Testing positive for heartworm should never be a death sentence for any dog. According to VetStreet.com, heartworm is “caused by parasitic worms (heartworms) living in the major blood vessels of the lungs and, occasionally, in the heart. These worms are transmitted (as microscopic larvae) through the bite of an infected mosquito. The scientific name for the heartworm parasite is Dirofilaria immitis.” Any dog breed, at any age can be infected by heartworm; however, the disease is one-hundred percent preventable. The American Heartworm Society (AHS) estimates that one million dogs in the United States have heartworm disease today, and they indicate that the numbers may be on the rise. If dogs who become infected with heartworm are left untreated, the disease can be fatal. It is important to catch heartworm in the early stages, if at all possible. The further advanced the stage of heartworm disease is when found, typically, the more time consuming and expensive it is to treat. Depending on the advancement of heartworm at the time it is detected, treatment can last anywhere from several weeks to several months. As many are already aware, animal shelters and county pounds/animal control across the United States kill healthy, adoptable animals daily – through a lack of motivation, devotion, creativity, innovation and compassion. As of today, the United States has close to 30 true no-kill shelters and that number is growing. A true no-kill shelter saves 90% or more of the animals who enter their doors. But what happens if a heartworm positive dog who is being given up by his former guardians or who is a stray- isn’t lucky enough to make it to one of the few no-kill shelters or one of the wonderful 501c3 non-profit grassroots rescue organizations? What happens? Knowing the average kill rate today in United States animal shelters (of healthy, adoptable pets) is 50%+, heartworm positive dogs do not have any opportunity in a shelter for survival; an incredibly sad statistic that needs to change. Through public advocacy, education and proper leadership within the shelter organizations (a leader who is compassionate and who wants what is best for the animals!)- things can change for the better. It is possible.
Honey, a two year old Sharpe/Rottweiler mix, was trying her best to survive as a stray. A Dayton, Ohio area company noticed Honey hanging around their business and began feeding her, although no one stepped up to take her to the veterinarian or to give her a home, which she longed for. Kelly and Caleb, of Bellbrook, Ohio shared, “We were notified (about Honey) and asked if we were willing (to help)…We were informed that the pound was ready to take her away and put her down. Even if they didn’t put her down the day they came and took her away, they would have found out she was heartworm positive, as we soon did and they would have put her down due to the expensive treatment.” Kelly and Caleb decided to make a difference in a life in need and offered to help Honey. After taking Honey to their local veterinarian, they learned that Honey was indeed heartworm positive. By this time, Honey had the pleasure of meeting Homer, a five year old fifty-five pound Boxer that shares his home with Kelly and Caleb. Kelly explained, “When they first met, Honey declared ownership. Homer is the type of dog to just go with it. Honey quickly ruled the roost and Homer continued to go with the flow.” This is one of Kelly and Caleb’s favorite memories- when Honey first met Homer and immediately took ownership of the situation. Kelly commented, “It cracks me up! Poor Homer was emasculated but he went with it. That’s my kind of girl!”
Kelly and Caleb’s veterinarian, Dr. Burris from the Evergreen Veterinarian Clinic delivered the heartworm positive diagnosis in regards to Honey’s condition. “If it wasn’t for her (Dr. Burris, DVM), we couldn’t have done this. She was amazing. We don’t have the words to put it the best way. She is just absolutely amazing. She was determined and wasn’t going to give up on Honey. Honey was her first heartworm positive dog to treat. She spent many hours speaking to other veterinarians, doing research too. She cried along with us when we found out. We knew she was great when Honey first went to the vet she had to be muzzled- she was so anxious and insecure (after first being rescued). On the second visit, Dr. Burris said ‘I want her to trust me and I want to try her today without the muzzle.’” Long story short, Honey and Dr. Burris are now best friends! Kelly went on to explain that although Honey tested positive for heartworm, they knew that they would not consider any options, other than treatment. “We were committed to making the financial and emotional commitment to taking care of her throughout her treatment.” When Caleb and Kelly first stepped forward to rescue Honey, it was with the intent that they would foster her and then work with a local organization to help find Honey a forever home. After learning Honey’s diagnosis and going through the treatment, Kelly explained that their bond was too close- and Honey had already found her forever home with them. During the tedious and time consuming heartworm treatments at the veterinarian’s office, “Homer laid right next to Honey throughout treatment. We put his bed next to her crate and he slept right there with her in the evenings. Also, the first injection Honey had- we had left Homer at home. I came home to greet Homer before picking Honey up from the vet- he got sick- he was so upset all day long that Honey wasn’t with him.” Dr. Burris was willing to have both dogs in the office for Honey’s treatment, “this eased Homer’s concern” when he was able to be by Honey’s side, Kelly shared. “Another reason why we have the best vet in the world!”
