Michael and Rocky. Photo: Melissa Palomo.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him!” my mother screamed over the phone while the flight attendants on my plane began making final checks before takeoff, long after locking the aircraft and door making it impossible for me to exit. “He can’t move, he is barely responding!”
As a full-time photographer who relies heavily on the internet to get my work seen by the public, I have always valued the power of social media. But no more so than recently when my dog’s life was in danger. I’ve had my boxer Rocky since he was a pup, nine years ago. Nine years of hikes, road trips, frisbee tosses. We’re inseparable.
After boarding an early morning flight bound for Fort Lauderdale from San Francisco, I received that frantic call from my mother. I begged her to get him to the vet emergency room as quickly as possible. My mother is a very petite woman from South Philadelphia; hoisting a 100-pound near comatose dog to the car would be next to impossible. But, as she has done her entire life, she found superhuman strength when it was needed, and she got him in the car.
As the flight attendants told the passengers to turn off their electronic devices, I felt fearful and helpless.
The veterinarians would later describe his condition at admittance to me as “flat” and “grave.” He was dangerously dehydrated and had white gums. There were no visible veins for the nurses to put an IV in. Only after flooding his intestines with fluids were they able to find a usable vein on his back right ankle, not an ideal location to draw blood and deliver the fluids his body needed. But it was all they could do.
As this was all happening, I was trading frantic emails with my mother from the plane, waiting for her to say, “He is fine, just a scare.” Those words never came. She didn’t know what was happening. The vets didn’t even know what was happening. I landed in Fort Lauderdale at 4:20pm.
A quick turnaround
Twelve hours later I was back at SFO, after the Virgin America staff got me a return ticket and walked me back through security to the same plane I’d just landed in. I sped to the Pet Emergency Clinic and was ushered in the back to see Rocky. His tail started a slow wag when he saw me. He licked my face, as he normally does when he hasn’t seen me for a bit. But then, as quickly as he started, he just stopped. He had lost all energy and slipped back into sleep.
Then the testing began. Blood, x-rays, ultrasounds. All of it. And then, as if this wasn’t enough of a crisis, I was informed they would need a very large payment. Now.
I hadn’t even considered the costs. I just wanted my best friend to be okay. They told me the fees accumulated so far, not including all the tests they still wanted to do. Tests that could point to a cause, which could maybe point towards a remedy.
I gave them every penny I had, but it was nowhere near enough. I didn’t know what to do. I called some close friends and fellow animal lovers who I knew would understand. They chipped in enough to get me through the afternoon of treatment. But I couldn’t afford more, and they would have to stop treatment without payment.
Somewhere along the line it ran through my mind to have a fundraiser. A good friend pointed me to the website chip in. I raced home and started typing. I’m not one to take ‘handouts’ so I decided to offer some of my prints to any generous soul who helped out. I quickly came up with a price list and posted my offer to the world on Google+.
Within the first two minutes, I got a notification on my iPhone. My good friend Colby had chipped in. Then another notification appeared. Another contribution from a friend. Photographer friends, old high school friends, and even old coworkers were chipping in. Then names I didn’t recognize started to appear. Within four hours I’d raised $4,000. With this and the continuing inflow of donations I told the vet to do whatever he could to save Rocky. I was hopeful.
I awoke to the phone ringing after 40 minutes of sleep. I saw the familiar number come up. The vet told me there was nothing left to do and that Rocky had a very slim chance of surviving through the night. The latest test showed he was losing blood, maybe from severe internal bleeding, or his body was just shutting down.
I had a choice to make. The hardest choice of my life. Do I let my boy go on his own, or do I help him out in a humane and pain-free way? I couldn’t think straight. The vet said the only other option would be a blood transfusion through his jugular vein, which was difficult to find due to his severe dehydration and thick skin; but even then the chances weren’t good. I decided to give it one last try.
I received another call. This time the vet informed me he’d found the jugular and placed a catheter in it. The new test from this vein was more accurate than the last, and suggested Rocky actually wasn’t losing blood. “He is really critical,” the vet said, “but getting this in his jugular gives me a lot more tools to fight with.” With those words, I was able to sleep for the first time in two days.
I woke up and saw no missed calls from the vet. I called and was told Rocky had made some progress after the new catheter was put in. He seemed slightly more alert and even ate a very small bite of food. At this point, his protein levels were rock bottom due to lack of food.
I barely recognized Rocky when I arrived at the vet’s. He was walking, head up, and tail wagging feverishly. He licked my face nonstop and refused to lie down. He had not been able to stand or keep his head off of the ground for more than five or ten seconds in the previous two days. He ate and he drank.
Over the last 10 hours, I went from accepting that my best friend of almost 10 years would never sleep next to me again, to seeing him act like the same boy I have always known.
It was later determined that Rocky has Addison’s Disease and that this was a severe Addisonian crisis. It was good to put a name to his condition. We could treat it, and he was alive.
No one knows how much longer my best friend and I have together. But whether it’s five years or five months, I will cherish every day and every moment we have. And I have the thousands of amazing people on Google+ and Facebook, who paused their busy lives and bought a print, wrote a kind comment, sent me a message, or shared my plea with their friends and their circles. My faith in people was restored.
In total, we raised over $7,000 in 48 hours, from almost 200 amazing contributors.
From the bottom of our hearts, I cannot thank each and every one of the donors enough. Every time Rocky retrieves his favorite frisbee, sticks his head out of the car window to breathe in the fresh California air, or wags his tiny stub of a tail, I will smile and thank all who helped save Rocky’s life.
Check out more photos of Rocky and me taken by Melissa Palomo.