Last Saturday I told you about Tara Hansen, a veterinary technician at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic who had taken on the role of foster mom and caregiver for a Boxer puppy born with a cleft lip and palate.

Monday night, sitting on the couch with my husband who was looking at his phone, I heard him groan, “Oh no…”

~Tara & Champ 2Looking at his Facebook feed, he merely turned his phone to me, showing me the following message posted to the Boxer Champ community page:

“It is with a very heavy heart to have to type this update . . . (definitely) not an update I ever thought of writing. Champ passed away in my arms tonight. I fought for him until the very end attempting CPR, but it was too late. His little body couldn’t fight any more.”

Marty was stunned. I was in disbelief. And when I told daughter Moira, she bent her head to hide her tears.

Neither Marty nor Moira had the pleasure of meeting Champ. In fact, most of his fans never got the opportunity to stroke his sweet little cheeks or shake one of his cute, tiny paws. But he had a huge fan club to be sure.

None of us would’ve learned of this sweet little puppy had Tara not answered the call of her heart, a call that whispered, “Give him a chance. Try,” when he was brought to the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is the quintessential animal lover, truly going to any lengths necessary to help an animal in need. Whether it’s to bottle-feed an abandoned litter of newborn kittens, find a new “forever family” to adopt a homeless dog, or, as she did with Champ, devote herself morning and night to the survival of a struggling animal who needed a shot at life.

I know plenty of people who roll their eyes at those of us who connect with other beings covered in fur (or scales or feathers). They mutter thoughtless things like, “It’s just a dog.” So I’m sure there are a few readers wondering why I give so much attention to animals. Simple, each animal, each creature (yes, even spiders) are a living, breathing being that has purpose. Often times, we’ll never know their purpose.

When I talked with Tara the day after Champ passed, she admitted she wasn’t completely shocked that he died because he was exhibiting a few troubling symptoms indicating he was struggling.

“But at the same time, I was upset. I still am.”

Tara reviewed the symptoms with me, saying that at 7 a.m. Sunday, after Champ’s morning tube feeding, she saw him start to gag and struggle. He was open-mouth breathing and turning white. Taking an infant bulb syringe, she did an emergency suction on Champ and discovered copious amount of mucus had coagulated in the back of his throat.

Hearing this took me back nearly 15 years to Moira’s first five months, before any surgeries started to correct her cleft, when her breathing would rattle when mucus clogged the back of her throat. Marty and I grew quite adept with the bulb syringe. Fortunately for us, that usually relieved Moira’s woes and she’d return to easy breathing.

With Champ, however, Tara could tell things weren’t right and she feared pneumonia could be setting in. After clearing the mucus from Champ’s throat, she then took him to the bathroom and started a hot shower so the steam could enter his lungs and loosen any remaining mucus. While it seemed to help, later that day she gave him a nebulizing treatment for safe measure.

The following morning, Monday Feb. 9, Tara woke to give Champ his breakfast and found him in his kennel. “He wouldn’t stand up and he had blood all over the side of his face.”

After Tara cleaned and then fed him, “he perked right up,” she said.

Once he was stable, she and a friend loaded him in the car and made the three-hour drive to Ames where they met with doctors at Iowa State University’s veterinary college.

Tara explained what had been happening over the last 24-hours and while doctors initially guessed the blood may have been caused by irritation to the throat from the tube feedings or sneezing that may have caused Champ to bite his lip, chest films were taken.

“I was sure he had pneumonia,” Tara said. While the films didn’t indicate pneumonia there were a few small spots doctors couldn’t explain. “I wonder if it was some blood clots,” she said.

While in Ames, doctors mapped out a progression of surgeries and had tabled the idea of a feeding port due to Champ’s fast growth rate. His first surgery was slated for next month.

Returning home, Champ was tired and Monday evening, after a feeding “he fell asleep,” Tara recalled. “Then all of a sudden he woke up and threw his head back.”

Tara immediately suctioned Champ, “I ended up getting a whole bunch of blood out of there.” Then his heart stopped. “I started doing chest compressions and by then he was doing agonal (spastic, labored) breathing.”

Despite her efforts, Champ died.

Having raised nearly $2,000 in donations for Champ’s medical costs, Tara wants all the money returned. Many of her donors, in thanking Tara for her compassion and hard work, wanted her to keep the money as compensation. She refused, “It was something I never wanted to pocket the money from or be paid for.”

Instead, Tara is suggesting donating in Champ’s memory, either to an animal shelter or the “Care for Cleo” fund at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, which covers costs associated with helping stray and unwanted animals.

Writing on the Boxer Champ Facebook page Wednesday, Tara wrote that despite the heartbreak of losing Champ, she will continue her work.

“In three short weeks I was able to watch this little guy open his eyes, struggle to take his first steps and see him find his little voice. In three short weeks my heart was wrapped up in his pudgy little Boxer body. I will continue on and do whatever I can for animals, this will not detour me from doing what I feel is right. . .

“. . . If (we) humans could take a few lessons from animals, our world would be a much happier and loving place to be!”

RIP Champ. . .


Originally published 14 February 2015 in The Observer.
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