They are the invisible death row dogs: The dogs who test positive for heartworms. Most shelters euthanize these dogs before they even make it to the adoption floor, because no one wants to adopt a dog that they will have to spend thousands of dollars to “fix.” In addition, there are so many myths and half-truths about heartworms that many potential adopters think heartworms are contagious, like parvo, and will avoid all the dogs from a particular shelter as a result. As a result, dogs who test positive for heartworms have little to no chance of finding a home once they wind up in shelters.
One dog in southern Illinois is trying to change this for other dogs who find themselves dealing with heartworms. Heartworm Happy was born on a sweltering July day in 2010. The very next year, just a few days before her birthday, her family took her to the vet to be spayed. The day after the surgery, the family was informed that Happy had tested positive for heartworms. The family immediately took her from her recovery cage at the vet’s office, to a cage at the local, rural high-kill shelter. Happy was scheduled to be put down several times – no one wanted her. Thankfully, the kind Animal Control Officers at this shelter kept giving her “one more chance,” hoping that someone would see what a great dog she was. Happy was accepted into several rescues, only to see them turn their backs on her once they found out she had heartworms.
Happy’s time in the shelter was finally up. The ACOs could keep her no longer. The vet was on the way to euthanize all the dogs in the shelter. Then a group of volunteer animal rescuers burst into the building and took every dog and put them on a transport to rescues elsewhere in the state. Everyone but Happy, that is. After everyone left, Happy was the only one left in the kennel building. She curled up in her kennel, waiting to die, but something told one of the rescuers that she was worth saving. Lisa and Steve Thompson drove back to the shelter to get Happy, hoping to beat the vet there. Thankfully, they succeeded. They’ve had Happy since that day, and helped her beat the heartworms. She runs and plays and does everything any other dog can do. And now she has a mission to save others.
Happy and Lisa have started a campaign to raise awareness for the “Invisible Death Row Dogs.” Through social networking platforms such as Facebook, they provide information on heartworms, resources for pets and their parents, and help cross-post and save other dogs who have tested positive for heartworms. While heartworms are not easy to cure and the treatment is costly, the condition can be cured. There are two methods of doing so: The fast-kill method which uses Immiticide injections to kill adult heartworms, or the slow-kill method which uses regular monthly heartworm medications such as Heartgard and Ivermectin to slowly kill the adult heartworms and microfilaria. Both methods have their benefits. Which method is chosen is up to the pet parent and their vet to decide. Heartworms do not have to be a death sentence for any dog!
For more about Heartworm Happy, you can visit Happy’s Facebook page.
For more about canine heartworms, you can visit the American Heartworm Society.
Related content by this contributor:
Pet Rescue Profile: It Takes a Village Canine Rescue of Evansville, Indiana
Rescue Spotlight: The Senior Dogs Project
How to Prevent a Dog Bite: Tips from a Trainer