The Heartwarming Story of Jon and Making Tough Decisions When Facing Health Issues
— Diane Turner, NGWPR, President
Sometimes a profound event happens; in that instant you know nothing will ever be the same. Yet more often, a subtle change occurs and you have no idea how that moment will impact life until later. The latter occurred for our family on a glorious early November day in the desert seven and a half years ago.
The sun was brilliant and the sky blue — blue as only an Arizona sky can be. It was unusually quiet — the dogs were sleeping in their kennels or exercise yards, the wildlife still and even the chattering of the birds had ceased — it was as if the world was holding its breath.
But inside our Adobe ranch-style house there was a flurry of activity. The family had gathered to help — Larry had taken the day off, five-year-old Willow had stayed home from school, and Ronny and Candy had arrived from next door. Even our wounded granddaughter Kate who was home recovering from an accident rolled out in her wheelchair to assist.
Terra, our six-year-old GWP was in the first stages of labor and the ultra-sound and subsequent x-ray showed 13 or 14 babies on board. It was early afternoon but we knew from experience it no doubt would be a long night.
As we went about doing the final preparations for her whelping box and the basket that would warm the newborns, Terra would not let me out of her sight. She was restless, panting and following me everywhere as I tried to ready everything.
It was her second litter- a repeat breeding of her first that 18 months prior had produced some very nice puppies — several puppies that would one day become champions, secure group wins and placements, and one that would become a GWPCA National Specialty Best of Breed winner.
We couldn’t help but be excited about the possibilities that the new babies would bring. As I was rearranging the lining of the whelping box again I felt Terra move behind me. I didn’t look around until I heard a sound — to this day I’m not sure what the sound was — but as I stood up and glanced around there was Terra with a confused look on her face. Then I heard a soft mewing. Terra and I looked down at almost the same instant and there on the Saltillo tile floor were two tiny squirming bodies.
Smaller than newborn kittens, the two were mostly devoid of coat and looked like tiny skeletons writhing on the cold floor. Grabbing a warm towel I gathered the two puppies and encouraged Terra into her whelping box.
The babies were two little males. The scale was analog and was not cooperating in recording such low amounts— but finally it showed that the larger of the two was about six ounces and the smaller a bit less. We cleaned them up and put them near Terra who promptly pushed them away. We tried several times to convince her to care for them but she made it clear she was not interested.
Her labor was intensifying so we put the babies back into the basket with the heating pad. They were so small and obviously underdeveloped that I felt that their survival chances were minimal.
Terra labored for the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. All totaled she delivered eleven additional large healthy and active puppies. Each weighed well over a pound.
Once things were cleaned up we gave all of the babies to Terra. She settled into nursing and and caring for her babies. But the peace didn’t last long.
She pushed the small puppies away again. So back in the basket they went and later we switched them with the larger puppies.
I’ve raised hundreds of puppies over the many years, I’ve been active in the the dog community, and I respect nature. I’m not one to do heroic measures to save every puppy. Sometimes even larger puppies don’t make it. It’s something you accept as a breeder and a foster. But this was different — this was a standoff of wills.
Terra was having no part of those puppies and those tiny beings were not going to go quietly.
They screamed loudly and wiggled towards their mother who continued to shove them away.
Moment of Truth
After numerous tries to negotiate a peace we gave up and moved a play pen into the family room and made the commitment to care of the small babies.
Too weak to nurse from a bottle, we had to provide feedings every two to three hours by placing a feeding tube into their stomachs. But that didn’t last long as they were voracious feeders — two days later they nursed from a bottle with a preemie nipple. Despite their small size they ate quite well and it seemed that they might be growing a bit.
Evenings became social time with each family member helping to bottle feed the bigger babies in order to help lessen the drain on Terra. They were growing well and were happy content babies.
The little ones continued to have issues — nursing and feeding every four hours was not an easy task. Kate, still in her wheelchair took on the majority of the small ones’ feedings.
Then came the night that we knew we must face docking tails and removing dew claws. The larger puppies were done first with little or no fussing and settled back with their mother but the little ones bled and screamed. It was terrible, and I feared I had made a horribly wrong decision. I was not sure they were going to live through it. But they were resilient and a couple of hours later they had settled back into sleep.
Jon and Drew
The puppies were about a week old when we decided the two little boys were going to be around for awhile and they needed names. Bored and limited in her activities, Kate spent a good deal of time watching TV. She discovered “The Property Brothers” on HGTV. The stars of the program were twins — Jon and Drew Scott. And so our little Wire boys were dubbed Jonathan and Drew.
Drew, the larger of the two, was putting on weight and growing and hitting the usual puppy markers far more quickly than his tiny brother.
