Most people in our universe of family and friends are familiar with the journey we’ve made and the results so far. Some readers may not be. My wife Donna and I fell in love with a photo on Facebook of a White Labrador Retriever puppy being sold by a relative. The only problem was the distance between us. They live 3,400 kilometers away. We decided to do a road trip in the dead of a miserable winter totaling nearly 8,000 kilometers to pick up the puppy and drive her home.

I’m not naturally religious, but truly believe that deep down I’m a spiritual being. I also believe there is enough evidence for mI’m not naturally religious, but truly believe that deep down I’m a spiritual being. I also believe there is enough evidence for me to think that there is a higher being (God) and a master plan at play. I’m just not smart enough to define this God or to know what this master plan is. Remember this is my theory and my postulation. I respect that your opinions may be different but I’m not interested in a debate.  

I also think I’m creative enough to come up with Naguib answers to the following questions. Why did this happen to me/us? 

So why did this happen? Why now? Why me/us? How did this come about? The answers to these and many other questions may only lead to more questions. I didn’t ask Donna as she would slap me on the back of the head and tell me to get back to clearing the rooms of puppy proofing hurdles.

We find that we are ready to have another dog.

To be honest, five weeks ago we didn’t even have any inclination that we would be considering having another dog, let alone a puppy.  Paula, Donna’s sister, wanted to go with her family to Mont Tremblant for five days.  Due to circumstances in their universe, they needed someone to babysit Zeus, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.  We were the answer – Donna and I like Zeus. We were also missing the presence of a dog since we had to euthanize Chloe, our fourteen-year-old Chocolate Lab last August.  I missed going to the fridge and looking around the door to see two eyes looking at me and saying “What are we getting out of the fridge dad? May I have some too?”

I miss sharing a piece of cheese. I haven’t eaten either end of a banana in over ten years.  With cucumbers and mushrooms first I miss sharing a piece of cheese. I haven’t eaten either end of a banana in over ten years.  Cucumbers and mushroom first pieces were Chloe’s and I had no right to eat them. Additionally, after Chloe’s passing, I had a really hard time motivating myself to wake the sun up and go for my morning walk.  It was my firm belief that after picking up dog poop first thing in the morning, I could deal with anything that came my way. What could possibly be worse than picking up dog poop? That put a lot of things in perspective. 

I used to call my morning walks, “thegettingoutofawarmbedjusttogooutandslipandslideonthefrozensidewalkjusttopickupdogshittowarmmyhandsshift!”  Zeus was indeed a delight to babysit and we felt that we are ready for our next four legged companion.

Curious timing or part of the master plan?

I used to call my morning walks, “thegettingoutofawarmbedjusttogooutandslipandslideonthefrozensidewalkjusttopickupdogshittowarmmyhandsshift!”  Zeus was indeed a delight to babysit and afterward we felt ready for our next four-legged companion.

Curious timing or part of the master plan?

Donna was looking at a Facebook post by her cousin’s daughter Rebecca. She posted pictures of their latest litter and one of them was the cutest White Labrador Retriever.  After seeing that picture, I asked Donna if she would consider a White one?  I guess the answer was yes.  She started communicating with Rebecca and discovered that it was not spoken for, and they indeed would let us put dibs on it.  When Donna asked me about adopting “Pup 2”, I said “Let’s go for it.”

The conversation eventually led to Donna asking where the puppy was located. “West of Red Deer in the foothills of the Rockies in Alberta!” That normally would have stopped most people. Not us!  

When we found out that they couldn’t mail the pup and we didn’t want the pup to suffer a traumatic flight, I suggested a road trip! Anyone that knows me appreciates the love I have for exploring and especially road trips.  This one – unlike the other trips – would be more about getting there and back as quickly as possible.  This trip would be approximately 8,000 kilometres, round trip. It would be in the dead of winter around the Great Lakes, some of the most challenging highways because of length and lack of services.  It’s 1,920 kilometres just to get out of Ontario and into Manitoba.  Want some perspective? It’s the same distance to go from our house in Mississauga to the outskirts of Miami, Florida!  As a bonus, we could add visits to our cousins Monique (Edmonton) and Harold (Lethbridge).

