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 “The Social Network”. But no more so than the past 72 hours.
A little over 9 years ago, I was united with the best friend a grown man could ask for, a adorable little boxer puppy who I named Rocky. We were inseparable from the start. So much so, as a puppy, I couldn’t say no when he wanted to sleep on the bed with me. Many uncomfortable nights of sleep later, when the first thing I see in the morning when I open my eyes is his adorable face, I still do not regret that decision. Fast forward through 9 years of hikes, road trips, dog parks, frisbee tosses, play dates with his doggie buddies, and of course the occasional medical scare. But none like what began on August 19, 2012 .
On that day. after boarding an early morning flight bound for Fort Lauderdale from San Francisco, I received a frantic phone call from my mother, who so generously assumes full doggy watching responsibilities when I travel. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him!” she screamed over the phone while the flight attendants on my plane began making final checks before takeoff, long after locking the aircraft door making it impossible for me to exit. “He can’t move, he is barely responding!” Of course, I begged her to get him to the Vet Emergency room as quickly as possible. But, my mother is a very petite woman from South Philadelphia. Hoisting a 100-pound near comatose dog to the car would be a job for Super Woman, not my poor mother. But, low and behold, as she has done her entire life, she found super human strength when she was needed, and she was able to get him in the car. 10 minutes later, they were at the Emergency Vet. As the flight attendants told the passengers to turn off their electronic devices, I felt a wave of fear, uncertainty, and especially, helplessness, engulf me. I begged my mother for constant email updates, and luckily, +Virgin America has WiFi.
The veterinarians would only later describe his condition at admittance to me as “flat” and “grave.” It was obvious he was dangerously dehydrated. White gums and no visible veins for the nurses to put an IV in were sure signs of this critical level of dehydration. Only after flooding his intestines with fluids were they able to find a usable vein on his back right ankle, still not an ideal location to draw blood and deliver the much-needed fluids his body desperately needed. But it was all they could do. They started an immediate and constant IV drip to try to bring him back from the brink.
Now, this entire time I was on an airplane, trading frantic emails with my mother, waiting for her to say “He is fine, just a scare,” but of course, 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 Florida at 4:20 pm. After the AMAZING +Virgin America crew on the ground got me a return ticket, walked me through a security line and actually opened the locked gate door onto the plane, I was back on the same exact plane I had just landed on. At 5:15 pm, we were wheels up, and I was back in the air, on my way back cross country to see my boy.
I landed back at SFO roughly 12 hours after his ordeal started. I sped up to the Pet Emergency Clinic and was ushered in the back to see my poor Rocky. He saw me, and his nub of a tail started wagging. Slowly, but it was a wag! 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. Just like that. As he slipped back into sleep. I sat and gently rubbed his soft ears as I always do. He loves that. I talked to the vet about his condition. Blah Blah this, Blah Blah that. It was all Greek to me. I don’t care about any of it. Just tell me he is going to be ok. “Well, we can’t”, they said. “He is in very serious condition, and we don’t know what is wrong, so we don’t know how to treat it.”
The testing started. Fast and furious. Blood, X-Rays, ultra sounds. All of it. But, at this point, as if this wasn’t enough of a crisis, I was informed that they would need a very large payment…now. Uh oh. I didn’t even consider the costs. I just wanted my best friend to be ok. Well, they told me the price tag accumulated thus far, not including all the tests they still wanted to do. Tests that could point to a cause, which, then could maybe point towards a remedy.
I gave them every penny I had, but it obviously was nowhere near enough. “What do I do now?” I wondered, my gut sinking. I called some close friends and fellow animal lovers who I knew would understand my dire need. They were able to chip in enough to get me through the afternoon of treatment. But then what? I was lost. I couldn’t afford any more, and they would have to stop treatment without payment, which, I am sure would have caused me to lose my best friend.
I don’t know when the idea had originally hit me, but sometime during this crisis it ran through the back of my mind. But my good friend and the best puppy mother in the world, Melissa Palomo, informed me that I could have a fundraiser on the website www.chipin.com to help raise some quick funds that may help keep the payments for his critical care coming. What do I have to lose? Poor, innocent Rocky’s life depended on it. I raced home and started typing. Now, I am not one to take “hand outs” so I decided to offer some of my prints to any generous soul who decided to help out. I quickly came up with a price list and posted my offer to the world.
