    Bonus: Puppy sounds exactly like 5/8ths scale Chewbacca.

  5. phlegmfatale Says:

    She is beautiful and looks super snuggly. I know the right person(s) will come along.

  6. perlhaqr Says:

    Oh sure Tam, make it even harder to say no.

    *makes Wookiiee noises at the puppy*

  7. tweell Says:

    Alas, not in the market for an Akita, even a friendly biddable one. I take care of my uncle, who is a blind cardiac diabetic, it simply would not work. One accidental tumble from his walker or a puppy where HE doesn’t expect anything would be… ungood.

  8. Jim M Says:

    My first thought on reading the description is Tetralogy of Fallot. Although that affects humans too, it is estimated to affect about one in every 4,000 dogs. The Veterinary School at U.C. Davis has done a lot of work on that condition. It would be even better if Major were adopted by someone close to a good veterinary school that could be interested in her, or, better yet, near U. C. Davis.

  9. Jon Says:

    I might be interested (I need to think a bit more, then I’ll toss you an email), but I’m about six months out of new home ownership, which is what would make taking in a dog like that possible. Might be too long to wait.

  10. LabRat Says:

    Yeah, the Chewbacca noises fall under “talkative”. She does bark, but mostly… conversational Wookiee.

    Jim- interesting. She doesn’t seem to have the aortic abnormaly- just the VSD and the pulmonary stenosis- but I don’t know if that’s exclusionary. She doesn’t currently have any cyanosis or other clinical signs, but that may just be because she’s small still. Either way, yes, access to a vet school would be bonus.

    Jon- She’ll be here until she finds a new home, whether that’s a few weeks or six months. I’d like to have her rehomed before she really reaches maturity just because I foresee conflict with her mother, but that will be a management issue.

  11. Joseph Says:

    I had a somewhat similar situation, a stray ran up from the shadows between houses one new year’s eve, afraid of fireworks, and I took him in. Needed x-rays for a limp and heartworm treatment, which led to me calling him my “Expensive free stray dog” and he is will us still.

    It would be quite possible to do a fundraiser for at least part of the cost. Just be careful whom you home him with. There are people out there who will use such a dog for a bait dog, or don’t really know what they are getting into as far as the dog’s size, personality or cost.

  12. Joseph Says:

    Sorry…typo. Should be “…with us still.” Not enough coffee.

  13. Jim Says:

    This breaks my hearts… I’ll keep my fingers crossed she finds the best of homes.

  14. Ruth Says:

    If there weren’t already 2 dogs in this house I’d take her in a heart-beat. Akita’s don’t worry me, I have a Tibetan Mastiff and a New Guinea Singing Dog for heavens sake, and medical bills don’t scare me (for that matter I’m only a couple hours out of Cornell)…..I’ll poke around and see if I know anyone who might be up to her!

  15. Matt Says:

    I wish I could. I also have a very loud heart murmur and am supposed to get annual echocardiograms as well. I’m just not in a position to take on a dog right now.

  16. Squeaky Wheel Says:

    I posted a link on my Facebook – I get more traffic there than my blog, these days.

    I hope you find a wonderful home for her. I would LOVE an Akita (a large dog that’s not emotionally clingy and does double duty as a house alarm? YES, PLEASE), but seeing as I had to accept donations for a necessary surgery, I can’t afford to feed a dog, let alone take care of one with special needs. :-(

    I’m going to second the donation idea, though – if I was able to get help for a surgery that improved my quality of life, I think, for sure, that people will be willing to help a puppy possibly prolong her life, especially a purebred, adorable, Wookkiiee-speaking pup like Major.

  17. FarmGirl Says:

    I would take her in a heartbeat if I could afford the vet care. There’s a very good vet hospital (a hell of a drive away but still for the major stuff it’d work) in my state.

    Crowdfunding would be challenging for ongoing care, though. The cost of the next check up and the surgery can be defined, but ongoing meds and check ups and any further treatment not so much. That’s where I see the roadblock for crowdfunding… Basically the simplest way I see to do something like that and help cover ongoing costs would probably make it fairly unviable.

    Folks see a price tag around ten grand for a dog and unless the pup saved a bus load of nuns from a freeway fire they don’t get excited about pitching in, since it seems like an unattainable goal.

    A lot of people also see the potential heartache and even if they have the financial capability they can’t bring themselves to get attached. Not everyone is as big a sucker as I am, and if I had any brains I’d look into creating my very own rescue and getting grants….

  18. FarmGirl Says:

    For further explanation… The ten grand would go into a savings account to be tapped for Major’s medical needs. Otherwise it would sit and gather interest and not be touched. In my idea, anyway.

    And she would probably make a wonderful therapy dog, with the proper prep.

  19. Tatyana Says:

    I am so sorry I can not take her, by several reasons. I will re-post on my blog, maybe it will help to find the right person.

    [LabRat, I do hope you’re well and OK, personally, and it’s not health or work problems that keep you away from blogging]

  20. FarmGirl Says:

    Fundraiser for Major is live, here, if folks want to contribute.

  21. Fritz Baten Says:

    Did you ever find a home for her?
    I posted this in the bar (Baen’s bar)

    Please let us KNOW!


  22. LabRat Says:

    Working on it. :) When I’ve been through more of an e-mail exchange I’ll post an update; I have someone interested but nothing confirmed yet.

  23. Evan Price Says:

    Best of luck with Major.
    Wish we could take him but we have two Big Damn Dogs already. My wife is a veterinarian so we’re used to acquiring animals in need.
    We have two dogs already. Both rescues. One Akita- we found her running on a busy railroad crossing, not full grown yet. One Chow-Chow we adopted from the county shelter as a pup- he had serious medical issues. Both are about 5-6 years old now.
    The Akita absolutely is top dog, she’s not shy about it.