Additionally, winter in the areas we are heading into have some of harshest weather anywhere in the world. Blizzards and Lake effect snow are a regular occurrence.  Wawa, is on the receiving end of Superior’s worst lake effect snow possible. The Prairies’ offer their inhospitable clippers – Alberta gets its “Clippers”, Saskatchewan calls theirs “Screamers” and not to be outdone Manitoba calls theirs “Maulers”.  I don’t know what a low-pressure system is – in my layman’s terms, it is a high-wind storm that crosses the prairies in two to three days. These storms typically don’t have a lot of snow but can drop 3 to 6 inches in a short time. The blizzard effects make any stretch dangerous to traverse. You literally can’t see 100 yards ahead of you and winter weather warnings advise one to change travel plans.

To tackle that issue, we made two hard rules for travel. We would travel in fair weather and daylight hours only. If there were any adverse weather issues, we would stay put for one, two or three extra days in place. This was neither a race nor a tourist attraction type of trip.  We would only see any terrain presented to us from the highway.

All in all, we spent 106 hours actually driving in the car and 8,100 total kilometres. Weather and road closures prevented us from traveling three times. We spent those extra nights in Sault Ste Marie, Regina and Cochrane.  We drove two hours in bad weather and possibly two or three after sundown on the whole trip.   There were snow-packed, icy road surfaces for possibly three or four hours in total. The rest of the drive was on good to great roads.  Hats off to the snowplowing services in all the provinces. 

We were prepared for just about any development.  I purchased a steel spare gas tank and filled it.  We never passed a gas station when our gas tanks were even close to half.  We had extra blankets, emergency candles and even a portable battery booster. I ensured that we have a block heater and brought a longer extension cord.  We plugged in the block heater six times on the travel part. My measuring stick for plugging the car was minus twenty Celsius or below.

I would research road, weather and travel conditions for the next three cities.  I joined groups that discussed traffic conditions and government 511 road conditions every morning.  We would drive as far as we were able, and at lunchtime discuss our ultimate destination for the day. At that time, we would book our accommodation for the night. On the way back, we added a pet-friendly category. 

It was our intention to drive a minimum of 500 to a maximum of 700 kilometres a day.

The followers of the Kerba’s Odyssey

Our daughter, Tara, volunteered (sort of) to baby-sit our cat and house.  In the past, we would have updated family and friends by posting a Facebook event of the day. However, as Tara also had our granddaughter Ri with her, we opted to avoid a Facebook update for safety.  We updated family and friends by email. As we continued the journey, there were more people that asked to be included and the list of followers grew. We were blown away by how many people followed our road trip. Some were genuinely worried about our safety and appreciated knowing that we arrived at our destination safely each night. At some point, we also learned that many shared our adventure. Often, when I was late sending the broadcast, I would get a text message or phone call to get an early jump on our progress.

The joyful hand-off

We didn’t have an exact date for pick up as our trip entirely depended on weather.  We didn’t have any clue how the weather would cooperate.  By mid-week of the first week, we scheduled to pick up Willow on the Saturday eight days after we left home.  This included a three-night visit with my cousin in Edmonton. 

Friday, we get a text from Rebecca, our breeder. The puppies had an eye discharge that bothered her enough to take all three to their vet.  He wanted to keep them under observation overnight or possibly over the weekend. We simply accommodated her by spending an extra night on the road by chasing wild horse photo opportunities in the foothills of the Rockies.

The dogs’ eyes improved dramatically enough that the vet released them in Rebecca’s charge and gave her the go ahead for us to pick Willow up and head home. Unfortunately, one puppy was in worse shape than the other two and the vet decided to do other tests on her.


We changed our plans again and arranged to pick Willow up on Sunday.  We would have lunch with Rebecca’s family, then head from that area on to Lethbridge.  Willow was a ball of energy the whole time we were there, chasing one or another of the children.  She loved grabbing the socks of the four-year-old.

Willow was born on a farm Southwest of Red Deer in the foothills of the rockies. She was the only white one of the litter of three.  She was the biggest, smartest and most lively of the litter – I am biased though. There were four children to play with and a farm to run around in.     I’m not an expert on farming operations or sizes, but sensed it was a relatively small operation. They had forty head of cattle. If memory served me correctly, about fifteen horses and fifteen or so goats. I’m only using Rebecca’s name and out of concerns for their privacy, I’m not sharing either her husband’s or children’s names.

The new baby in the family

The triumphant return trip home

Eventually, after we picked Willow up, it was her show as pictures of her were circulated. Now we had more followers on our email list.