Jon was suffering as many pre-mature puppies do with bloat — every feeding became a nightmare of pain and screaming as his small stomach swelled. We warmed his stomach and held him tightly as he cried. It was awful. An evening consultation with Dr Mike, our vet of thirty-some years, became a ritual. We switched from goat’s milk to formula, then to Esbilac ®, and eventually the bloat lessened and passed.
When the first days of December arrived we felt as if a huge milestone passed. The larger puppies now weighing between five and six pounds were up and toddling and beginning to experiment with eating from their big bowl.
And Drew, though still small in stature and weight, was up on wobbly legs and starting to eat more solid food. And like his siblings he was showing an interest in his toys and his ball. And each day brought him closer to normalcy.
But Jon at four weeks weighed a whopping 11 ounces. He didn’t walk nor did he eat softened food but he was growing and beginning to interact with us.
Drew was a happy and active puppy, but one Sunday afternoon in mid-December he seemed unusually quiet and by early Monday morning he was in trouble. His face and lymph nodes were swollen and he had a high fever. An emergency visit with the vet brought the diagnosis of juvenile pyoderma or “puppy strangles” — a reaction to a staphylococcus infection- and suddenly our concerns switched from Jon to Drew. Drew was in a fight for his life.
Drew was a mess — every location that he had had blood drawn or received a shot immediately became an oozing mess. He had problems breathing because of the infection in his lymph nodes — lymph nodes that had to be continually drained. The hair he had finally grown was falling out. He saw the vet almost every day and though we had been in constant touch with Mike from the moment the puppies were born it was not until Drew became so ill that Jon went in with Drew for a checkup. I feared Jon would suffer a bout of strangles too.
Ominous news for Jon
And it was at that visit that our expectation that Jon would grow into a “normal” canine were dashed.
As I held Jon, the vet looked into the tiny mouth. He took a good bit of time as Jon protested. Then he looked again. Finally Mike made eye contact with me and said “it’s amazing he’s made it so far — this puppy has no soft palate.”
“You mean he has a cleft palate?” I asked.
“No,” came the answer “he has no soft palate. It didn’t develop.”
I guess I was not understanding the words. “Can you fix it?”
“There is nothing to fix. He is without a soft palate.”
And then he went back to examine the puppy’s eyes. And the word was not good. Jon had little vision if any. Eventually Jon would be diagnosed with mydriasis — a state in which the pupils are constantly enlarged and do not respond to changes in light. Dogs with mydriasis have limited and extremely blurry vision.
As the diagnosis began to sink in I understood why Jon choked so often while we fed him and why he was so hesitant to move or walk.
“What do we do?” I held Jon tightly and he snuggled against me.
Mike’s usually boisterous demeanor softened, “No one would blame you if you euthanize this puppy. Or you can continue to do what you’ve been doing and see how it goes.”
I knew the answer. Jon had fought so hard to survive I was not going to be the one to decide to take his life.
That night the phone rang and when I picked up it was Mike. Always up for a challenge, he had contacted his colleagues at Colorado State University about Jon and the vets there had directed him to a vet at Purdue University. Mike explained that Purdue veterinary school was doing some reconstructive surgeries in cases like Jon’s but that the outcomes had been questionable and the costs were in the thousands. Even had we been able to afford it, Jon’s size and other medical issues eliminated him from being a candidate.
So we were on our own to figure out how to raise Jon. I read everything I could about puppies with cleft palates and how to raise a blind puppy. But in the end everything we did was trial and error.
The puppies were seven weeks old when two friends from our local obedience club visited to temperament test the larger puppies. Jon’s crate was in the family room and the evaluators had to pass by it on the way to the back yard where we were evaluating puppies.
The woman whom I had known for many years and always liked looked down at tiny Jon and said “he looks embryonic you should have let him die.”
The words were like a dagger through my heart and to this day I still remember the pain. Jon was my baby and I had spent countless hours with him in my arms comforting him. I was proud of the battle he continued to fight just to survive. But most of all I loved him.
Thanks to the efforts of our entire family the larger puppies did wonderfully with their testing despite all the time we had devoted to Jon and Drew.
It was the Sunday before Christmas and Jon still was not walking. The girls decided it was time that he learned. Outside it was a cold gray winter day so they settled on the area rug in front of the fireplace. Angela the co-breeder of the litter and little Willow held Jon and began moving his legs and helping him to balance. They worked with him for a good deal of time and it seemed he was catching on. But it would take many sessions throughout the next few days before Jon walked on his own.
Once he caught on to using his legs, Jon didn’t just walk he ran. Nothing like having a tiny blind puppy who moves at the speed of light underfoot! And the more mobile Jon became the more things he could find to get in to. He had an incredible sense of smell. Jon was making strides but eating was still a problem. We began offering him small bits well-softened kibble. He choked and sputtered and it all came out of his nose.
