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Saving SpongeBob

Despite a rough start on the reservation, one lucky dog bounces back to a better life

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

Spongebob, a reservation dog, from an HSVMA Field Services clinic


by Dr. Kate Kuzminski, DVM

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is exceptionally outgoing and energetic, and one could imagine that a dog named after him would be equally as vibrant. But the mixed-bred dog we met was nothing like her namesake when she arrived at our field services clinic on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

Although they said she was about 5 years old, she had already had multiple litters of pups and looked much older.

Life is hard for dogs on the reservations, and SpongeBob was living proof. While the other dogs in the clinic bounced around in excitement, SpongeBob was quiet, lethargic and somewhat disinterested. She was underweight and limping on her hind left leg. There was pus draining from bite wounds and her abdomen sagged.

Although she had only come to us to be vaccinated and spayed, we found that SpongeBob had a tick-bourne disease, which explained her fever and decreased appetite. She was also positive for heartworm disease, a serious illness transmitted by the mosquito. These diagnoses put her at risk for surgery, as did her poor general condition.

Weighing the risks

We explained the situation to her family and discussed the potential anesthetic and surgical risks. After careful consideration, they felt that in the long run, the benefit of having her spayed far outweighed these risks. They loved her and trusted that we would do everything we could to ensure a safe surgery.

We decided to postpone the surgery and start treatment for SpongeBob's diseases immediately. We asked that the family to come to our next clinic on the San Carlos Apache Reservation—a two and a half hour drive away—to reassess her condition. It was a risk; we knew we faced the possibility that we wouldn't see her again.

Luckily, a week later, SpongeBob was back to see us. Her family had left at 6 a.m. in order to arrive at the clinic early. They had rubbed her with anointing oil and prayed for a safe surgery.

Two veterinarians performed the spay surgery, which went quickly and without complication. She recovered like a trooper, eating that night as if her food was the best thing she had ever tasted. Not only had we treated her life-threatening illnesses, but we ensured that her body would not suffer from future nutritional deficiencies as she attempted to carry yet another pregnancy.

The next day, she went back home to her loving family—a family who had made a 5 hour road trip to give their dog the best care available to them.

Improving the lives of people and their pets

Our experience with SpongeBob embodied the true spirit of the HSVMA-RAVS program—giving families an opportunity to help their dogs or cats, despite the extreme financial, educational, environmental or geographical challenges they may face.

It's about partnerships and improving the life of a resilient dog, one who somehow managed to beat the odds and survive the diseases, parasites, nutritional inadequacies and other life-threatening circumstances that a hard life on a reservation throws at her.

Had our veterinary team not been there, she might not have made it. We changed her life, and we changed her family's life—something that we are all very proud to have been a part of.

Dr. Kate Kuzminski is a staff veterinarian with HSVMA-RAVS and a frequent volunteer with Veterinarians Without Boarders in Guatemala.