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On Tuesday, June 5, 2012, I made an appointment to bring my four year old German Shepherd Dog, Smokey, to the vet. The receptionist told me my normal vet was out, but that the owner of the practice was there in her stead. Normally, I don’t allow my dogs to be seen by anyone except one of the two vets in the practice I trust and have a good relationship with. However, there was a nodule on Smokey’s foot that seemed to be growing by the day, and I had a real concern that there was something stuck in his foot and that it could become infected, or worse yet, it was a foxtail, and it would end up in his kidneys or his brain or some equally horrible place. So I consented to another vet seeing him and made an appointment for 5:40 p.m. when we were out of work and could take him.

As it turns out, I was tied up in meetings all day and didn’t make the appointment. By the time I got to the vet, Joe (Smokey’s daddy), was already sitting outside with him, waiting for the bill. He told me everything was fine, that the nodule was a benign histiocytoma and that it should disappear on its own in a couple months. I heaved a sigh of relief, and we headed home.

Smokey’s Histiocytoma which turned out to be the least of his problems.

When we got home, Joe told me that since Smokey was due for his annual shots, the vet had administered them and given him his physical. I inquired about his weight – 92 pounds, a wonderful improvement from the meager 66 pounds he was when we rescued him two years before.

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012, I got up to get ready for work. I had a meeting in Philadelphia at 8:00 a.m., so I was awake earlier than normal. I fed the dogs and went about getting dressed and doing my hair. I took Shelby, our nine month old German Shepherd puppy outside to go to the bathroom, and when I came back in I went upstairs, gave Joe a kiss goodbye, asked him to take Smokey out when he woke up, and went down to the kitchen to give Smokey and Shelby a kiss. I went to fill up their water bowl and noticed that Smokey hadn’t eaten his breakfast, which is very strange for him. The only time in the two years that we’ve had him that he hasn’t eaten his breakfast was the day after we had to put our ten-week old puppy Dusty down. He was devastated and didn’t eat well for a couple days, but other than that, I’ve never seen him refuse as much as a kibble.

I got a sick feeling in my stomach. The dogs not eating is always a huge concern of mine. Dusty had megaesophagus and the first sign of aspiration pneumonia (a common side-effect of the disease) is not eating. The morning that Dusty lost the fight to mega-e, she wouldn’t eat her breakfast. Two hours later, she was at the emergency hospital, unable to breathe and too weak to continue fighting. She died that day. The sight of uneaten food in a bowl has made me nauseous ever since.

I gave Smokey a couple liver treats, which he ate, though not with his normal enthusiasm. On my way out of the house, I sent Joe a text message, so I didn’t wake him. I tried not to be alarmed, “Babe, Smokey didn’t eat his breakfast, please check on him.”

When I got home that evening, Joe told me that Smokey hadn’t eaten his dinner either. I started to get slightly concerned. Joe also mentioned that he didn’t seem to be drinking. Red lights started flashing.

At around 7:30 p.m., Shelby began her normal romp. Smokey wasn’t interested in playing. Another oddity to add to the list. Shelby, however, is nothing if not persistent, and she jumped on his back, trying to entice him to play.

Smokey screamed like someone had just covered him in gasoline and lit a match. His knees gave way and there he was, sprawled out on the floor, a ninety pound ball of shaking, screaming fur.

My eye’s shot up, and Joe rushed over to him, “Buddy, what’s wrong?” He helped him up and immediately began to run his hands gently up and down Smokey’s body. Every time his hand even grazed his right hindquarters, Smokey let out a yipe and moved away.

Smokey doesn’t yipe. He doesn’t cry; he doesn’t fuss. I’ve seen him sustain all kinds of cuts, scrapes, and bruises while we were out hiking without even slowing down. I’ve stepped on his feet countless times without so much as him backing up. One fateful event with the cat left blood all over my kitchen (Smokey’s not the cat’s), and he didn’t utter a sound.

I immediately pulled Smokey’s file and checked for the vet report. When I couldn’t find it, Joe produced it from the pocket of the jeans he’d worn the previous day. I scanned through it, then read it closer. As I read through the vet’s analysis of Smokey’s heart, lungs, weight, muscle tone and brain function, I started to fret. He was fine; everything was fine, the report said so, what was going on? I checked Smokey myself and felt a large lump on his right hindquarters, “Did he get a shot here?”

Joe nodded. I went back to my perusal of the veterinarian’s report and looked for the vaccinations administered. There it was – rabies @ RH.

Our home exploded. There was so much screaming, I’m not even sure if we knew who we were screaming at by the end. All we knew was that Smokey was in trouble, our vet had somehow given him a vaccine he didn’t need until 2014, and we were livid.

We have never allowed our dogs to receive the rabies vaccination at the same time as their annual vaccinations. We always space their vaccinations out and only send them in for what is required by law and what is required for their training courses. We didn’t know what went wrong, and we weren’t even sure that he was actually given a rabies vaccine, because it wasn’t reflected on the bill. Joe tried to call the vet even though we knew they were closed. We decided against calling the emergency vet, because though we were concerned, Smokey wasn’t acting out of the ordinary, and we knew that swelling around the injection site was a common reaction to a rabies vaccine.

