Early in July I mentioned a litter of puppies I was fostering for my local shelter, and mentioned one pup I was particularly worried about finding a home for. She was a particularly aloof, un-social pup, and I was worried that no one would want to adopt her.
As it turned out, she was the first of the four pups in her litter to get adopted – and when I heard that she had been selected by a family with kids, I was immediately suspicious that she had been chosen because she seemed to be the “quietest,” calmest pup in the group. The problem is, she’s not calm, she’s terribly shut down and avoidant of people. Taken into the “get acquainted room” at the shelter with her littermates, her MO was to sit in the corner, averting her eyes, while the three other pups jumped happily on any human visitors, begging for affection. Shoot!
I saw her photo posted on the shelter’s Facebook page as “adopted” and I wrote a note on the post for the adoptive family, letting them know I was her foster provider and if they had any questions or concerns about her behavior, to please let me know. I was concerned, but I had to stop there. I’ve had my hands absolutely full of family drama; I had to let the puppies go.
But the three boy pups sat and sat in the shelter. As weeks ticked by, I checked the shelter website every day and saw DOZENS of other puppies arrive on the pages of “available dogs” at the shelter – and then saw them pictured as “adopted!” on the shelter Facebook page. The pups who were all flying off the adoption shelves were all fat, chunky, Pit/Lab types who were going to be big dogs. But there were no takers on the three small, lean, leggy pups. I stopped by the shelter a few times when I had a spare hour, to bring them into the get acquainted room, let them play with toys, and remind them that if they sit politely, they get treats.
One day, in mid-August, I stopped by the shelter with my dog-loving grandson to see the pups and found one of them with a bleeding cut on his hind leg, and a big swelling on his other hind leg that looked like he had a big round liquid-filled superball on his hock. He also had a pretty deep cut on his chest. What a mess! I brought the affected pup, whom the shelter had dubbed “Junior,” into the veterinary treatment room at the shelter, and the vet tech looked him over. Separated from his brothers, we could see that he was limping on the leg with the weird round swelling, and his patella on that leg seemed to be somewhat luxated (the vet tech palpated it and it popped right back into place – hmmm). She cleaned his cuts, stapled the cut on his hind leg, and put a needle in the swelling to see what sort of liquid came out. Fortunately, it didn’t look infected, just filled with mostly clear fluid. She measured out some antibiotics and some Metacam (an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medicine), and (as you might have guessed), I brought the pup home with me for some rest and relief from getting beat up in the shelter pen with his brothers.
My grandson was overjoyed to get to spend time with Junior. The puppy is very sweet and smart, and absolutely remembered all of our past lessons about offering a “sit” whenever he wanted attention or a treat. He decided that Boone was his favorite dog to follow around and play and sleep with – which was great, because it gave me and my now-oldest dog Woody some time to spend together without Boone being jealous.
But the next day, both of Junior’s hocks had big swellings on them. Then they started to shrink, but a few days later, one of his elbows developed a big swelling. And a day later, his other elbow swelled, too.
I brought him back to the shelter several times over the next two weeks for the vet tech and then the vet to see these developments, and eventually he was diagnosed with elbow hygroma – a condition that can affect more than just elbows. For reasons that are poorly understood, some dogs develop swelling over the point of bones that come into contact with hard ground. Articles about the condition always suggest that it will likely go away as long as dogs have nice thick beds to sleep on. Spending all day on the concrete floor of the shelter certainly must have caused the problem with his hocks – but it was a lot of playing with my young dog Boone in my office that was likely causing the problem with his elbows. Boone was being a great sport, “self-handicapping” himself in play by laying on the ground for wrestling matches with the pup, but the pup was doing a lot of “play bows” as he darted toward and away from Boone – with his elbows banging on the hard floor of my office. Ugh!
I pulled out every spare carpet, rug, quilt, and blanket in my house and covered my office floor with them. I also stopped the dogs from playing in the house at all – I have only one rug in one room in the house, and they always seemed to initiate play on the hard tile floor of the kitchen. I shooed them out to the lawn whenever they started wrestling. And, over a series of weeks, the swellings all subsided. Finally!
Then I got word that the second boy pup got adopted – yay!
Update about the girl pup
Then I got a message on Facebook from someone who said they adopted the autistic-seeming girl pup, and wanted to know if we could talk. I was so happy to hear from that family – only it wasn’t the family. It seems the puppy had been returned by the family, and adopted again almost immediately by the woman who contacted me. She observed that the puppy was very quiet, and looked through the shelter’s Facebook page of “adopted” photos to see if she could learn anything about who had adopted the pup previously. When she saw that the pup had been adopted by a family with kids, she surmised that the environment was likely too busy or loud for the pup – and then she saw my comment offering help and she reached out to me.
