Today on the blog, meet Pogo. A handsome Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Pogo is a patient of VCA SFVS cardiologist Dr. Justin Williams. Pogo was diagnosed with endocardosis and congestive heart failure. Here, Pogo’s mom, Marty, writes beautifully about his journey and his (still!) big appetite for food and life.
Marty, thank you so much for sharing this touching story with us. Pogo is one lucky dog to have you and Chaz as his human companions.
Pogo’s Story – written by his mom, Marty
Pogo came to us in San Francisco all the way from Nova Scotia one bright day in November 2003. At four months old he took his first brave journey huddled in Air Canada’s cargo hold. When he arrived a bit bedraggled at SFO that night, we opened his travel crate to welcome him, but he refused to take so much as a sniff toward us, instead crouching back as far as he could to the rear of the crate.
Back at home Pogo sat quietly on the back porch in his den while his new four-pawed siblings eagerly investigated. Still bunched in the back shadows, Pogo showed no interest in venturing out, even for cheese and chicken treats. Finally after a few hours we tilted the crate slowly and steeply on its end, plopping him out onto a waiting lap, his reward a juicy carrot. To our surprise and relief he gobbled it right down and has been in our warm embrace ever since.
Born to a long line of Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, Pogo is proud of his Canadian heritage. As a young pup, he loved romping with his brothers and sisters around their little farm. Not one to miss the buzz around town, though, he knew his kind was bred to work long days “tolling” and retrieving ducks for serious hunters. “Not the life for me,” he told his then-mom. “I’m really more of a ‘slacker’ toller.” Pogo dreamt of playing in the fields and enjoying all-you-can-eat buffets. When word came that a family in San Francisco wanted him, he leapt at the chance to escape a fate of hard labor and move to mellow California where he had heard the fields overflowed with food.
Once his initial shyness passed, Pogo joined our family with wild exuberance, following his mama everywhere. He was full of energy and had a crazy happy appetite for life, especially anything remotely edible. Whether swimming for sticks in the ocean waves, chasing squirrels and exploring gopher holes with his sister, Sadie, or learning fun tricks, he was pumped up and ready for more adventure. At home, he romped in the backyard, played fun games for treats, munched on raw bones, and snuggled for hours with his dad, draped over him napping while his dad watched TV. Happy as a clam, eight years flew by and Pogo was primed for eight more.
One day during a routine exam in 2011, our vet at Mission Pet Hospital (Dr. Hindatu Mohammed) discovered that Pogo had a heart murmur. A three-month follow-up was recommended and happily life went on as normal, though started to cloud over somewhat as we learned that his heartbeat had grown more erratic. Dr. Mohammed advised that we see a heart specialist and we soon drove up to VCA Santa Rosa where Dr. Kristin McDonald diagnosed mitral valve degeneration with a slightly enlarged heart. So began our journey with heart disease and its many twists and turns. Some months later when Pogo suddenly developed a cough, another vet at our regular clinic diagnosed kennel cough, surmising that he had caught a case of this common affliction on one of his daily outings. A month later, though, when Pogo’s cough had not improved and he also started experiencing rapid breathing, we knew his heart condition had worsened. Dr. Mohammed told us that a cardio specialist had recently joined the staff at VCA SF and we soon came onboard with Dr. Justin Williams who affirmed Pogo’s diagnosis of endocardosis and further identified signs of congestive heart failure. The past year and a half has been all about navigating the labyrinth of advancing disease and numerous treatment modalities.
Through this sad and bewildering process, Dr. Williams has been our steady guide and a critical lifeline for Pogo. Extremely knowledgeable and conscientious, Dr. Williams thoroughly evaluates Pogo at every turn, keeping a keen eye on multiple factors involved in medically treating his cardiac disease, always patiently attentive to maximizing Pogo’s quality of life. At the same time, he is honest and forthright about the progressive realities of the disease, including its unavoidable shortened life expectancy. Alongside Dr. Williams, his wonderful assistants Crystal and Melissa (now relocated to Texas—we miss you) have been warm and loving friends to Pogo, taking him into their hearts (and, most importantly, rewarding him with treats).
At this writing, Pogo has outlived the statistical average lifespan for this disease by five months and counting. Over the past year he has been in and out of congestive heart failure a few times and struggles more and more each day. With a significantly enlarged heart at times pressing on his trachea, he now has a chronic low-grade cough, his breathing is challenged, his heartbeat sounds like chaotic “shoes in the dryer” causing his body to vibrate slightly, and he must endure extensive meds three times per day plus daily transcutaneous injections.
Amazingly Pogo still has his big appetite, both for food and life. Slower and a bit shakier, he is nonetheless eager to play treat games and go out on daily nature walks. He no longer snuggles with us as any added warmth can bring on a cough, but he still comes up for his daily love “lean-ins.” We know his life is waning and our hearts are deeply sad. We have talked with him about one day swimming through ocean waves to the Land of Forever Treats and will be planting a Pogo Memorial Tree in our backyard. We treasure every day we have left together. Pogo has taught us so much about living with gusto and dying with grace. He will live in our hearts forever.
For more, read Pogo’s Rules to Live By (PDF).
Update: The beautiful Pogo left this world on March 30, 2013, following a long struggle with advanced heart disease. RIP, Pogo! We were honored to get to know you and to be a part of your care team. You will be missed. – VCA SFVS