The four letter word with five letters: PARVO
Quarantine. Isolation. Imminent death. Parvovirus. All words that are a nightmare for any breeder to hear.
My first experience with parvo was years ago when I was considering breeding but hadn't yet taken the steps to build a program. A very close friend of mine had (and still has!) a Morkie who was stricken. It came on hard and fast like a freight train - terrifying to say the least. My friend and I were very close. We worked together, played together, used the same vet, lived in the same community. I will never forget the days we sat in the vet's office holding hands, crying and praying for Shadow. Some days later after a blood transfusion, plasma, and a bill of $3k+, Shadow came home. He's been fine ever since. Parvo had my attention.
Fast forward a few years to Gip. By this time, I had a well established program, full of healthy puppies and happy families. I'd waitlisted with a deposit for pick of the litter on an OES - my future sheepadoodle stud - and was patiently awaiting his conception, birth and Coming Home. A week before he was to join our pack, the breeder phoned with the devastating news - the entire litter had Parvo. We considered passing (what if this pup recovered yet carried the virus to the rest of our pack?) but we researched, weighed the risks, and ultimately said "We're in. We still want our boy." I've never once regretted that decision.
The breeder was phenomenal. She kept me updated of his care and progress every step of the way, along with the other puppy parents who were equally concerned. Meanwhile she was killing herself burning the candle at both ends. Between quarantine, isolation, constant decontamination efforts and PR, she had her hands full. Conscientious breeder she is, she saved the entire litter and managed to keep her other younger litters free from contamination in the process. This is no small feat people. I'm talking superhero status.
At the time, I was worried only about the puppies and I didn't realize exactly what she was going through. Not only is it the constant worry, off the charts anxiety, and the physical demands of decontamination - it's the emotional drain of "What did I do wrong?" and "How can I do better?" Add to that my embarrassment of unknowingly sending a sick puppy home - one who's health you were confident in. Now I know. And I owe her more thanks than I've given.
Long story short, we've been hit by the parvovirus. The puppies of the litter who went home on time are fine. They were never exposed and they are (Praise God) thriving. Not so fortunate were the ones who stayed with us past Going Home Day, when the exposure apparently occurred.
At this point I had two pups with me (vaccinated at 6 weeks), and Crunchy Girl, who has had two rounds of vaccinations on schedule - 6 and 9 weeks. They were all admitted for 24 hour care. Four pups who had been exposed were already in their new homes. (There is an incubation period.) Some were already showing signs - lethargy and disinterest in food mostly. All positive. All admitted to ER 24 hour care. These are not fun phone calls to make and receive y'all, but very very necessary. I cry, they cry, I cry harder. That ugly kinda cry - snot and all.
Why why why? We take every precaution we can short of isolating ourselves and the puppies. I don't go the PetSmart or the like, I don't go to dog parks, we sanitize and decon regularly. So how is it these puppies are in this position? That is the million dollar question. There is no definitive answer.
Our vet is of the mind that our vaccinations were somehow compromised. They go from manufacturer to distributor to shipping and ultimately to our fridge. If they aren't cooled properly, or if they are mishandled in any way, the effectiveness is decreased considerably. Needless to say our protocol has changed going forward. We will only work with the manufacturer, and one who I have recourse with should the need arise.
Because it was detected so early, and treatment began immediately, the prognosis is better than the 50/50 odds typically given. As of this moment, all 7 being treated are stable and over half are showing improvement. They are not out of the woods yet, but clinics, families and breeder are all feeling optimistic. Bailey Blackbottom went home yesterday, and one of mine will come home today. Prayers are welcomed and needed.
With several litters due over the Christmas holidays, the efforts are not only concentrated on the current litters' treatment, but also on the safety of our unborn pups. We have scrubbed and sanitized every surface and will continue to do so. Some much needed rain is here and will help with the outdoor decon process. I have a backup location with no cross contamination for future whelps if needed. The vaccination protocol will be different going forward. And in the meantime we wait.
If we are going to be isolated (absolutely NO visitors for now, not even family), then we may as well make it look festive. The Nursery and the kennels are cleaner than any surgical ward, so we've turned on the Christmas music and put up a tree. We are staying physically busy decontaminating, mentally busy by tasking and writing (this is therapeutic for me), and spiritually busy by prayer. All of this busy bee activity keeps me from worrying to death.
What I wish with all my heart is that the symptoms would've presented while the pups were with me - I wish they were here in the care of our vet so these families wouldn't have the stress of a very sick new puppy. Their kids are confused and upset, moms and dads are rushing to and from the vet and suffering sleepless nights - these are things I should be doing here, and not what Going Home should be about. I hurt for the families. They are hanging in there, but trust me when I tell you it's an emotional roller coaster.
Instead of griping and complaining Why Me?, I'll be grateful. I'm grateful for a vet and staff who let me use the side door because I'm a bawling mess. I'm grateful for the health of the rest of the pack, especially my pregnant Momma's. I'm grateful we are frugal with funds so there is money in the bank to cover the vet care of the three pups here, as well as the care of the sick puppies already in their new homes. And I'll be forever grateful for our Adoptive Families who put their puppy's health as top priority, with absolutely no hesitation. Hang in there folks. We will weather this storm together.
To My Breeder Friends:
If you are one of my "Breeder Friends", and I keep a short list - then I know you run your program like I do. It's not just puppies going to homes - it's your LIFE. Everything in my world revolves around the program, and everything I have goes into it. Financially, emotionally, mentally, physically - everything. Should you ever find yourself in this position, call on me as I have called on some spectacular ladies in my life. You will need the practical knowledge I've gained through this experience, but most likely you will need an emotional support system. It's a tough row y'all.
To Our Deposit Holders:
Fret not! I want you to be aware of this situation for many reasons. One, we hide nothing. We are all about full disclosure and total communication. Two, and more important, should your future puppy ever show signs or symptoms of illness - regardless of the TYPE of illness - call on me. That's what I'm here for. I will be honest and tell you to chill if I need to, but I'll also tell you to hang up, go straight to the Vet and call me when you get there. As far as protecting our unborn pregnancies - Project Decontamination has and will continue to be the priority here. We gave annual boosters to the whole pack this weekend, whether they were due or not. All of the mommas are doing great - there is no threat to them.
To Our Families with sick pups:
I am so very sorry. If I could change a thing about this, it would be that the full burden was on my shoulders and not yours. This is not what adding to your family should be about at all - but I thank you for your diligence and care. We are selective about where are puppies go, and these pups would never have been placed with your family if we weren't 110% confident they would be treated like a family member and cared for every step of the way. Thank you from the very bottom of my broken heart.