Holly: A dog with a heart so big she needs a pacemaker

Digital paintings of my best garden buddy Holly who needed a pacemaker installed more that three years ago.

Digital paintings of my best garden buddy Holly who needed a pacemaker installed more that three years ago.

Digital painting of our dog Holly.jpg

Do dogs have pacemakers?

Let me introduce you to my best friend, Holly. The dog with a heart so big she needs a pacemaker. Actually, make that two pacemakers. The first pacemaker’s battery began to run out after serving her well for almost 4 years, so she had to have a second one installed.

The second operation involves a quick swap of the existing pacemaker with the new one. There is no need to remove the wire that runs from the pacemaker to the heart muscle.

The original operation involved inserting a wire into the dog’s main artery in her neck and running a wire into the malfunctioning heart chamber where it is attached to the wall of the heart. Then, the wire is attached to a pacemaker, turned on and tucked away just under the dog’s skin on her shoulder where it sends electrical impulses to the heart and keeps my little girl alive.

This is her tale.

She’s quite the character. From the day we got the little bundle of energy she’s been by my side. I remember spending the first night with her in the basement sleeping side by side on the couch.

KelbyOne. Unleash your inner pet photography

Now, we share our mornings together out in the garden. Me with my coffee in hand, and her, vigilantly watching over the garden to ensure no intruder should appear.

The chipmunks, red, grey and black squirrels are all okay. In fact, they are all her little buddies. But our neighbourhood fox, a rabbit or a deer, well they are not welcome and will get the official send off with a frantic series of warning barks.

Warning of what, we’re not quite sure.

Mornings together on the patio, me with my coffee and her watching out for Woodland visitors to the garden.

Mornings together on the patio, me with my coffee and her watching out for Woodland visitors to the garden.

In more than 12 years as the garden watchdog, Holly has not killed or even injured a single garden friend or foe. She’s probably done more harm to her vocal chords than any wild creature in the garden.

She’s literally one-of-a-kind. A miniature Golden is the best description of her. Weighing in at about 35 pounds with a black nose and the cutest ears anyone has ever seen, this little Humane Society rescue still thinks she’s a puppy.

At least in the mornings. That’s when she’s all spunk. By mid-day, after her walk, she’s ready to begin her day-long nap which lasts into the evening with only a short burst of energy right around dinner time.

Age catches up with all of us and Holly is no different. Most people who meet her still think she’s a puppy, or at least many years younger than her age.

Holly wasn’t always full of energy. Almost two years ago we thought we were going to lose her. After she stopped eating and lost a lot of her spunk we rushed her off to our local vet only to find out her heart was in rough shape. Tests showed it had dropped to only 31 beats a minute (dogs usually clip along at about 100-plus beats a minute) and had become quite enlarged.

Several tests and veterinarian visits landed us at a specialized animal hospital where we met Dr. Minors, an animal cardiologist and surgeon who explained that one of the chambers in Holly’s heart was misfiring and that she would be a perfect candidate for a pacemaker.

Here pacemaker seen here in an xray and the wire that runs through a major artery in her neck and attaches to the inside of her heart.

Here pacemaker seen here in an xray and the wire that runs through a major artery in her neck and attaches to the inside of her heart.

The operation had to be scheduled for weeks down the road. In the meantime, a number of tense weeks passed where Holly’s heart would cut out and cause her to faint for a few seconds before recovering. On the day of the operation, we said our goodbyes and handed her off to Dr. Minors and her team of cardiac specialists.

The operation involves inserting a wire into the dog’s main artery in her neck and running a wire into the malfunctioning heart chamber where it is attached to the wall of the heart. Then, the wire is attached to a pacemaker, turned on and tucked away just under the dog’s skin on her shoulder where it sends electrical impulses to the heart and keeps my little girl alive.

Two days later she was out of the hospital and within a week or two right back to her old self.

Now, she wears her pacemaker on her shoulder just beneath the skin for all to check out whenever I tell them about it.

Holly with her bandage on after her second pacemaker.

Holly outside on her table after her second operation to replace her pacemaker after the first one’s battery began to run out..

And I never pass up the opportunity to fill people in about our little bionic puppy named Holly. Afterall, we both travelled a similar path – me a double by-pass survivor and her with her pacemaker.

My little buddy, who has grown old along with me, seems just as happy as I am to sit quietly and take in the early morning sounds of the garden waking up.

Me with my coffee, and her, ever vigilant, eagerly waiting to awaken that inner puppy with a warning bark or two before nap time.

Holly at a full run at one of the local dog parks. She certainly loved running free through the tall grasses.

Holly at a full run at one of the local dog parks. She certainly loved running free through the tall grasses.

Be prepared for the high cost of pet care

On a side note: My wife and I were lucky enough to be in a financial position to proceed with Holly’s treatment which, as you may have guessed, was quite expensive.

Having your own cardiac surgeon comes at a price, and pacemakers, even used ones, do not come cheap. We believe that having a pet comes with a lot of responsibility and that includes a financial commitment to care for the animal the best you can. Providing basic flea, tick and heartworm medication such as Advantage is really only the beginning of the regular costs of sharing your life with a pet, be it a dog or a cat. Let’s not even get into pet supplies and accessories. A younger couple in a different stage of life may not have been able to afford the health care Holly needed. That’s when pet health care insurance may have saved the day. If you are thinking about buying Pet Health Insurance, there are many informative books available, Including this one from veterinarian Dr. Doug Kenney, entitled Pet Health Insurance: A veterinarian’s Perspective, that will help you make the best decision. We did not have health care insurance for Holly, but I know of a co-worker who used her insurance several times when her rather young dog developed eye and joint problems that required surgeries. If you think you might be forced to make a difficult decision if your pet became ill or just needed major surgery, consider purchasing health insurance for your pet. Choosing between life and finances is not a position you want to be in.

Also if you are looking for better prices on health care products for your dog or cat check out Pet Meds.

Holly relaxing with one of her little friends on the patio.

Holly relaxing with one of her little friends on the patio.

Holly health update: News not good

Since I wrote this article we have learned that our little girl has likely developed cancer. Several months back I noticed a small lump on her side that seemed to be growing. A veterinarian suggested it was likely just a fluid build up which is quite common in older dogs.

When I took her to her cardiologist, she noticed the lump and suggested we talk to the cancer specialist at the Mississauga Animal Hospital. A needle was injected into the site and the results suggested it was most likely cancer. At almost 14 years of age, we have chosen to allow nature to take its course.

Months after the diagnosis and Holly remains a happy, almost puppy-like senior dog that continues to enjoy life.

Her favourite time of the day is spending mornings out in the garden with me enjoying the birds and the wildlife. Me with a coffee, and her every vigilante for the local fox that likes to hunt in our yard.

Holly won’t have any of that. The chipmunks and squirrels are her friends and for as long as she is around, they have a friend and a protector in the little rescue dog with a heart so big she needs a pacemaker to keep it going.

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