I called the adopter, and we talked for a long time. I told her about the pup’s history, and she told me about how the pup is doing now. She indicated that the pup is still very reserved with humans, much more comfortable with dogs (she owns one older dog), but that she will approach and sit for treats (brag: this is a hallmark of time with me). She told me that she has all the time and patience in the world to teach the pup that she can be trusted and she’s not going to force or push the pup in any way. I am so relieved and grateful that this pup found the right home after all!
A troubling diagnosis
Finally, all of Junior’s various swellings were nearly gone and his kneecap hadn’t luxated for weeks. It was time to start advertising for a home for him. I didn’t want to take him back to the shelter, but hoped to find someone in my social network to adopt him, so he wouldn’t have to go back on concrete! I took some cute pictures of him and asked my friends to share his information on social media.
Within a week, we had a bite: A super nice family from a nearby town wanted to come meet him. They have two boys, 14 and 7, and the mom works for my friend’s dog daycare business! Hurray!! He would be able to go to work with her each day! What a lucky puppy! They came to my house to meet him, and I told them all about the issues we had been through. He also had a new cut on top of his head, which didn’t look very nice, but it was small enough that I didn’t think it needed any attention. I know they were listening to my recitation of Junior’s issues, but they were also very impressed by his now-very-solid sits and downs on cue, his recall, and even his skill at playing fetch (and bringing the toy back every time!). While he tends to jump up on people once when he’s excited, if you just pause a moment without petting or talking to him, he quickly remembers that he’s not supposed to do that and quickly plunks his butt down into a sit. He was impressive, and they were impressed! I allowed them to bring Junior home to their house to spend the rest of the weekend with them, and I was thrilled to hear at the end of the weekend that they wanted to adopt him.
However, we couldn’t go to the dog daycare with his new mom until he had received some more vaccinations (for Bordetella and influenza) and had a clear fecal test – just like all of the client dogs’ requirements. I told the family I would be happy to hold him for a few more days so I could bring him to a local vet for an appointment to get the vaccines and to bring in a stool sample. By a miracle, I was able to score an appointment with a local vet almost immediately.
But right away, this veterinarian noticed the baggy skin on Junior’s elbows, the last remnant of his hygromas – as well as his sometimes-luxated kneecap, and the cut on his head, and the remnant of the cut on his chest and the one on his hind leg. She said, “This looks a lot like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome…”
I said, “Say what?” I have never heard of this.
Apparently, the veterinarian has a friend, someone she went to vet school with, who both has this condition and studies it at a university– that’s partly why the veterinarian recognized Ehlers-Danlos. It’s an inherited condition of connective tissue disorders resulting in defective collagen synthesis – and fragile skin, poorly healing wounds, and hypermobility of joints are all symptoms of this condition.
I asked the vet what she thought about adopting such an animal. She said, “I think everyone deserves to adopt a healthy dog…”
Of course, I think that, too – but I also didn’t want to see this pup not get a home! What if the family didn’t want to take this on?
I wrote a long email to the family explaining what the vet had said, and including some links to articles about the condition. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome can be definitively diagnosed with a biopsy, but Junior’s symptoms are rather classic. He will require close supervision so he doesn’t play too roughly, supervision to prevent over-zealous activity that could contribute to joint luxation or skin tears, and special care of any wounds or skin tears he receives. And I told the family that I would not blame them one bit if they decided that Junior had more problems than they wanted to take on.
I was on pins and needles waiting to hear what they would decide – and also trying to figure out how on earth I was going to be able to find another home for him! My friend Leonora, who previously owned a dog with special needs, bravely declared that she would adopt him if the family would not, which made me cry, I was so touched.
Great news for Junior
But fortunately, the family is awesome. The dad told me that the whole family talked about it, discussed how they would have to be careful with Junior and that he might have health problems from time to time – and decided that they wanted him anyway. “We haven’t heard anything at this point that would prevent us from adopting such a sweet and wonderful boy,” he texted me. “We understand the potential complications and would like to get more information, but at this point, we all feel pretty strongly that Junior belongs in our family.”
That’s been the best news. I am so grateful that such big-hearted people are willing to give this sweet pup a tremendous opportunity for a happy, healthy life with them….
And now I have to think about whether I’m going to bring home the fourth pup in the litter, who at five months is still at the shelter – and has big swellings on his elbows and cuts from playing with the non-related puppies he’s been housed with. Arghh!
Junior is such a happy, sweet, smart dog. I’m thrilled that he’s found a home with a wonderful family who appreciates what a special guy he is, and is ready to appreciate him in spite of his physical challenges.
You never know what you’re going to get when fostering for a shelter or rescue. All I know is that when this litter’s lives are all sorted out, I am going to take a break!
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