People who responded when help was needed


This month's Diagnote contains two true-life tales, one of them written in response to the October 2007 Diagnote entitled, "When others need help, will you make a difference?"

This month's Diagnote contains two true-life tales, one of them written in response to the October 2007 Diagnote entitled, "When others need help, will you make a difference?"

"The fax" was written by Dr. Bonnie Muffoletto (DVM-Cornell, 1992), of Ithaca, N.Y. I call the second story simply "Skippy."

The fax

Seven years ago, I was a solo practitioner with a small staff. They were in charge of taking care of the faxes, lab work to the files and junk to the recycling bin. My receptionist kept one of the faxes and left it on my desk where I was sure to find it, followed by a group attack on the cause of the fax. Rumble! Grumble! Insults went flying, along with an audible huffing at some unknown person.

Then I learned the grumbling was about the new director of a nursing home about 30 miles away.

The nursing home had two pets the residents had purchased and then financially and logistically cared for since the day of their adoption. One was a purebred yellow Lab named Duke.

After years of living at the nursing home, Duke became obese, arthritic and diabetic. It was difficult to stop the residents from feeding him. Some had dementia and they all knew he would stay with you longer if you fed him.

The new director decided that Duke was too much work. The dog was old and had to take several prescription medications. This, combined with the fact that he urinated on the floor, meant that he should be euthanized. What does that say about Director XX's feelings toward incontinent seniors on medications? My staff instantly named him Dr Kevorkian.

So why the fax?

Two nursing-home employees were mailing every pet-related business in a wide area to try to find a home for Duke by Monday. But no one wanted an 11½-year-old diabetic dog with hip dysplasia and who needed arthritis meds, insulin injections and a special diet every day.

Thinking about how many lives Duke had touched prompted me to tell the nursing home to call me if no one else called by Saturday.

Well, no one else who called was interested once they learned that Duke needed daily insulin injections. Under risk of divorce, I had Duke brought to my hospital Saturday morning. I thought perhaps I could get him better regulated on insulin so that he wouldn't pee on the floor. Then I could find him a home. Right. No, really, I was sure someone would adopt him.

Duke arrived in a sport-utility vehicle with two crying women. The entire back of the SUV was filled with Duke's paraphernalia: raised tray with dishes, homemade stockings, drugs, food, toys, bedding, collars and leashes. At 11½, his life was suddenly stashed in an SUV parked at a vet hospital 48 hours from his scheduled demise. The two women were upset but grateful.

We learned that they had been betrayed by their new director, and then required to lie to the patients about what really happened to Duke. The official story was to be that Duke went to the vet to have a procedure and died under anesthesia. Director Kevorkian's act represented cowardice at best.

I had not expected my husband Tom to come into my office that Saturday, but he did. While he was petting Duke, he casually asked who owned the dog. I have never seen my staff hustle out of the room so fast. Instantly my husband said, "Oh, no! This isn't the dog from the fax is it?"

It should be noted he didn't want to take the "fax dog" when it was first mentioned. So he asked, "Why did you take him without asking me?" I replied, "Because you would have said no, and then you would have been more upset when I brought him home. "I'll find him a home," I assured him. He said I wouldn't and he was right.

Duke was the perfect pet. He slept most of the day sprawled on the couch. He loved our toddler and he loved the other dogs and cats we had. Duke rode to work with me every day like he was born to drive. He slept in the treatment room or greeted clients.

The puppy pictures the nursing staff sent with Duke were so cute. But at 11½ years old, he had multiple papillomas, at least 20 lipomas and a muscle-wasted rear end. It was his big, brown eyes and his tendency to wiggle when you looked at him that really touched everyone's heart. Well, that is, everyone except the stone-hearted Dr. K.

Duke also had rather severe degenerative myelopathy that was apparently not noticed nor mentioned before I adopted him. But he was able to have a reasonable quality of life for two more years before he could not walk without falling. Then I had to admit his quality of life had deteriorated to the point that it was time.

Everyone in the office was crying the day I put Duke to sleep. But the extra two years he lived kept replaying in my mind. We took a trip to the Adirondacks, where he was able to swim and chase ducks.

I also thought of the days he had in the barn eating manure, and his short escapes to play ball with the neighbors' boys.

I remembered the time he swiped the chili pan off the stove; I kept blaming the younger, stronger cattle dog that was better able to leap up and grab such a heavy pan — or so I thought.

All these events and more would never have occurred if Dr Kevorkian's maneuver had been followed. What if those two women at the nursing home had never sent the fax? And what if my staff hadn't put it in a conspicuous place on my desk? — DR. BONNIE MUFFOLETTO


Bonnie's story brought to mind my own experiences with my mother, her dog Skippy, a residential nursing home and those who made a difference.

My mother, Ella Osborne, lived in Richmond, a small town in central Indiana about three to four miles from the Ohio border. She was a generous and fun-loving wife and mother.

I left Richmond in 1958 to attend Purdue, where I obtained my DVM degree. In 1964, I moved to Minnesota to become a clinical intern. I have remained at the University of Minnesota as a professor/research investigator.