Kelly didn’t grow up in a home with pets, however her grandparents had dogs when she was growing up. But now, after having both Homer and Honey in her life, Kelly shared, “…just having them (the dogs) there as companions is great! I love them to pieces. I now love sharing our home with Honey…especially now that she can be out of her crate!”
When asked about the challenges of caring for a heartworm positive rescue dog, Kelly explained, “I don’t look at this as being any different. Homer had issues when he came into our home. We had a different kind of adjustment period with him. Taking in any new dog takes adjustment. We just did what we were called to do and didn’t look back. Our daily routine during heartworm treatment was to get the dogs up with us in the mornings, send one outside and then the next. Honey went straight to her crate. When we got home (from work) we would let one dog out to go to the bathroom, and then the next. Then Honey went back in her crate. Homer became so anxious throughout Honey’s treatment. He had some behaviors that we had to be really patient with. That was basically our routine. Honey ate in her crate, drank in her crate, and she had to hang out in her crate. Then, at the end of her heartworm treatment she went into heat because she wasn’t spayed yet. This is when we really noticed Honey becoming annoyed with her situation. She was a bit anxious.” Honey has since been spayed and now that she has overcome her battle with heartworm and she is much happier and content. Kelly’s experience with Honey shows us all how patience and dedication can lead to incredibly rewarding and life-saving experiences. Despite the financial burden and the emotional effort that it took for Kelly to work with Honey- she never gave up and she knew that Honey was worth every minute and every penny. Kelly explained, “The end product (after the heartworm treatment was complete)…having a loving, caring companion- this is the best part!”
Homer has been a trooper through the entire experience and he has welcomed Honey into their home. “Homer adores children and my hopes for him are to train him in pet therapy. He needs constant love and touch. He would thrive to be a therapy dog. Honey is just now getting used to new people. After we got her and found out she was heartworm positive, she developed panosteitis. She was very temperamental during that time. But now that her heartworm treatment is complete, her love for people is really showing!” Honey and Homer will soon be attending puppy training classes together and Kelly knows it will be a great opening for a positive future.
Heartworm is one-hundred percent preventable. As VetStreet.com shares, “Safe, easy to give, effective medications are available to prevent heartworm disease. Most Heartworm prevention medications are administered as monthly oral or topical (spot-on) medications. There is also a product that can be administered as an injection every six months by your veterinarian. Whichever method of heartworm prevention is chosen, prevention is convenient and inexpensive compared to the dangers of the disease for dogs.”
Parkwood Elementary teacher, Kelly Hamilton encourages others to consider adopting a rescue pet. For those who decide to help a heartworm positive canine as Kelly has, Kelly shared, “God bless you! It takes time, love and commitment. There are days when you just want to let the dog out to run and play and you just can’t. It isn’t easy, but the end result is the best part! Listen to your veterinarian throughout the entire process. We choose not to research (on our own) a ton and we just put it all in the hands of our veterinarian. We have the best vet anyone could ever ask for She was there through the entire process- daytime, evening, the tears…she was amazing. If it wasn’t for her, we couldn’t have done it. So my biggest piece of advice is to make sure you adore your veterinarian!”