Achilles' Heel

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

Mahatma Gandhi

On October 5th, 2015, Frederick County Animal Control & Pet Adoption Center (FCAC) lost a treasured member of our shelter family. Achilles, a 5-year-old pitbull mix, developed "bloat" (gastric dilation and volvulus), a common, rapidly progressing condition that often kills, even with treatment. We recognized the symptoms right away and rushed Achilles to a veterinarian, but it was too late.

Achilles was a favorite of FCAC staff and volunteers, who worked with him on obedience, kept him socialized with other dogs, and gave him lots of love and playtime during his 3 months at the shelter. Although we are devastated by the unexpected loss of our buddy, we hope his story will help other dogs and the families that love them.

In fact, Achilles' story has two morals. The first, of course, is this: Protect your best friend from bloat - learn about the risk factors and be able to recognize the symptoms.

Although the causes of bloat are not well understood, dogs may be more likely to bloat if they have a deep chest, eat one large meal per day, eat rapidly, eat or drink to excess, engage in heavy exercise after eating, eat only dry food (especially a food that lists fats or oils among the first four ingredients), or are older. Risk may also be somewhat higher for certain large or giant breed dogs and those fed from elevated feeders.

Early symptoms include abdominal distension, unsuccessful attempts to belch or vomit, looking anxious or looking at the abdomen, standing and stretching, and excessive drooling. Later symptoms may include panting or shortness of breath, weakness, or collapse.

The second moral has to do with how we decide to treat our pets - as part of the family, or as property?

Achilles wasn't perfect. He pulled on the leash?hard. And he barked (a lot) when people passed by his kennel without stopping. But why was he here? It turns out this was his third time at the shelter. His previous two owners had surrendered him to FCAC - in both cases because they were moving and felt they could not take him with them.

"Moving" is one of the top reasons people cite for surrendering their pets to shelters. It can be hard to relocate with a pet. Many landlords prohibit large dogs or certain breeds or types (especially pitbulls) - if they allow pets at all. And financial difficulties often narrow one's options in a variety of ways. But a little advance planning may allow you to either take your pet with you or place him in a loving forever home before you move. FCAC can help you with this planning - and believe us, we want to help. Unfortunately, we typically don't hear from people in this situation until they show up at the shelter to give up their pet, distraught over the decision but with no time left to consider alternatives.

If you have chosen to own a pet, know that your pet sees you as his family, regardless of how you see him and even if, like most of us, you haven't always been the perfect pet owner. So the second moral is this: Your pet depends on you to watch out for him, even when life gets messy. If you have to move and think you may not be able to take your pet, please contact us (301-600-1546). We very much want to help keep families together.