On the road, total strangers would stop what they were doing just to pet her. Parking lots, hotel lobbies were Willow-showing-off opportunities.  She revelled in it too. As soon as she would see someone new, she would sit and stare them down, until they broke down and came to greet her.  When they did, she would be up on her hind legs, tail wagging a mile a minute.  I think she was really trying to tell them that we were abducting her and taking her to Ontario.

Offended that someone wouldn’t stop and pet her
The stare down when someone else was around

Three of those opportunities for Willow come to mind:

The first was in Regina, when I entered the hotel lobby after potty break (Willow’s, of course). Another snowbound traveler was just checking in.  He stopped that process when he saw us coming in, and asked me if I would wait for him to go and get his wife so they could both pet her. 

East of Thunder Bay at a truckers rest area. Two young guys in pick up trucks pulled off the road – one for a nature call. The Another was east of Thunder Bay at a truckers’ rest area. Two young guys in pick-up trucks pulled off the road – one for a nature call. The other jumped out of his truck and asked if he could pet her and they became fast friends.

In Kapuskasing, the hotel lobby clerk was so in love with Willow that we had to stop each time we passed the lobby so they In Kapuskasing, the hotel lobby clerk was so in love with Willow that we had to stop each time we passed the lobby so they could both play and cuddle.

We notice a leg tremor

I’m not certain if it was the first or second night with Willow that we noticed a minor leg tremor.  We also noticed that she I’m not certain if it was the first or second night with Willow that we noticed a minor leg tremor.  We also noticed that she was somewhat restless late at night or needing more of a workout to sleep. Donna walked her up and down the hotel lobby until 3:00 AM to ensure I could sleep and be fresh enough to drive.  Each day I would try and get her a run outside and she loved it.

Willow was a smart one. It didn’t take her long to realize that once she peed, she would get “Good Potty Willow”. She would immediately turn around and sit down expecting a treat.  There was not going to be a dog budging until there was that treat. Willow was a smart one. It didn’t take her long to realize that once she peed, she would get “Good Potty Willow.” She would immediately turn around and sit down expecting a treat.  There was not going to be a dog budging until there was that treat. Interestingly, her other constitutional had to be elevated on a snowbank or drift.  She would zig zag constantly looking for higher elevation to do the deed. Followed of course by the quick turn and sit, in anticipation of that treat.

Inside the hotel room, one night I played fetch with her.  She trained me to throw a ball down to the other end of the room.  Just like that, when she retrieved it and dropped it in front of me, she expected my Pavlovian response of giving her a treat. As I mentioned, she was a fast learner. In the meantime, the tremor was getting stronger.

We needed to use a different route on the way home.  Instead of highway 17 along Lake Superior, a weather advisory made us use the inland route and highway 11. Our destination was Cochrane; but then decided to stop in Kapuskasing instead, due to dark on Friday night.

A big winter storm was about to hit our route directly. We decided to leave Kapuskasing early Saturday morning and get as much road under our belt as possible.  We got to Cochrane two hours later and decided to be prudent and hunker down in the first pet-friendly option we could find.  The hotel agreed to let us check in before 11:00 AM.  Saturday night would not be in our beds after all.  The tremor was getting worse and after lunch Willow threw up six times in short succession.  She resisted eating and drinking.  We gave her Gravol, but she was restless.  As she refused water, we started giving it to her with a syringe. 

There didn’t seem to be a comfortable position for Willow to settle in.  She would lay somewhere, then whine and move to a different position in what seemed to be fifteen to twenty seconds.  We still had an eight-hour drive ahead of us and I needed some sleep. I eventually had to put ear plugs in while Donna attempted holding, cuddling and generally stroking Willow to get her to settle down.  At 3:00 AM I noticed that Rebecca had texted us earlier to tell us that the sickly pup was diagnosed with distemper.

A quick search indicated that the previous issue with the eyes, the throwing up and the tremors suggested that Willow may have the same virus.  But how can this be? She was the picture of good health, running and playing hard. Willow was the biggest by far of all the pups, she was, as Donna said, perfect and lively – but denying the potential of that disease striking her wouldn’t help us for an instant. 

What exactly is Canine Distemper

Put simply, it is an insipid virus that has no cure. If it strikes a puppy before all vaccines are done – the terminal rate is extremely high. Canine distemper occurs throughout the world; but in the developed world and countries like Canada, cases are extremely rare because of the vaccines.  