After my father (Andy) passed away in 1987, my mother shared her three-bedroom rambler home with a blind Springer Spaniel named Mollie. My mother declined all three of her children's repeated invitations to move closer to them.

A few years later, shortly after Mollie died, my mother adopted a young (about 1 or 2 years old), energetic dog from the Richmond Humane Society. She named the dog "Skippy," after a Doberman that I can barely remember as a preschool child.

It wasn't long after adopting Skippy that he trained my mother to respond to his commands. He was undisciplined but loveable.

As the years passed, it was becoming obvious that my mother (now in her 90s) was losing her cognitive skills and short-term memory.

She had several medical problems for which her family physician was prescribing medications, but she was not following the recommendations. This problem, combined with apparent confusion about payment of monthly household bills, prompted my sister to explore assisted care at a residential home in Richmond.

About five years before, my mother asked me to care for Skippy if the time came when she was unable to do so. Of course, this was a promise I meant to keep. She reluctantly agreed to move to the extended-care facility, but only oncondition that Skippy could move with her. This was arranged, and Skippy became the mascot of the ward.

Skippy must have thought he was in Paradise. Not only was he fed by the staff twice a day, he also had access to an ample supply of table scraps.

A wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Susan Cayard (DVM, Purdue 1989) who had a solo practice in Centerville, Ind., cared for Skippy pro bono.

My mother died in the spring of 2002. When I returned to Richmond for her memorial, I thought she would appreciate it if I could give the memorial talk accompanied by Skippy. This I was able to arrange.

The morning of the memorial, we dove from Indianapolis to Richmond. We were on a tight schedule. When I arrived at the facility to get Skippy, he looked like no one had brushed him for the last two to three months. I didn't have the time or equipment to groom him, so I opened the windows of the rental car and put Skippy in the back seat with the expectation that some of the loose white hair would blow outside.

This resulted in good news and bad news:

The good news was that Skippy enjoyed the ride, facing the breeze coming through the open windows. The wind blew off some of the loose hair.

The bad news was that by the time we arrived at the chapel, I had almost as much of Skippy's white hair clinging to my dark suit as Skippy had on him. Also, the open-air distributed Skippy's white hair almost everywhere inside the rental car.

Skippy and I went into the large room where many of the family's relatives and friends had gathered. Skippy was an immediate attraction until his fur started to cling to all the immaculately dressed friends he greeted.

When he wagged his tail, fur flew everywhere. The staff at the chapel also appeared to be somewhat stressed because other events were scheduled after our service. But they kept their composure.

However, as we stood in the reception line after the service, we noticed the staff using two or three huge vacuum cleaners to remove the evidence of Skippy's visit.

This tale of Skippy's life wasn't yet over. It ended with his hair becoming redistributed from inside the rental car to everyone who rode with me to Earlham Cemetery. I am certain my mother would have laughed.

Skippy remained at the extended-care facility for a year or so. Then I learned that he was not wanted there anymore. I received an e-mail from Dr. Cayard notifying me of the predicament.

Dr. Cayard was willing to accept Skippy as a resident-mascot in her hospital until I could arrange to come to Centerville from Minnesota. But before I could make arrangements, she found him a good home — or so we all thought.

But, not long afterward, he was found roaming the streets of Centerville.

We asked Dr. Cayard again to help us care for Skippy and she did. Then the Lawrence family (young daughter Tristen, and parents Patrice and Jeff), of Muncie, Ind., came to the rescue. They loved dogs and shared the same values about life as did Dr. Cayard and Bonnie Muffoletto. They adopted Skippy.

Jeff Lawrence recently sent me the following account of Skippy's life with them.

"I first met Skippy at Dr. Cayard's office. I was making my monthly visit to the hospital as a veterinary-supply distributor. Skippy was running around the clinic and I inquired whether he was the new clinic dog. I think he probably was 10 or 11 years old at the time.

"They explained that Skippy's owner had died and they were caring for the dog until a suitable home came along.

"I was touched by Skippy's story and decided he would live the rest of his life in our home (which we share with many Great Danes). Skippy spent the next three years of his life begging for food (which he usually got), sleeping on the couch, traveling in our motor home to dog shows and making us smile every time we looked at him. He was a wonderful dog and we were blessed to have him in our life."

I received word from Jeff Lawrence that Skippy died in the spring of 2007. If Skippy could write, wouldn't it be interesting to learn about his life story from his perspective? What would he say?

From my perspective, Skippy's life was filled with the altruistic acts of those who value life and who are willing to go extra miles to protect it.

I am indebted to these kind-hearted folks, and pledge to them and others to do my utmost to make a difference.

I have put my thoughts to the pen as follows:

"My professional mission is to devote my God-given energies, talents and resources toward caring about others.

"By practicing the Golden Rule, I will teach others as I would want to be taught, and treat patients and their families as I would want to be treated. I will try to give others reason to smile, help them cry and provide them with a sound basis for hope.

As a member of the veterinary profession that abides by an ethical code, I am committed to a service rather than a profit orientation.

"To this end, the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.

"And until the day arrives that my lamp of service is extinguished, my mission is to continue to use my possessions, my thoughts and my time in behalf of others." — C.A.O.

Dr. Osborne, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is professor of medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.

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