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You volunteer for a rescue? You spend most of your spare time photographing shelter dogs? You have a rescued dog living in your home? And your female dog isn’t spayed? Nope. Shelby isn’t spayed.

True story. Believe it or not, there are actual medical reasons for Shelby to not be spayed. Shelby was born with a recessed vulva, a minor genetic problem. Basically, it means that Shelby’s vulva is inward instead of outward. Typically, a recessed vulva corrects itself after the first heat cycle, the estrogen forces the vulva outward instead of inward (gross, I know, but true). But in Shelby’s case it didn’t work. So we waited, maybe the next heat will do it. Nope, still nothing. After the second heat, the chances of the vulva fixing itself are pretty much zilch. Shelby is about to go through her third heat. So why are we still vacillating you ask?

A lot of reasons, but fear has much to do with it.

It’s weird but I can’t remember where Shelby was the last few days of Smokey’s life. All I can see is him. She was there, obviously, but when I look back on those days, I remember them vividly, with the exception of Shelby. She isn’t in a single one of those memories. Where was she when we were forcing medication down Smokey’s throat and injecting anti-nausea serum into him? I think and I try to focus on her, but she’s just not there in my mind.

There’s research on my side as well, research that says that waiting to spay or neuter your dog may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Don’t believe me? Read here.

4:00 a.m. the day of Smokey’s last day, I woke up to the sound of him hacking. He threw up a great pool of dark vomit in the corner of our bedroom near the door. I flipped on the light and jumped out of bed. Joe rose. I remember screaming that it was bloody, that Smokey was throwing up blood, but Joe battled me, saying it was just the poor light in the bedroom and the color of the carpet. I went downstairs with Smokey, trembling, while Joe went upstairs to clean the carpet. I called the emergency vet. We had an appointment with Smokey’s regular vet in just three hours, but should I bring him in? Let us talk to the vet, hold on, we’ll call back. I sat there, with my phone in between my sweating hands, knees bouncing, Smokey barely able to sit without falling over. After 30 minutes I called back, yes, we were going to call you, keep an eye on it, if it gets worse, bring him in, if he throws up again, come.

Other studies have shown that spaying (the study was even conducted on German shepherds) may lead to increased reactivity in female dogs. If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll know that an increase in reactivity is not what we’re looking for in Shelby. Read more about that issue here.

7:00 a.m. on Smokey’s last day of life. Joe is driving my Mustang, Smokey is curled up in the backseat. His tongue is completely swollen and rock hard, the top of it looks like it’s going to flake off. This happened in just a half an hour the night before. He must have bitten it when he was eating but his immune system is so compromised by the prednisone that infection immediately took hold. I am afraid to touch it, that if I do it the whole top will peel off. He’s bleeding orally again, his temperature is up, the prednisone isn’t working, he hasn’t thrown up since the morning, but as we drive the few miles to the vet, his nose begins gushing blood, it’s dripping onto the white blanket in the back seat. “Oh God, Joe his nose is bleeding, his nose, it’s just…blood everywhere.” We’re stopped at a red light, Joe looks back, sees Smokey and pulls into the straight lane though we need to turn left. He guns my car and squeals the tires as he speeds left, and I’m grateful for the performance car in a way I never thought I would be. Joe weaves in and out of traffic, passing anyone who gets in his way. “We’re almost there Bubba,” he says without taking his eyes off the road as he blows another red light. 

No, we’re not going to breed Shelby, we have no desire to. I don’t believe in breeding pet dogs (in case you haven’t read it, you can check out that issue here). We aren’t worried about an “oops” litter from her either, mainly because we’re responsible. Panzer is neutered, so there’s not much fear of pregnancy there, and when Shelby goes into heat, she’s never let off leash, she’s walked with a martingale and a harness and we walk with some kind of “fending off” weapon, be it citronella spray or a large hunk of wood. I’ve never had to do anymore than wave a stick at a rogue dog to chase it off. It’s not that hard to protect your female dog from pregnancy if you just keep a close eye on her, which you should be doing anyway.

