By Suzanne Weiler
When something hurtful happens, I look for a way to soothe myself. When our little Baxter (aka “The Baz”) died of congestive heart failure due to an enlarging heart in December 2011, I wondered why we lost him so young at the age of only nine years old. What was the silver lining to this hurtful experience? It didn’t take long and an opportunity popped up that caused me to pause…
In May of 2012, Pet Friends Magazine ran an article about families with pets that had significant/terminal diagnoses; our Basil was part of that article. As Baz’s heart continued to enlarge, he had significant breathing problems. He was on a no salt diet and prescriptions but the heart and breathing episodes became more frequent. At the vet, Baz would stay in the oxygen tent until stronger then often come home the same day. I got to thinking…could we help boost his increasing need for oxygen? Could we do this at home to augment what the vet could do?
With help from my veterinarian and the medical supply stores, I set into motion the making of an “oxygen tent” made from a dog crate. Covering a crate with clear plastic (so Baz could see out) and inserting the tube from the side of the crate, I coordinated efforts to get oxygen pumped into the crate. My vet provided a prescription for oxygen and the medical supply store helped determine amount of oxygen based on size of crate and size of dog. Viola! Basil had his own personalized oxygen tent in our living room!
Because of the article in Pet Friends Magazine and because of the power of the internet, I have been contacted by many people for information about the home based oxygen crate. I have been asked about oxygen for all kinds of small dogs to Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, cats, bunnies, and birds. These people are desperate to provide comfort for their beloved pets; some pet owners are more verbal about their desperation than others, but all are faced with pet diagnoses that are terminal. Below are some examples. If you want to know more about how to make your own oxygen crate, please email Suzanne here.
“Unfortunately, I am unemployed, and can no longer afford to pursue more in depth care. The guilt that I feel that economics is going to lead to the death of my beloved pet is overwhelming, and yet I’m out of financial choices. So now I am looking for something I CAN afford to at least give Shadow whatever relief or comfort I possibly can provide…I know I’m a complete stranger, but I am struggling to find something I can do other than sit and just watch my Shadow struggle to breathe. A stranger trying to cope.” Iris, Abilene, TX
“When the doctor showed me first a healthy dog’s X-ray compared to Benny’s X-ray and then letting on the news of his diagnosis, I was pretty numb. The doctor asked for Benny to stay a few nights for treatment and also to have the cardiologist evaluate him the next morning. Before I left, I asked to say goodbye. I walked in the ICU where Benny was in an 02 tent crate, kissed him and drove home crying my eyes out. After three days in the hospital, he is back home where he is resting and taking his meds. I will never put my dog down just because he’s suffering and will do everything necessary to make his prognosis as gentle as possible.” Jenny, North Jersey
“My vet said she will prescribe oxygen for him. Last time he was at the Pet ER…well, we just don’t have the money for that. And my son doesn’t want his dog to die there, alone. Debbie, El Cajon, CA
I have heard from people all over the U.S., Turkey, South Africa, Singapore, Asia and Afghanistan and more. Learning of the resources available (or not) in other countries has been eye-opening. Some countries evidently do not require prescriptions for medications while other countries only provide veterinarian care for farm animals and limited household pets. Regardless of where the pet owner is from, one thing has been consistent: the love and desperation to provide for their pet…
“I am a South African working for (a beer company) brewing in Honduras. Our veterinarian services here are non existent. The little bit that can be done are for dogs, horses and cattle. When our 16-year-old cat, Kerneels, began showing symptoms, I visited various vets in the USA for help. But they are not willing to help without seeing the patient, not even a script, or even special food for that matter. Eventually I took the risk of flying with him to Miami but I know the inevitable is coming (it’s been 12 months now) and want to prepare.” Boyce, Honduras
“I am Rosanne, from Singapore. I read an article on the Pet Friends Magazine on your beloved dog Baz and I am so sorry for your loss. I have a 13 year-old Chihuahua, Toto. She has serious heart murmur and the vet recommended putting an oxygen generator at home to help her breathe better.”
“Hi, I am keen to build one for my pet dog who is in hospital and needs to be on an oxygen cage and it’s very expensive. She has heart failure and I live in Asia. Can you please teach me on how to build the oxygen cage?” Regards, Dawn
Since I am not a veterinarian, I am careful not to prescribe but only to share what I did for our pet. Many people are reaching out for an answer; I remind pet owners that the oxygen tent might be a treatment, but is not a cure. Even though I don’t have the answer I can provide empathy for their situation.The feeling of helplessness, wanting to do SOMETHING to help your beloved pet, yet realizing the inevitability of the diagnosis. At this point, I developed an interest in hospice care for pets. Here is how some of my online friends coped:
“I know its treatment and Wrinkles is not bad yet, she just can’t breathe well on her own. I’m not gonna let her suffer or put her through anything bad and I am preparing for it to get worse, right now I just want to keep her comfortable.” Karleen, Austin, TX
“I’m starting to think that hospice at home would be the best thing for (our 14 year old Jack Russell Terrier).” Susan, Santa Cruz, CA
“Babu is doing better today! I am so happy. This morning I thought all hope was lost. But late morning he started eating. He ate the hamburger I cooked for him. And then he sat out in the sun, as the day progressed he got even better, barking occasionally. I even took him out to watch the sun set over the ocean. I feel lucky to have shared that with him one more time at least. But I was thinking today that without loss how would anything be valuable to us?” Eron, San Luis Obispo, CA
“I’m aware it’s not a cure. I’m just trying to make her (Lucy) comfortable as the vet says she isn’t actually in pain and MAYBE she can live awhile with compromised oxygen intake. I am terrified and deviated and need to do whatever I can do to help her. Thank you for all your support. You sound like a lovely human. I’ll keep you posted if you like.” Lori, Pittsburgh, PA
Many of us are familiar with the now famous picture of John and Shoep, the extent to which John provided “end of life” care for his longtime friend. Because of the many people I have met online and because of the article in Pet Friends Magazine, I realize that anything worth having is worth the effort. It is an honor to be with a friend all the way to the Rainbow Bridge. As Eron from California so eloquently said, “without loss, how would anything be valuable to us?”