The next morning, Thursday, June 7, 2012, Smokey still wasn’t eating or drinking. I called the vet as soon as they opened and explained the situation. The receptionist said she didn’t know what was going on, but she made an appointment for Joe and Smokey at noon.

Joe left work on his lunch break and went with Smokey. The vet tech explained that he had inadvertently given the vet a rabies vaccination to administer, and he was extremely sorry. The receptionist was not as forgiving, declaring loudly that her Beagle had been given two rabies vaccines within the span of three days and, “he was just fine”. Well, Smokey wasn’t, and Joe made sure everyone in the office knew it from what I understand.

The vet saw Smokey and proscribed him some Tramadol and Benadryl.

When I got home at 6:30 p.m. that evening, Smokey still wasn’t eating, and he looked worse. He still couldn’t lie down, he would circle and circle in his favorite napping places, then put one foot down, yelp, and stand back up. By 9:30 p.m., he was literally falling asleep standing up. He was panting heavily, his ears were pinned back, and he just stared at one spot for hours. Anytime anyone touched him he cried.

Smokey looking miserable the night of Thursday, June 7, 2012. This is what he looked like after he’d gotten his painkillers. He still looked like someone had stabbed him.

He was getting worse, not better.

“How long should we wait before we call the vet, do you think?” Joe asked, and I shook my head, took one look at Smokey and said, “If he isn’t looking better by tomorrow morning, I’m calling again.”

Friday, June 8, 2012, at 7:30 a.m., I was on the phone with the vet. Smokey had finally managed to settle down on our bed for approximately one hour the night before and get some rest before he woke up in more pain and proceeded to stand and stare at the bedroom wall the rest of the night. I woke up every forty-five minutes to an hour and sat with him for a little bit before exhaustion overtook me, and I had to crawl back into bed and get some sleep.

When I got up that morning and felt Smokey over, I noticed his stomach was distended. It felt like there was a bag of liquid sloshing around in his stomach, almost like a separate entity had taken up residence in his stomach. The lump at the injection site had all but faded, leaving this swollen stomach in its wake.

The receptionist at the vet’s office told me the vet would call me back at 10:00 a.m. I went to work and tried to get done what I had to get done, sure that I was going to need to go home. The hours ticked by. At noon, I called again, trying to get some answers. The office was closed for a staff meeting. I broke down and sobbed.

At 1:00 p.m., I finally got my normal vet on the phone, who said she was concerned and wanted to see Smokey right away. I got in my car and left.

By 2:00 p.m. when I got home, Smokey’s stomach was so distended that it looked like he had thrown a litter of puppies an hour before. Instead of greeting me at the door like he usually does, he was standing in the dining room when I walked in, just staring at nothing, ears pinned back, panting heavily. He still hadn’t eaten, judging by the full food bowl on the floor. I quickly tossed a couple treats into Shelby’s kennel to keep her from crying, grabbed Smokey and his file and went out the door.

Riding in the car is Smokey’s absolute favorite thing in life. He loves it so much that he will whine for half an hour if we so much as accidentally jingle a set of car keys. And while his ears pricked up at the sight of the car, he hesitated on getting in. He was in too much pain to even lift his feet the foot or so to get into the back of my Mustang. I let him ride in the front instead and tried to help him as gingerly as I could.

At 2:30 p.m., we made it to the vet, who saw us right away. After feeling Smokey, noting a 105 degree fever, and seeing the state he was in, the vet decided to triple the pain killers, get him on a steroid and an anti-acid to help the steroid go down easier and keep a constant watch on him. If he wasn’t doing significantly better by Sunday, I was told to take him to the emergency hospital in nearby Norristown. When I read the vet report from that visit, I noticed that the vet had described the bag I’d felt in Smokey’s stomach as “softball sized”.

I got the medicine and left, feeling hopeless and confused.

By the next morning, Saturday, June 9, 2012, Smokey was showing significant signs of improvement. He was eating again (albeit slowly and carefully) and drinking like a fish. He was finally able to lie down and get some much needed sleep, but he was dopey and just generally out of it.

Smokey all doped out on pain killers but finally able to get some rest on the evening of Friday, July 8, 2012.

We decided he didn’t need to go to the emergency vet when his stomach swelling improved, and he started to act more like his normal self. By Sunday, June 10, 2012, he was even able to play with Shelby for a few minutes before passing out again.

I don’t know what the long term effects of this incident may have on him. I’m not sure if he is going to have organ damage or complications later in life. I’m not even one hundred percent sure what went wrong with him, as he has never had a negative reaction to a vaccine before. I don’t know if it was the double dose (that’s six years of vaccine in one, for those keeping score) that hurt him or the fact that the rabies vaccine was administered at the same time as his other shots. I don’t even think the vet knows. What I do know for sure is that in three years, when he is due by law to have another rabies vaccine, I cannot and will not put Smokey through that nightmare again. Something has to be done. As Pennsylvania has a bill sitting in the Agriculture department that will help me get an exemption for Smokey, I intend to do everything in my power to make sure that bill gets passed, sooner, rather than later, before the rabies vaccine decides to take my dog’s life instead of potentially saving it.