New Years Day 2016 found Drew once again in crisis. During the night the lymph nodes in his neck had filled with pus and the pressure was limiting his ability to breathe. Rushed to the emergency clinic, there was no time for any numbing or pain medication — the nodes on both sides of his neck looked like large grapefruits. Mike, vacationing in northern Arizona called ahead and alerted the vets. Drew was taken from us, rushed to the back where his neck was sliced to drain the infection and relieve the pressure. The infection had again spread throughout his body. After doing so well, his life was again threatened. More antibiotics and more steroids were pumped into his small body.
Drew beat the odds one more time and days later, for the first time since he became sick he began eating well and a week later we could see he was growing. He was horribly scarred — his face, his ears and his neck that had repeatedly slashed to drain the infection. His patchy coat began to fill in.
The other puppies headed home to their new families and we settled into a routine we had not had for nearly four months.
Jon Soldiers On
Jon was growing stronger even though eating and feeding him was a challenge. In February he hit a milestone — he wagged his tail. Most puppies began to communicate with their tails around seven weeks but Jon had never used his tail — we wondered if he had a dead tail. From the moment he figured out how to use his tail it never stopped wagging.
He began to learn how to negotiate the house and he house-trained himself. Drew who now was developing as a normal puppy was Jon’s best friend. Drew was able to teach Jon the boundaries of the yard. Drew was Jon’s most able instructor and Jon was a willing pupil. Until one day when Jon took Drew’s stuffed elephant — there was a scuffle and a lot of screaming — Jon was frightened and wounded.
And now he was alone. Drew had realized what all the others knew — Jon was different — not an able pack member.
Jon moved into our bedroom where two of our older Wire girls spent most of their time. They were amazingly patient with him as he slammed and banged into them.
Feeding Jon continued to be an issue but together we learned what he could eat and what was strictly off limits. Getting food the correct texture and feeding him at the right height seemed to work best. We tried all sorts of feeding stands but he did better when fed by hand. He was on antibiotics much of his first two years because anything that wasn’t the perfect texture went right up his nose and was certain to cause a massive sinus infection with high fevers and days when he felt bad. Through it all his tail never stopped wagging and he met us each morning with a big smile on his face.
One early morning when he was about a year old I was brushing my teeth when I heard a series of sneezes. I grabbed tissue and went to clean up Jon’s nose. I took one look at him and flipped out.
There was a huge white worm writhing from his nose and he was sneezing and shaking his head. It was disgusting and I was more concerned how could he have worms — were there worms in his brain? The puppies, even Jon, had been wormed and I kept the dogs on a regular worming schedule but there it was. I gathered my courage, grabbed Jon who was running back and forth in a panic and pulled the nasty creature from his nasal cavity. Once I had the long worm in the tissue I glanced down and it was then that I realized it was not a worm — it was a piece spaghetti! Apparently Willow had shared her dinner with him. Spaghetti was added to the banned-food list!
Jon and Dew were almost 18 months old when they finally began their series of shots. Once fully vaccinated Drew set off on a dog show adventure with Angela. It was the first time he had ever been anywhere but to the vets’ offices. He was so scarred, we knew despite his now acceptable size, his nice coat and structure he’d never be a show dog, but he needed life experiences. And there is no better place to socialize then at a show.
Drew was coming into his own as normal canine yet Jon was showing some concerning behaviors. He spent hours and hours playing with his ball — barking and growling at it — rolling it then barking at it frantically. If the ball was anywhere he could smell it he refused to eat or sleep. If he couldn’t find a ball or one of his toys he’d grab a rock and bring it into the house and exhibit the same behavior. I took dozens of rocks thanking him and telling him I’d save them. He gave them up with a smile on his face and a wagging behind. No matter, life was good in Jon’s view.
He was so focused on his ball that one morning he went outside with it. Suddenly I heard frantic barking and I knew something was terribly wrong with Jon. Just off our bedroom door is a patio with some plants surrounding it. Jon had rolled his ball into the plants and right beside his ball was a large rattlesnake. When I got to him I saw him trying to get close to get his ball and then I saw the snake. I tried to grab Jon and pull him away but he twisted and got out of my grip — it was a standoff Jon against the snake with the ball between. He had never encountered a snake before and although he couldn’t see it well if he saw it at all instinct warned him that it was a bad thing.
I was screaming, “Leave it! Leave it!”
But Jon was determined to retrieve his ball. No matter how I tried I couldn’t grab Jon’s collar he was simply too quick and agile. It seemed like forever but it was probably just seconds before Jon made a dive into the garden, grabbed his ball and jumped away before the snake struck.
That incident was frightening and too close. I picked up the phone and put a call into the vet. Jon’s obsessive behavior had almost taken us to the brink of disaster. Jon went on medication for his ADHD and his obsessive/compulsive behavior.