In our search and reaching out for help, three long-serving veterinarians were consulted via family, friends and work colleagues. None of them had faced a dog with distemper.  Symptoms seem to progress and once the virus gets to the brain, it can bring dramatic decline. Or they could remain constant.  

It’s highly contagious and can be transmitted from wild animals such as raccoons, skunks or coyotes to dogs.  Once in dogs, each one will have progression of the disease that is unique to the circumstances such as:  What stage of the vaccine? How old is the puppy/dog?  How healthy is the host? 

The final leg home

We left Cochrane as early as we could, knowing that time was of the essence. It was still almost eight hours from home. We didn’t know if there was medication we could give Willow to at least calm her down, as she was getting extremely restless.  We stopped the car every hour and gave her some non-car time and a pee break.  We only had Gravol at our disposal and she received the recommended dosage already. She drank water out of her bowl and food out of my hands.

Willow was in obvious discomfort and increased her rate and volume of yelping – it was now almost coyote howling.  The sound in the car was extremely distressing for all three of us.  We started reaching out at first to the areas we were travelling through.  

North Bay was a three-hour drive away.  We called the emergency hospital.  The first question – would they look at our sick pet? The answer was a hard no, after they found out that we were not patients of their local area. To top it off, no one would recommend anything by phone. I don’t have any better solution. We do understand just how difficult a time vets are having these days. We do know how stressful we are all getting and how overwhelming life is. We only knew that we had a distressed puppy in our lap.

We started reaching out to friends who have friends that are vets.  The answers – in all cases.  “I haven’t seen a case of this in my career. Unfortunately, if the diagnosis is accurate, it will be the worst of all outcomes.”  In the three hours between Cochrane and home – we also recruited our daughter to open an online account for vet zoom session.  She did so, struggling to set up verification codes.  We managed to open the account and pulled off the highway on a side road where we had a consistent signal that was strong enough to do the zoom session. It would have been too easy for it to work first time – we had video, but no sound.  Eventually the vet called Donna on her phone for the audio part and my phone for video.  Diagnosis – distemper and the best thing to do was notify an emergency hospital, alert them and take her in as soon as possible.

The next possible emergency hospital serviced the area from Huntsville through to Orillia was in Barrie.  That was only an hour from our home hospital.  We called them and told them we were five to six hours away and to prepare for us.  One of our frThe next possible emergency hospital serving the area from Huntsville through to Orillia was in Barrie.  That was only an hour from our home hospital.  We called them and told them we were five to six hours away and to prepare for us.  One of our friends told us we should call the hospital when we were closer to give them time to set up intake protocols.  We did call them when we were an hour out.  At last, some relief in sight. In the meantime, poor Willow was getting even more distressed and howls were downright harrowing and gut-wrenching. That relief was short lived as the hospital decided they would not accommodate us.  They said that they had no way to create an isolation area and we would need to drive an hour further to the vet college in Guelph. There would have to be two conditions met – we needed to be prepared to commit to paying between $3,000 and $5,000 as well as provide the evidence that Willow’s sibling’s diagnosis was indeed Distemper.  We weren’t going to let money be our issue.  We reached out to Rebecca who accommodated us by sending the documents, and we relayed them to Guelph.  In fact, we were already halfway to Guelph without even knowing that they were going to accommodate us.

Ultimate diagnosis and decision

Intake took almost two hours – it was decided that she would need to be kept overnight and possibly more for tests and observations.  Unbeknownst to me, part of the delay was taking a deposit for the fee.  Once I asked point-blank, the person on the other end of the line admitted that was the case. She offered to take payment by phone.  I put the car in drive before Donna even took her credit card out of her wallet.  We were all exhausted.

The next day we get a phone call from Dr. Castillo, a member of the faculty who had encountered distemper in his native Mexico. They needed to observe Willow for some days and report to us.

He did as he promised, with two calls a day – first thing in the morning and last thing before he left for the day. Most of the news we received was positive: Willow is eating, she’s drinking, she’s active and she’s popular. Finally, we could take her home Wednesday night. We jumped at the opportunity.

Before I go further, we have a core belief that our pets deserve to live a happy, relatively healthy life. We do not believe that keeping them alive despite any quality is fair.  We were very prepared to live with a dog that only used three legs. If this insidious disease was arrested at the current level, we would do our best to cope.

