By Audrey Lodato, Director of Animal Care
As Director of Animal Care for Brother Wolf, I receive emails every day with photos and descriptions of animals who are at risk of being killed, often for space, at municipal shelters in our region. These emails are compiled by shelter staff or volunteers who are working hard to network the animals and to save their lives.
These emails are, obviously, really hard to look at, especially because there are hundreds of animals on dozens of lists incoming each day. We do our best to save as many as we can, but we can’t take all of them in. We settle for as many as we can fit. When we choose an animal from a list to come into our shelter, it’s called “pulling.”
Generally, we prioritize who we take into our Asheville location by first taking animals from Buncombe County, and then from neighboring communities where we are already working to make change, like those with Brother Wolf chapters. If we still have some space left, we will move to other communities close by. But this doesn’t mean I don’t look at all the lists I get. I do.
In February of this year, right around Valentine’s day, I pulled a dog who we decided to name Asira. Asira had a heartbreaking story accompanying her photo, which showed a sickly, skinny dog looking very nervous, with someone holding a whiteboard with the number 4 over her head.
She had been part of a cruelty case where many dogs had been tied to trees in the woods, and most were discovered to be dead from starvation. Asira had survived and was at a rural shelter in South Carolina, and had been scheduled to be euthanized for space. Even though Asira was in South Carolina, all the way by the coast, I knew we had to make an exception to take her in.
I could not imagine that this poor dog would die because of lack of space after everything that she had already survived. I replied to the email, letting the shelter know we could accept her and got to work getting her a ride to Asheville.
The sending shelter is one that we have worked with before and they try really, really hard to save all of the animals that come into their care. They quickly found a volunteer to drive Asira halfway to us, and two of our volunteers, Jackie and Chester, stepped up immediately to get Asira the rest of the way to Brother Wolf.
When she arrived, we were all overwhelmed with just how sweet and affectionate she was. All she wanted was to snuggle and give everyone kisses. She had her medical intake procedure done, and we were sad to learn that Asira was heartworm positive. Heartworms are literally worms that live in the heart of affected animals. It is transmitted from one dog to another when a mosquito bites an infected dog then bites another dog and infects them with the microscopic baby worms from the first dog’s blood. Heartworms can grow to be several feet long and will slowly kill animals by preventing blood from flowing appropriately through the heart, which damaging the heart itself or causes blockages.
Heartworms are extremely common in the south, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that any dog not on a monthly heartworm preventative will test positive. Given where Asira had come from, it wasn’t surprising that she had this awful parasite.
Heartworm disease is easily avoided by giving pets a preventative like Heartguard that you can purchase at your vet. However, once a pet tests positive for heartworms, treatment can be both costly and difficult for the animal to endure.
In Asira’s case, we decided it would be best for her to go to a foster home while she was started on her treatment (after getting some much deserved from volunteers, pictured right). Once she was settled into her foster home, we began a protocol of antibiotics and injections of Ivermectin to kill the heartworms. During treatment, animals have to stay very calm and quiet. They are not allowed to do any running or playing close to the time of their injections because the worms could cause a clot in their hearts and kill them.
Asira is still undergoing her heartworm treatment, but thankfully she has found herself a new family and has been adopted. We are very confident that she will recover from her heartworm disease, although her heart may never be as strong as it once was.
Due to the fact that heartworm treatment is so costly and time consuming, many dogs on urgent lists who have heartworms never get pulled by rescue organizations. At Brother Wolf, we are lucky to be able to afford to treat these dogs, but not all rescues can do this. Often, a heartworm positive dog on an urgent list has very little chance of being saved.
Heartworm prevention is a very important part of pet ownership, and at Brother Wolf we make it a point to educate all of our adopters about it and about how important monthly heartworm prevention is. If you would like to learn more about heartworm disease, you can visit the American Heartworm Society at https://www.heartwormsociety.org.
Asira is one of many animals who have benefited from our Help Me Heal fund. Please make a donation today to help us stay best prepared to help the animals in our community — and beyond! — who need us most.