Disease

It was about three weeks in when we got the bad news. I was visiting the vet for Luna again. This time he had determined that she had mites and probably some kind of mange. It was a different shampoo, more potent. I would need to wear gloves and she had to just wait with it on her for 10 minutes before I could wash it off.

He thought the food wasn’t right either and suggested she stay off any red meat. He suggested a chicken based dry food and to stay off wet food, too exciting. No more exciting treats either.

Molly had started with cold symptoms. A weird runny nose and a cough. The vet decided to test her again, and it was the worst news. Distemper: puppy killer.

There are two puppy killing diseases in Korea, Distemper and Parvo. Usually in the West we keep our mothers-to-be very clean and vaccinated and so we rarely hear of them but in Korea many of the dogs come from puppy mills. These horrible places house hundreds of dogs in tiny cages and they are only let out to breed. Their puppies are often removed at two and three weeks old because Korean’s like to buy cute puppies in the window.

The puppies are kept small by reducing their food and water. Most Koreans expect to pay over w200,000 (or around £150) in vet fees when they first get a puppy. They expect their puppies to be sick. The problem is compounded in shelters by those new owners who decide not to pay the vets and instead just put the puppy out on the street. The shelter picks them up and has to deal with new strains constantly making their way around the shelter.

Both diseases are nasty but Parvo is particularly cruel. It is passed through surfaces, dogs touching and smelling a diseased surface will contract the disease. The dogs lose their appetite very quickly, once they stop eating they start with bloody diarrhea, it usually takes between 24 and 48 hours for them to pass away. Parvo has a very particular smell. After years in the shelter I learned it well, it really does smell like death.

Distemper is also horrific, but in a different way. It is passed through the air so is very difficult to prevent spreading in the shelter environment. The dogs start with cold symptoms, then gravitate to a cough, in the final stages they have seizures. These usually kill the dog. If you can stave off the cold then sometimes the dog can make it through. The problem with this disease is that it takes about 10 days from contraction to show on the test, which was why Molly had looked clean at first.

My vet was not optimistic. He said Molly was so young, there was no point treating her. He could give her antibiotics, but it wouldn’t make any difference. I was heartbroken.

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