Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can love find a way? Deciding whether or not to euthanize sick, defensive street dog

A disease called Leishmaniasis causes lesions and sores. Photo:Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

Love dies every day. People kill it. In the U.S. it’s at least three million to four million times a year. That’s how many dogs and cats are put to death in animal shelters for no crime other than being unloved.

Instead, most of them would gladly have given all their love, in copious, wiggly, slurpy, furry, irrepressible quantities, to almost anyone who asked.

Love dies in other ways, too, all around the world. Starvation, poisoning, beating… the list of grisly fates for companion animals is nearly endless.

One dog here on the Greek island of Kefalonia, a tall, bony, black and white street dog, would certainly have met one of those grisly fates if he hadn’t “walked into our headlights,” as friend Melissa Beamish puts it.

Melissa and I were driving through the village of Troianata under a full moon when we spotted a creature that at first we couldn’t even recognize. Or maybe we didn’t want to. It was too gruesome: eyes bright red and rimmed with blood; blood streaking the legs.  Maybe we just didn’t want to believe that this horrifying sight could be a dog. But it was.

Legs covered in lesions. Photo:Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
After a ten-day search and hard work by a team of friends, the tall dog finally came home with me. I’ve never felt more relieved.  During those days while we tried to capture him, it was hard to sleep knowing he was out there on his own in that condition.

It was during one of those sleepless nights that his name came to me—“Agapi,” the Greek word for “love.”

Sick, but strong

Agapi has a wicked disease called Leishmaniasis, common here in Greece and in other Mediterranean countries. Carried by a certain species of sand fly, it can cause the grotesque skin lesions as well as joint swelling, weight loss, blindness, organ damage and a long list of other troubles.  He also has Ehrlichia, another nasty disease transmitted by ticks. At the beginning he had tapeworm, too, and he was crawling with fleas.

The last two problems have now been solved thanks to a pill for the tapeworm and an Advantix ampule for the fleas. And according to our vet Dr. Amanda the first two problems—the Leishmaniasis and the Ehrlichia—can also be cured. The level of Leishmaniasis in his blood is high but not too high, and in spite of everything this dog is vigorous and zestful, so Dr. Amanda believes Agapi’s chances for a long, full, healthy life after treatment are excellent.

The Leishmaniasis treatment consists of two doses per day of a medication called Zylapour, or Allopurinol, which he’ll need to stay on for life, and a 28-day course of another one called Milteforan, which is outrageously expensive—somewhere around 350 euros (about $450 U.S.).

The Saint (a.k.a. my hubsy) has kindly volunteered to fund it. Melissa has also offered (repeatedly and firmly!) to help with the costs. And after that treatment is done, the Ehrlichia will be easily conquered with just a one-month-long prescription of doxycycline, an antibiotic.

So… great, right?  Isn’t it all good? Agapi can be cured, then adopted by a loving family?

Technically, yes.  But practically speaking… I don’t know.

Because he’s got another bit of a problem.  He, um, well… he wants to… eat people. All people but me.

Rubbing his inflamed eyes. Photo: Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
A little grouchy

First he growled at Yvonne Walser, friend and fellow animal rescuer, who kindly came over to meet and visit him just a couple of days after he arrived.  Then a few days later at Keith Preston, another friend and big-time animal rescuer. Then he lunged and barked ferociously at Vasilis, who’s helping us repair the house.  Not even Dr. Amanda escaped one of his impressive displays when she came over to give him a second checkup on Friday.

This depressed the heck out of me.  Last week I sank into deep sadness.  It’s hard enough to try to find a good home for a healthy, friendly dog.  Finding one for a Leishmaniasis dog who also does his best to scare folks?  Yeah, right. Like looking for a needle in a whole farm of haystacks.

And no, I can’t keep him myself because we already have a house overflowing with previous rescues, and my mom needs to come live with us soon after I get home to California, and it wouldn’t be fair to our own dogs or to a new dog or to Mom or perhaps least of all to ourselves to take on another right now.

‘Put him down’?

Friends whose opinions I highly value—friends who do a ton more rescue than I do—urge me to let him go. Put him down. Send him to doggy heaven. Be content with having given him a couple of weeks of comfort and safety, then give him a premature but easy and painless death.

There are too many healthy, mellow dogs desperately needing homes to spend so much time, energy, and money on just this one difficult case.

On my mind have been the 200-plus wonderful dogs at the Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK), a shelter with scant resources that’s struggling under the constant avalanche of animals nobody else wants. I’ve been hoping to help out there by photographing, writing about, and trying to re-home at least a few of those worthy angels.

Agapi, such a needy fellow, is sucking up all the time and resources I had hoped to spend on them instead.

It’s not wise to keep him alive. It’s not cost-effective. It’s giving in to the heart when the head should rule.

A sensible person would euthanize him.  I can be sensible.

A strong person would euthanize him. I can be strong.

I should do it. I know that.  And I’ve cried about it all week.

Does he deserve capital punishment?

This is a dog who has seen little in his life but the worst of what we humans have to offer. 

My soul slogs through day after day of it—the horror of what too many animals of all kinds are forced to endure. It’s on Facebook, in photos from all over the world, and it’s up-close-and-personal here on the streets and in the backyards and fields and orchards of Kefalonia.  It’s inescapable. There’s not one hour of the day when I’m not either seeing it, grieving about it, researching it, or writing about it. Even when I sleep, it doesn’t go away, but fills my nightmares.

I’m tired of it.

OK, so he’s sick. OK, so he’s not keen on strangers.  Who among us hasn’t been sick?  Who among us has never wanted to growl and bark?

Do those crimes deserve capital punishment?

Maybe the next terrible case I take on, maybe for that one I’ll have to do the sensible thing, the strong thing.

Not this time.

This time, in this one case, if there’s any possible way, if it’s at all in my power, this one time, love will live.

Agapi gently accepts a cookie. (Photo: Katerina Lorenzatos Makris)

Please visit The Dozen Dogs Diaries again soon for upcoming articles about Agapi.

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For previous articles please see archive to the right, including:

Love comes home: the challenging rescue of a sick and bloody street dog 

Read Melissa Beamish's excellent blog about her round-the-world trip volunteering in animal shelters, including a month at Kefalonia's ARK.

To donate or to volunteer on behalf of animals in Kefalonia, contact Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) and Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs).

The Dozen Dog Diaries (DDD) would be delighted if you'd spread the links to these articles. Please just keep in mind that reprint or re-post of more than a paragraph or two of the text or of any of the photos is allowable only by explicit permission from DDD, who may be contacted at youradopteddogATyahooDOTcom. Thanks for visiting!

1 comment:

  1. Ach, this is horrible. I don't know if I could do it either. My parents' dog Dina is also mean to other people (she bit Bob, the first time he met her because he offered her his hand so she could smell it. SHe bit Michiel, my sister's boyfriend whom she knew really well, because he wanted to pull her off the couch. He still has a big scar. And the list goes on!), and (most) dogs. But she is so sweet to us, and so faithful... Putting Agapi down would probably feel to you like putting Dina down would feel to me. Horrible. Just so horrible.
    Just try to take your time. Do you HAVE to make a decision?