Within the first two minutes, I got a push notification on my iPhone. My good friend Colby Brown had chipped in. Thanks Colby. I can always count on him. Then another notification jumped up. Another friend contributed! Wow! My friends actually do care about what I am going through. People I knew like Photographer friends from Google+, High school friends, and old co-workers were helping. Then, something really amazing happened. A name popped up on my screen that I didn’t recognize. Then another name that I am sure I hadn’t seen before. Then another. And another. The notifications were non stop. One after another. But a lot of the names were unrecognizable to me.The post had gone viral. Who are these people, and how are they so kind hearted, they would send their hard earned money halfway across the world just to help some guy who they never met and his poor sick dog? I didn’t know, but they sure did. And never ONCE did they question why they were doing it, or ask me for ANY type of “proof” that I was going to use their money for what I claimed. I was amazed, touched and grateful for these amazing people. Within the first 4 hours, we had raised over $4,000!
As the donations kept pouring in, I knew now that I had the option to tell the vet that we could use all of the resources available to help Rocky overcome this dire situation. I told him to do what he needed to, and to keep me posted. I left the Vet Emergency Hospital on Monday night feeling hopeful.
That all changed at 2:00 AM. I awoke from my 40 minute sleep to my phone ringer piercing my ear. I saw the familiar number come up, and I dreaded the update I was about to receive. The vet had told me, in so many words, that 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, either from severe internal bleeding or his body was shutting down.
This was it. 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. “How can this be?”, I kept asking. But as I kept looking into his eyes, I didn’t see pain. I saw a tired, weak, and very sick dog. But not a dog in pain, and the vet confirmed that thought. The vet had told me the only other options would be a blood transfusion through his jugular vein, which, believe it or not, was impossible to find earlier due to his severe dehydration and ridiculously thick skin, but even then the chances weren’t good. But I couldn’t just let him go without trying. When all hope seemed lost, the look he gave me told me to not give up on him. I begged the vet to try to find his jugular vein and then we could decide. And with that I left to let him work.
At 4:30 AM I received another call. Could this be the call I dread? Again? No, the vet had informed me that he had found the jugular and placed a catheter in it. The new test from this vein actually was more accurate than the last, and suggested maybe he in fact wasn’t losing blood. What??!!! How is that even possible? The vet ended the call with the words “He is really critical, but getting this in his jugular gives me a lot more tools to fight with” And with those words. I was able to sleep for the first time in 2 days.
I woke at 9 AM and saw no missed calls from the vet. That has to be good right? I called and was told Rocky had made some positive 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 arrived at noon, and when my boy came out of the back, I barely recognized him. He was walking, head UP, and tail wagging feverishly. He licked my face non stop, and refused to lay down. He WANTED to stand. 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. They brought out some of the finest dog food in the world, Mighty Dog, and Rocky inhaled it. The nurses and vet were blown away that this was the same dog they had been around the previous 48 hours. He drank an entire bowl of water without taking a second to breathe. I cannot even begin to describe the emotional roller coaster the last 10 hours had been. 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. Words cannot begin to describe the happiness that was washing over me during this visit.
Two words that had kept being brought up during this entire ordeal was Addison’s Disease, and this could be a severe Addisonian crisis. But as everything is with Rocky, nothing was completely adding up. They sent the blood sample out to be tested. In most cases, you never want your loved one to have a disease, but in this rare case, we did. Addison’s is a very treatable condition, and could give us something specific to treat, while explaining what had happened to him. I left that visit with a smile from ear to ear, and hoping my best friend indeed had a disease.
Well, on our visit later that night, the news we were hoping for was confirmed. Rocky was an “Addison Dog”. His condition was much of the same as earlier in the day. He ate, and we took him outside for a walk, although his arthritic bones were so stiff from lack of Rimadyl (which most likely contributed to this disease) and lack of movement for such an extended period of time that even walking proved painful. But, he was eating, he was happy, he had a condition we could treat, and he was alive.
Today, at 2:00 PM, we took my best friend home. The longest and hardest 80 hours of our lives was finally over. He was on the road to recovery. He is still sick, and anything could still happen, but the vets feel that he is on the right path, and making so much progress that home was a safe place for him to be. His progress since he arrived has been tremendous. He was walking and looking less stiff, drinking tons of water, eating his dinner, and sleeping…comfortably.
No one knows how much longer me and my best friend have together. But whether it is 5 years or 5 months, I will cherish every day and every moment we have left together. And I have the thousands of amazing people in this world on Google+ (And Facebook) who stopped what they were doing in 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 (Many people did all of the above). My faith in people was restored. There are still kind souls out there who are willing to lend their support and put their trust in someone who is in desperate need, even someone they do not know.
All 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 you 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 think of each and everyone of you who saved Rocky’s life. You are all amazing people, and this selfless act will be repaid in spades throughout your lives. This is what friendships are built on, And what makes Google+ (and Facebook) such amazing communities. It isn’t the features, the streams, or the photos. It’s the kind, selfless people that will do anything to help someone in need.
*Check out more photos of Rocky and Me taken by the amazing +Melissa Palomo at
#HealRocky #Photography #FidoFriday #Dog