D. E. Larsen, DVM
Preface: This is an important story for people to read before this weekend of high temperatures in most of Oregon. I am publishing it early in the hope of reaching as many readers as possible.
Sometimes many people suffer from the poor decision of one individual. When the final plans were being made for the initial clinic construction, there were some necessary financial constraints. Namely, we didn’t have any money.
“What about heating and air conditioning?” I asked the contractor.
“The cheapest heating for you is baseboards, and in this area, you only really need air conditioning a few days out of the year. You can save a substantial amount of money by skipping it.”
So we had baseboard heaters and no air conditioning in a concrete building with no insulation. That proved to be an error. The heating was okay, not the best, but okay. The need for air conditioning proved to be far more than a few days of the year.
We learned to cope with the situation. We ran a sprinkler on the roof on the warm days. The water that ran off the roof was as hot as the water out of the hot water tap. With the sprinkler on the roof and the garage door in the back open, the clinic was livable on all be the hottest days. We simply sent all the animals home on those few hundred-degree days and closed at one or two in the afternoon.
It was on just one of those days in July of 1977 when Judy came back from the bank, red-faced and sweating.
“The bank thermometer says one hundred and four degrees already,” Judy said. “It’s like an oven out there.”
“That’s good enough for me,” I said. “The clinic is empty, we just have one appointment to reschedule, and I can feel the cool water of the Calapooia already.”
It seemed that once those words were said, I was standing in the middle of an empty room.
“Give us a call when you and Sandy are ready to run up the river, and we’ll go with you,” Judy said as she headed out the door. “Maybe we should plan to take some hot dogs or something and eat on the riverbank.
I had just hung up the phone talking with Sandy about getting the kids ready to go swimming and calling Judy to make dinner plans, and the phone rang.
“Doc, this is Al. I know you are probably closing early in this heat, but I just got home, and Turbo is flat out in his kennel. I can’t get any response out of him at all.”
Turbo was a large, overweight, black lab. He and Al were regular visitors to the clinic. Al had lost his wife a few years ago, and Turbo was probably his only friend in the world.
“Is his kennel in the sun, Al?” I asked.
“Yes, dammit, it is shaded in the afternoon. That is when he usually needs the shade. I wasn’t planning on this much heat this morning. I had to run to Lebanon for a procedure at the hospital. So he has been in the sun since about seven this morning.”
“Al, if you have a hose handy, wet him down before you bring him to the clinic. If that is a problem, just get him down here as soon as you can.”
“I am going to have to get the neighbor to help me load him. I will probably just throw him in the back of the pickup and run down there. I should be there in less than five minutes.”
I got lucky. Dixie forgot some stuff she had in the refrigerator. She came through the door just after I spoke with Al.
“I hope you’re not in a big hurry,” I said. “Al is on his way to the clinic with Turbo.”
“I assume it is an emergency,” Dixie said.
“Yes, Turbo has been in his kennel, in the sun since early morning,” I said. “He’s unresponsive, and I would guess this is going to be one of those last rites types of emergency.”
When Al came through the door with Turbo on a blanket stretched between Al and his neighbor.
“Where do you want him, Doc?” Al said, almost entirely out of breath.
“Let’s take him back to the tub,” I said.
We got Turbo into the tub, and Dixie plugged a thermometer into him as I started the hose and soaked him with cold water.
Dixie handed me the thermometer. It had spiked to the end in less than a minute. This thermometer only went to one hundred and six degrees.
“Go grab a large thermometer from the lab drawer,” I said to Dixie. “It goes above boiling.”
I grabbed a couple of bags of ice from the freezer and placed one on Turbo’s belly and one on his back.
“This is probably a losing battle,” I say to Al, who has been watching without saying a word.
Dixie took Turbo’s temperature with the lab thermometer. His temperature was just over one hundred and ten degrees. I looked at Al, wondering how to start the conversation. He had tears in his eyes.
“Al, we might be able to cool Turbo down if his heart keeps beating,” I said. “But with a temperature of a hundred and ten, his brain is likely fried.”
“There is probably nothing you do about that at this point,” Al said.
“I haven’t been in this business too long, but I have never seen one of these dogs saved when the temperature was over a hundred and seven. I have had a couple who had temperatures of a hundred and six. One we cooled down, and he recovered. The other one, we got cooled down. It took him a couple of days to die. He was brain dead all that time. He never responded to anything.”
“What happened, Doc?” Al asked. “Was it just the heat.”
“Turbo had the cards stacked against him. He’s black and overweight. Those make this kind of stuff a lot easier, but being unable to get out of the sun. I am sure he probably exhausted his water. His body temperature just got to the point where he couldn’t regulate it any longer. I’m not sure just what it would be called in the book, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, or malignant hyperthermia. It is sort of academic at this point.”
“What should we do?” Al asked.
“I can do whatever you want, Al. I guess I think the best thing is to put Turbo to sleep at this point. I looked at a sick pig yesterday, out by the dam. It had a temperature of one hundred and six when I first looked at him in the morning. I treated him with antibiotics, but by early afternoon he was dead, and his temperature was one hundred and seven. He was sick. That is what started his problem, he was outside, and he was fat. When we opened him up to look, he had erysipelas, but this heat killed him. His internal organs, his liver, his kidneys, and heart were literally cooked. And the brain goes before those other organs.”
“I guess it is pretty obvious that you’re correct,” Al said. “Let’s go ahead and put him to sleep. But I need to know how to prevent this with my next dog.”
“I’m glad that you’re talking about your next dog,” I said. “In this kind of heat, you have to have shade for your dog. And you have to have unlimited water. Some people use one of those kiddy pools so the dog can get right into the pool to cool off. But at the very least, unlimited drinking water. Keeping your dog trim is good. Fat dogs and black or dark-colored dogs are most at risk.”
“Okay, let’s get the job done,” Al said. “I will take him home and bury him outback. I think I can get my other neighbor to dig the hole with his little backhoe. He likes to have an excuse to use it. Then I will think about another dog.”
The upper Calapooia River provided us with some gentle breeze and cool water. We had the little kids sitting in the shallow water, and Ken and I would dive into the deep pool while Sandy and Judy watched the kids and got everything ready to cook the hot dogs.
We would stay until after dark. By then, the house should be cool enough to allow us to get some sleep.
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