ARTICLES »A Close Encounter With A Killer

~A Story of Bloat Survival by Chris Benton

Ask people what they think a killer looks like and mostly they will describe a sinister, evil looking being that they would immediately recognize as bad. Ask people who have actually unknowingly had acquaintance with a killer and you will often hear quotes like "he like such a nice person" or "I am totally shocked, I never would have known." Killers-they come in all shapes and sizes, they are not always easily recognized.

The killer that I recently had an encounter with is one that I have known about for many years. I had heard the stories of unsuspecting dog owners who went off to work kissing their happy seemly healthy canine companion goodbye, only to come home to a silent house and a very dead dog. In fact two of my best friends lost their beloved companions to this often unrecognized killer this past year. Both dogs were German Shepherds. One was only fourteen months old. Young and full of life one day, Otto was very much dead the next. The other was seven year old German Shepherd who was in the prime of life and very loved by adoring owners. His fate was sealed also because his owners did not recognize a killer when it came knocking at their door.

My friend's tragedy may have saved my Shiloh, Tanner's life. When this killer came knocking I recognized him for who he was. Who is this killer? He goes by the street name of BLOAT. A very benign name for a very ruthless killer.

I was not expecting to have a life and death situation last Thursday, as I loaded up Tanner to take him to the vet for an ear infection. Tanner is nine and half years old and as far as I was concerned in very good health. He recently had pasted his yearly checkup with flying colors. He stills runs with me everyday and in fact has been training with us for a half marathon. We did a fourteen miler the previous Saturday and by Sunday morning he was ready to go for a short five miler. Yep, there is nothing wrong with Tanner. Oh how fate can humble you.

I stopped to pick up Tanner from the vet after work. He had been there all day, not his favorite thing for sure. The vet explained what I needed to do to treat the infection. I was anxious to get home. There was an artic front coming in and the winds where howling, temps were dropping fast and the weather forecast was warning that - 35 to – 50 degree wind chill temperature were likely. I live about 30 miles from Missoula. The drive would most likely be bad with blowing snow and gusting winds. I just wanted to get home. As Tanner and I exited the vet's office we were blasted by the frigid wind. My plan had been to stop and take Tanner for a quick walk but I quickly changed it, reasoning with my self that we could make it home and Tanner would be alright. Tanner certainly didn't seem inclined to do any thing but wanted to get in the car and get as far away from the dreaded vet as he could. The ride home was uneventful. At home I let Tanner and my other dogs Jocko and Kola out. They all just hovered around the door. With the temps now at 20 below without the wind, they were not inclined to go walk themselves. I decided to feed them first then bundle up for the required walk. Tanner ate his dinner with gusto then went and got him self a long drink of water. He was very thirsty after being at the vet's all day. The stage was set. Now all I had to do is open the door----

It was cold outside and getting dark. We were kind of sheltered form the wind but at 20 below, you cannot hide from the cold. I set a quick pace and the three dogs trotting along with me. I was hoping to that the dogs would do their business, but they were out to milk the walk for as long as possible. I noticed the change on the return trip. Jocko and Kola had finally given in to natures call and did their potty break. Tanner, though seemed to start to do his business but then stop and trot off. I thought he might be a little constipated. Things progressed quickly. I could tell just how Tanner was walking that something was wrong. He started to vomit but nothing came up except some foamy liquid. I didn't see the killer yet but he was there, masking his identity as a typical stomach upset. Dogs get those a lot and if I rushed my dogs to the vet every time one of them puked well, lets just say I would be making a log of trips to town. But----I remembered Otto and Chandler. My friends had waited, and their dogs had died, what if this was the real thing? Thoughts were rushing through my head. I decided to call my vet's emergency number. Their response was bring him in NOW! I think that's when I saw for sure the killer and he had Tanner in his grip. I told them I would be there in a half hour; pretty unrealistic considering the driving conditions. I loaded Tanner into my SUV and sped down our long drive to the main access road to the highway, only to find the whole road was blocked by a neighbor who had spun sideways and was fruitlessly trying to spin himself out of three feet of snow. I panicked. After I sobbingly told him what was going on he, with the help of other neighbors managed to get the vehicle out of my way and I rushed past. By this time Tanner was whining and moaning in the back of my vehicle. I didn't dare stop or look back, my hands where clamped on the steering wheel, praying that I would not go off the road. I made it to the highway. The highway was icy, the wind still howling, blowing snow across the road. I managed to calm myself and drive with caution. Finally after what seemed like hours but in fact was only 45 minutes, I drove up to the vet's office. They were waiting for me and swept Tanner away to do x-rays. As I was waiting for the results of the x-ray I started having doubts, thinking that I had over reacted. Those doubts were put to rest when the vet tech came bursting through the door, shouting its BLOAT, do we have permission to do surgery. I signed the forms. They told me to go home and they would call. All I could think of was that I never got to tell Tanner goodbye. As I drove up to our house I could see my husband had come home. He greeted me on the deck and quickly saw that Tanner was not with me. "Where is Tanner?" he asked. I burst into tears. After I gave him the run down he suggested that we pray. We held hands and prayed for Tanner. I felt better knowing that it was in God's hands. About five minutes later the phone rang. Tanner was okay. We had got him there on time. There was no torsion and all the tissue looked healthy and pink. He would require some extensive post op care, but he was going to make a full recovery. I started crying again but these were tears of joy.

We picked up Tanner on Saturday. What a joyful reunion on both sides. Jim and I dutifully listen to the vet give us all the instructions for post op care. Small amounts of bland food fed every two hours, no running, jumping etc etc. I made the decision right then to take this week off of work to care for him. After the vet finished, one of the vet techs came out to talk with us. She was telling how important it is to get a dog in quickly when suspecting bloat. Ironically as we were standing there a couple burst in carrying a dog. It looked like the dog was dead. The lady was crying and the man face was tight with emotion. It turns out their dog had bloated and died on the way to the vets. "We didn't know" she cried. "We thought it was just a simple upset stomach."

This killer is still out there-Be sure you recognize him if he come knocking! You dogs life depends on it!