HARRISON, Ark. — The next time you think about staying home from work because of a headache or a few sniffles, consider Booster.
The 10-year-old golden Labrador retriever has a hole in his head from cancer surgery, he's blind in one eye and he has a sore hip from stem cell therapy.
"But he's still working," Booster's owner and friend, Davis Hawn told the Harrison Daily Times (http://bit.ly/1w3Jdv6).
A few weeks ago, it was doubtful that Booster would even be living after he came down with a serious case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If not for a Harrison veterinary clinic, Hawn said, Booster would be dead instead of snoozing on the clinic's floor at his owner's feet, occasionally rousing himself with a wag of the tail and a friendly sniff whenever another dog or human was nearby.
Booster is a service dog, and Hawn credits the dog with saving his life a number of years ago after a brutal assault and robbery left him physically and emotionally scarred. Booster and Hawn have traveled all over the world, introducing people to the concept of assistance dogs.
Among his experiences, Booster has hugged kids with AIDS in Thailand, helped change disability laws in the Bahamas and gone to Cuba. It's been Hawn's experience that young victims of sexual abuse will often bond with and trust a dog before they will an adult. The children will talk to the dog about their ordeals.
"He is my most valuable asset in life," said Hawn, who has a master's degree from Bergin University of Canine Studies. "Preachers have the Bible. I have my dog."
Hawn is from Mississippi (his truck's license plates read "Booster"), but he owns a summer home in Boone County. Late last month, he and Booster made the trip to Arkansas.
Hawn knew that ticks could be a problem here, but he didn't think too much about it until one morning Booster couldn't get up off the floor.
Hawn took Booster to the Boone County Veterinary Clinic where Dr. Mark Whitmore gave him antibiotics. A blood count showed that Booster's platelets were off by 50 percent.
Booster was, as Hawn put it, "zooming toward death."
Booster was rushed to an emergency veterinary clinic in Springfield, Missouri, then on to the teaching veterinary hospital at the University of Missouri.
When Hawn arrived at the hospital, Booster was experiencing neurological symptoms, such as walking in circles and butting his head against the wall.
Because Booster had undergone surgery for brain cancer, it was assumed that the cancer had returned, causing the neurological symptoms. However, it was also discovered that Booster's blood was going somewhere, and veterinarians could not figure out where.
Booster's spleen and lungs were looked at, Hawn said, but no trace of cancer was found in either.
A CAT scan of the brain was ordered. Nothing.
An MRI was ordered. Nothing.
A culture was taken to be shipped out for results.
Meanwhile, Hawn went on to say, veterinarians made a decision to "hit him with everything they had hoping to find out what was wrong with Booster.
"The experts were baffled," Hawn said.
Three days later, the lab results came back. Booster had Rocky Mountain spotted fever. He was immediately put on the proper medication and watched closely. According to Hawn, Booster came within 24 hours of dying. It takes 7 to 10 days for results to show positive proof of the fever, Hawn said.
Hawn was also grateful that once again Booster saved his life. Booster often slept on Hawn's bed at night.
"He took the hit," Hawn said. "That tick could have gotten me."
Hawn urged dog owners to buy good tick preventatives for their dogs. He also said that, if possible, dog owners should get good pet insurance. One out of four dogs, like Booster, will come down with cancer, Hawn said. Veterinarian bills can run as high as $30,000.
Booster's bills for his Rocky Mountain spotted fever incident were about $5,000.
"I would have paid a million dollars," Hawn said, his voice cracking a bit, as Booster lay sprawled on the floor in front of him.