Everywhere Jon went he went at full speed. He ran into trees, bushes, fences, walls and closed doors. He never slowed down. He was doing happy laps in the yard when he hit the chain-link fence at full speed. He flipped into the air and somehow caught his back foot in the fence. When I got to him he was dangling upside down about three feet above the ground. It wasn’t easy to get him down — I didn’t want him to land in his head and add a head injury to his list of problems. I was able to untangle the foot and ease him down. Once down, he got up, shook himself, looked at me with that big smile on his face and a wagging tail. And off he went at breakneck speed doing laps again.
Soon after, Jon learned to jump on our rather high king-sized bed. It was a leap of faith for Jon because he couldn’t see but one day he made the jump. And once he did it was a whole new experience. Up and down, up and down — he drove us nuts jumping on the bed and jumping off. We increased his medication shortly after that.
The years have passed and Jon still goes from morning until night. Perhaps he goes a bit more slowly now. He still obsesses over his ball. We say good night to the ball and take it from the bedroom.
It took time but eventually he grew into a good-sized male Wire.
Twice a day I sit in the rocking chair and hand feed him bites of his dinner — he loves to eat but it must always be exactly the same or he protests. His water is at a certain height so he can lap it without choking. He still has sinus infections but not as often because we manage his food better and know what he can have.
Last autumn he began biting at the air. It went on day and night for nearly a week and I could tell Jon was exhausted but he couldn’t stop. It is a kind of seizure activity and so he is now on anti-seizure medication.
Jon has a huge vocabulary — he learns words and what they mean with little effort. There are things he learns so quickly yet other things he cannot seem to comprehend or grasp. I don’t think Jon has ever had a “bad” day. Even the day he had a dangerous surgery he came out of the anesthesia with that silly smile and a tail wag.
Jon has beaten all the odds from the time he plopped onto the cold floor and gasped his first breath.
He has shown me life’s most important truths — his demeanor is a daily reminder to smile, to love life and to be grateful for each moment.
Our journey through life together has been an adventure.
Caesar Milan says “ you don’t always get the dog you want but you get the dog you need.” Jon has been one of my greatest gifts — the dog I needed.
Making Decisions Regarding Health Problems in Animals, including Rescue Dogs
— Leslie R. Dye, MD, NGWPR, Treasurer
While the story of Jon is heartwarming and having participated in heroic life saving events for pets myself, (like saving a pet kid pygmy goat from listeria encephalitis by intensive care in a home utility room for months), not everyone has the means, time, or the belief that such care is appropriate. Like most ethical decisions, they sound easy until we are faced with them.
Like the woman who walked through Diane’s house and commented that she should have let Jon die, some reading this may have made a different choice or have another opinion. Is there a right or wrong answer? The decision has to be made depending on each animal, owner, and situation.
If one does a search on euthanasia in puppies on the internet, the top hits imply that the animals are older or ill. Most suggest that at one point, the animal had a better quality of life that has now deteriorated. The articles don’t deal with puppies, like Jon and Drew.
Realities, including available time and money have to be considered. Not everyone has the financial wherewithal to support an animal that requires additional veterinary care and/or medication or special food. Many don’t have the time to monitor an animal day and night. And one has to consider the suffering of the pet entailed by prolonging its life.
As a rescue organization, we face these dilemmas every day. Many of the dogs we accept into rescue have medical problems, some severe, and often as a result of abuse or neglect. Others have behavioral challenges that may be reversible. Fortunately, we have board members, fosters, obedience and veterinary consultants all over the country to guide us in these decisions.
Thanks to the generous donations we receive and the grants we have procured, we usually can determine the best direction to take for the dogs and their future adopters.
Unfortunately, with the ability to strike out on social media with little consequence, suspension of judgement can be difficult for some. But hopefully, with compassion, each of us can accept each individual’s choice as the best one for that person and that animal.
National GWP Rescue is a nationwide rescue program whose volunteers work tirelessly to provide funding, foster homes, medical care and training for GWPs found in shelters, animal control facilities and to those GWPs whose current owners are unable to provide a suitable situation.
Working hand- in-hand with governmental and local shelters, NGWPR provides a safe and responsible home for GWP’s in need. Placed with an experienced GWPCA member, fostered GWPs that have been neglected, untrained or have medical issues quickly blossom as they are readied for their “forever” homes.
Prior to releasing our rescued GWPs for adoption, volunteers provide obedience, manners, and house training. We hold to the philosophy that a mannerly dog has a better chance of fitting into a new household.
NGWPR believes that Wires were designed to hunt and unlike some other rescue programs, we are happy to place dogs with field experience or bird instinct with potential owners who enjoy hunting behind a Wire. However, NGWPR insists that any rescue dog first be a house dog and companion, then a weekend hunting partner.
Please go to our website to learn more.