1:00 p.m. on the last day of Smokey’s life. We’re home with 4 more medications, two anti-nausea medications, an antibiotic for the tongue and more painkillers. Smokey can’t take them without food and he won’t eat, not steak, not ice cream, not even his beloved cheese (“chee” as we call it). I’m sitting on the kitchen floor with him. He’s lying down, drinking from his water bowl because he can’t stand up. I take a picture of him like that, the last picture I’ll ever take of him. Then he gets up, walks to the dining room and throws up. This time, there is no doubt. It’s blood, lots of blood, red and black and little chunks of what appear to be his stomach mixed in. “What the hell is that?” Joe asks, and we find ourselves with our hands covered in our dog’s blood as we sort through the vomit trying to pick out the pieces and put them in bags. I’m on the phone, crying to the emergency vet and the receptionist doesn’t wait to get a vet this time, “Bring him in, now.”

We’re struggling to find a surgeon that we trust to finally perform the spay surgery on Shelby. The first doctor we picked works with the vet tech who pulled the unnecessary, duplicate rabies vaccine that Smokey didn’t need for another two years. That was the vaccine that caused all the horror. We don’t trust him. The second doctor we picked is having trouble with her hands and doesn’t feel comfortable operating on such a large dog. The other doctors in the practice we either don’t know or don’t trust. All the signs seem to be screaming at us not to do it and the fear is increasing.

We’re speeding again, this time in Joe’s Jeep. After Smokey couldn’t jump into the Jeep, Joe picked him up and put him in. He went inside to get Smokey’s favorite stuffed monkey. He’s had it since we adopted him, the only toy he’s never shredded. I see the monkey and can’t help but think about how Joe drove all the way home to get Dusty’s pink puppy stuffy the day we had to put her down. It’s a sign. As Joe pushes his Jeep as hard as it will go, I watch Smokey in the back of the Jeep. When we’re almost there, Joe says that if a cop catches him, he’s not stopping and to just get Smokey out and into the hospital. Minutes before we get to the hospital, Smokey loses consciousness, and I’m screaming, “Smokey! Smokey! Wake up Bubba, wake up!” I can hear it ringing in my mind.

I know Shelby will wake up from her surgery, logically, I know that. But I knew that Smokey was just going in for a routine checkup that day that he received that vaccine too.

Joe carries Smokey into the emergency hospital, and I pull the plastic bag containing pieces of Smokey’s stomach out of my purse, “He passed out in the car,” I tell the vet tech as they rush a stretcher out. 

“He got hit by a car?”

“No, he passed out in the car. He’s got IMHA/ITP, he’s throwing up this!” I shove the bag into the hands of the vet, she takes one look at it and then looks up at me, for that split second I can see it in her eyes – he isn’t going to make it. There are other people in the waiting room watching the drama unfold, so they usher us into a back room. 

Long minutes pass. We watch the clock, we cry, we don’t talk all that much. A vet tech comes in, she’s crying. She tells us that Smokey was dead on arrival, but they restarted his heart and brought him back but he’s failing again. What do we want to do? Joe tells me he can’t keep going on like this, that he’s not going to get better, that he’s suffering. I just keep shaking my head and saying, “He can’t die here, he can’t die here, I don’t want him to die here, he should die at home.” 

But it was not meant to be. They take us into the back room and we sit with Smokey while the vet shakes her head at her techs and tells them to stop trying to pump adrenaline into our dog. “He’ll go on his own” she tells us and I pet him and whisper to him and Joe puts Smokey’s monkey by his head. I sit there with him for long minutes, petting him. I don’t even realize when he’s dead. It happened almost instantly, apparently, but I sit there with him anyway, until the vet takes my shoulder and tells me he is gone and hugs Joe who is crying. Smokey was four days away from his fourth birthday. 

So no, Shelby isn’t spayed. And yes, I still believe in rescue, but I also believe in responsibility in all forms.

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