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A twisted, turning route to home

by Karen Martin | April 2, 2023 at 2:02 a.m.
Karen Martin

(continued from last week)

We were supposed to fetch our newly adopted dog on Tuesday, March 21.

I know this. Because, even among journalists, I'm detail-oriented. I make notes. I double-check dates and times. I was absolutely certain that I had been told "Catherine" could be fetched somewhere between 4-5 p.m. Tuesday, March 21.

When I excitedly called the Little Rock Animal Village earlier on that day to confirm she'd be ready to come home at that time, the staff member on the other end of the phone hestitated.

"Catherine?" she asked.

Yes, I responded, with a sinking feeling that all was not well.

"She's getting spayed on Wednesday."

I told her this wasn't what I'd been told.

"No, I filled out the paperwork for her spaying. She'll be ready to go on March 23."

Eeep. I was confused and more stressed than was perhaps appropriate. I had previously been told I could get her on the same day she was spayed, and now I was being told to get her the day after she would be spayed. But there wasn't anything the nice woman I was talking to could do about that. There's a point in these conversations when you realize you're not getting anywhere, so I thanked her and hung up.

But people make mistakes.

So I called back and got another staffer. I told her about my lack of clarity as to what day our dog would be available. Again, hesitation. Then I was put on hold.

A few moments later, another voice--a male voice--came on the line to tell me it might be Friday before we could get her.

Again, the journalist kicked in. What's going on? I asked.

He straightforwardly told me "distemper had been introduced" into the shelter, and all the dogs had to be vetted to make sure they hadn't been infected. Understandably they didn't want to send us home with a sick dog.

Canine distemper is contagious and serious. It's caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. They often become infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment.

An animal shelter is not the sort of facility that can easily cope with distemper. It can burn through a kennel where lots of dogs are in close proximity.

My shoulders sagged. Sinking feeling again.

So I emailed the LRAV volunteer who initially helped me with adopting Catherine and had been holding my hand through the process. She wrote:

My assumption is that they are delaying pickups until all dogs have been tested as a precaution. I think possibly it may take a couple of days to get the results back. My suggestion would be to call back on Thursday to see if they have an update for you. I know you are anxious to get her but they want to err on the side of caution. Hang in there.

Vowing not to pester the staff yet again--and fearing the worst--I was surprised to find a voicemail on my phone March 22. I learned that Catherine's spay surgery went well. She had received her vaccines, and her heartworm test was negative.

The staff wanted to keep her for another night or two because of the shelter's distemper concerns.

"I wanted to test her before I send her home to you guys, so I sent the test off to the state lab and should have results by tomorrow [Thursday] ... please hold off on picking her up until we call; we'll see you in a day or two."

Thursday came and went with no call. On Friday, after a hellishly frantic and unfocused day at work, accompanied by anxiety (what if the little dog had been infected?) I again pestered the shelter for an update.

The staff person I reached said they were still awaiting results from the state lab doing the distemper testing.

Back to an email exchange with the LRAV volunteer (whom I'm sure was heartily sorry she had started corresponding with me): I think they may be overwhelmed by the volume of the tests and just want to make sure they get things right. I certainly hope they will call you today and let you bring her home. I know this has been a much longer wait than anticipated. They are not allowing anyone to visit with the dogs until they have completed all of the testing, I do know that much. Please update me when you hear something. I am so very sorry that you are experiencing this delay. I hope so badly that they call you today.

On Saturday morning, my husband Philip dropped by LRAV to see if he could visit Catherine (to measure her for a harness and to make sure she couldn't squeeze through our dog-run fencing) and check her status.

Philip learned that the test results came in at 4:30 p.m. Friday. But they hadn't been through them yet, so he wasn't allowed to visit Catherine, and his request for the staff to shuffle through the test results to see if Catherine was cleared to leave wasn't granted.

"Maybe this afternoon," he was told, and would get a call if that's what happened.

We'd heard that before, and were distressed, because if we couldn't bring her home on Saturday, it would be the following Tuesday at the earliest, as LRAV is closed Sundays and Mondays.

I was out riding my bike and listening to "This American Life" on Saturday when, as I cruised into my driveway, my phone rang. It was LRAV. Catherine was fine and ready to go home. I got tangled up in the bike frame in my haste to leap off and run into the house to tell Philip the good news.

Now named Savannah (after Philip's ancestral home), she came home that afternoon. A LRAV employee took her photo and used a dog breed identification app to see if we could figure out her ancestors as well.

The app came up with border terrier. Maybe; but I think there's some Chihuahua there as well--she looks a lot like a hip hybrid called a "Toxirn," which is a cross between Chihuahua and Cairn terrier.

While we don't plan to do any DNA testing (who cares?), guesses as to her heritage are welcome.

As is Savannah Catherine Martin, home at last.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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