What we were not prepared for was what Willow came home looking and acting like.  The virus had done more damage than we anticipated. Her entire rear end collapsed when she tried to walk. She dragged her leg that had the tremor. The entire rear end would twist as she tried to compensate for the one leg – often failing two and three times before getting upright and going. At times she even peed on her leg.

Again, there appeared to be no position that was comfortable enough to remain longer than twenty or thirty seconds.  She would lay down, close her eyes and within thirty seconds start to whine, get up and look for a more comfortable position.  She was exhausted.  There were two times overnight that I was able to hold on to her long enough that she slept in my arms for stretches of one hour.  

She started to calm down a bit, ate and drank. I took her outside where she peed and pooped of course turning around and She started to calm down a bit, ate and drank. I took her outside where she peed and pooped, of course turning around and waiting for her treat each time.  I also got her to sleep in my arms some more, this time for almost two hours when I restricted her movement and provided a dark place.

The virus was not done with her – and we were not willing to watch her suffer at this level.  I contacted Dr Castillo informing him of our decision to euthanize.  He said that he did not disagree with us. I offered the college her body on one condition – we were not prepared to put her or us through another hour of howling and distress. She would have to be euthanized in Mississauga. I was prepared to donate the body, if they wanted to further study the disease. We found a local veterinarian who could accommodate an isolation style procedure, met with them at five and delivered the body to Guelph at six-thirty.

All told, we had a healthy happy puppy for four days!

SO, SO Chill – looks like she’s driving with her paw hanging out the window

Epilogue

It was the unbelievable alignment of so many factors that made this story:

Maybe all those things aligned as part of the master plan for a reason. I do know that if there is any minute consolation in Maybe all those things aligned as part of the master plan for a reason. I do know that if there is any minute consolation in this nightmare – it is the opportunity for an entire class at Guelph having a more hands-on exposure to a disease that most Canadian vets haven’t seen in a quarter of a century. We couldn’t choose those circumstances. However, we could choose our reaction.  One only hopes all this was for a reason.  We chose the positive thought that poor Willow in her short life touched many lives in significant ways. I have a sneaking suspicion that we haven’t heard the end of the Willow story.

16 Responses

  1. Naguib & Donna – thank you for sharing your beautifully written story on Willow. She has gone on in death and will do great things. Love to you both. RIP Willow

  2. Thanks folks for your beautiful story, sure do wish it could have ended differently, but we don’t always know how the master plan will unfold. Take care and we appreciated your time with us. Harold and Linda

    1. So so sorry to hear of your loss. We sent Chanel over the Rainbow Bridge last June and it is still really hard to see pics of hear. Blessings to you.

    2. Thank you for sharing. a well written article, it made me cry. I’m sorry you both went through this. But her body will hopefully help for future success in treating the virus.

  3. Willow’s journey touched my heart…..what a sad time for all concerned. Condolences to all concerned.

  4. Sweet Willow, gone but never forgotten. She touched so many people with her story, and in her short life was surrounded by so much love. She has crossed the rainbow bridge and is having puppy adventures on the other side

  5. Thank you for sharing this story of sweet Willow. She captured your hearts and she was a lucky pup to have your love for the rest of her life. To donate her for study is the ultimate gift of love and knowledge. Love to you both.

  6. The story of your journey to and with Willow illuminates the beauty in your two souls, you and Donna. The arduous travel, the devotion, the loss of sleep, the increasingly desperate attempts to find help for Willow, to relieve her pain and suffering even as you suffered with her – it is a love story, start to finish. My intuition tells me she was an angel in disguise, an angel of revelation – one who revealed to you and to all who followed your journey how deeply and profoundly we can be connected to the life of another, however briefly. How willingly we may sacrifice every comfort and convenience to support an innocent in pain. And finally, how letting go can be an act of nobility. I know it didn’t feel like any of that as you experienced the journey, but that is what it has revealed to me. Blessings on you both.

    1. Thank you, Susan. We were truly moved by the sheer number of people who were also impacted and reached out to us with personal notes, cards and phone calls. What was really interesting in all this – was how some people had a hard time knowing what to say. In our opinion, it’s not what you say that matters, but, that you are there. We felt the love of so, so many people because of Willow’s journey.

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