Dr. Andy Rollo: In loving memory of Beauston
[Note: This column originally appeared as a blog on the DVM360 Community.
“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” I told my sister and grandmother as I hung up the phone and returned to the restaurant table. I was referring to a 6-week-old yellow Labrador puppy that had a severe case of aspiration pneumonia resulting from his megaesophagus. The breeders had elected to euthanize him but our staff asked if they would sign him over to the hospital so we could treat him with the money from our puppy fund. Since I had a soft spot for Labradors, I was the doctor on the case.
To my surprise, the next morning he was still with us, and each day he improved. For the next two months he stayed in the hospital under the care of staff members. He still had his difficult moments—while most puppies grow exponentially from 3 to 4 months of age, he actually lost a pound. But his elevated feedings and slow transition from gruel to kibble proved beneficial as his weight caught up to him. It came time to find him a home and, being a veterinarian for over half a year but still having no pet to come home to, it was time for me to take on the responsibility.
A staff member had already named him Beau. I don’t like common pet names, but I also don’t like changing a pet’s name. So I added a “ston” at the end. Beauston sounded a lot like Boston and, being a big baseball fan, I still had the fresh memory of the Red Sox’s odds-shattering comeback against the Yankees in my mind. I thought the allegory so appropriate I gave him the middle name, Red Sock.
Springtime rolled around and I was determined to have a dog that actually walked well on the leash and one I could take for runs. Beauston was doing great on the leash and finally one day it was warm enough for us to kick it up a notch and run. For the first half mile he was doing great—he kept right up with me and didn’t have to pull me to the nearest fire hydrant to relieve himself. Then he began to lag a bit, which I thought was fine since he was still a young dog. But our run turned to a halt when I turned around I saw something that I had never seen before. Beauston was doing his best to keep up but he could barely walk.
The way his humerus was separated from his scapula, it looked like his legs were made of silly putty. I could only watch for a few more steps before I picked him up and carried him home the rest of the way. I was concerned but also embarrassed—here I was the veterinarian and I didn’t have a clue about what was going on with my dog. After a night of rest he appeared fine, but after any amount of significant exercise the same liquidity would return to his muscles. I described what I saw to every veterinarian I knew but everyone was just as baffled as I was. I finally came across a doctor who suggested muscular dystrophy, and after reading about the condition I had my diagnosis, which was confirmed on a muscle biopsy.
I realized that Beauston would never be able to go on runs with me and I’d have to keep his activity under confinement when he wasn’t confined inside a fence. After a learning curve the first year, we didn’t have too many incidents. He became instant best buddies with George, a dog my girlfriend—now wife—had rescued just months earlier. For a few years things seemed to stabilize for Beau and I wondered if he might live a long life after all. Then when we were in the hospital after our son Nolan was born, my sister called to tell me there was diarrhea all over the basement. The diarrhea did not improve and after taking biopsies, we found that Beau had inflammatory bowel disease. A diet change and some antibiotics helped, but in the next year his regurgitation worsened.
Then the regurgitation turned into what I would describe as vomiting spells. He developed a primary GI motility disorder—a prokinetic would work for a month or two but then the frequency would worsen. In the last few months it was an exception when he would go all night without getting sick. Then he began to lose a few pounds, which turned into 10 and then 20-plus. Beauston was becoming a shell of himself, but he still loved doing the things that Labradors love: eating, getting petted, and fetching. A stomach tube was placed to see if bypassing the enlarged esophagus would help, but it didn’t. Then one morning he wouldn’t eat his prescription diet, so I offered his old prescription diet that he usually devoured. He just looked away. It was that sudden moment that all pet owners dread: coming to terms with the fact that your pet’s quality of life has passed.
If Darwin had had his say, Beauston would never have made it past the first few weeks of life. But Beau had the will to live. He loved everyone and was always happy to be petted—or if not, then to be in someone’s face asking to be. I’d apologize for my dog not recognizing personal space but would always follow with the excuse, “He wasn’t supposed to live too long, so I never invested in training classes.” He was a great dog, a very special one. Even when he could barely walk or would have a regurgitation or vomiting spell, he was always happy, still wagging his tail and ready to fetch another ball. He did not know he was special; he was just Beauston.
He came with many challenges, as any dog with a megaesophagus does. Despite all the paper towels and cleaning agents and waking up in the middle of the night to clean up messes, I would do it all again. Six years is not a long life for a dog, but I have to remind myself that it’s longer than I thought he would have made it when he was just a sick little puppy. My family gave him a good home, but Beauston taught us a most impressive lesson: the gift of living, despite it all.