It was this past Saturday when Misty Bridges realized that her 5-year-old Pomeranian, Meeka, must have slipped out the side door – uncharacteristically so for a dog who was practically tethered to his owners.
She immediately made a poster to hang in her Easley neighborhood, and she shared Meeka’s image on Facebook and on a statewide database for lost pets.
Then, as the sun rose Monday morning, Misty received a message on Facebook from a friend – someone had found Meeka, taken a picture and turned the dog in to an emergency veterinarian clinic in Greenville.
She was relieved. It was Halloween, and her 4-year-old son would get to enjoy an evening trick-or-treating with the family pet finally safe at home.
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But within just a few hours, Bridges would be in an Animal Emergency Clinic room with her fiance, Matthew Silsbee, holding their pet in a dressing of blankets, cold and dead, euthanized the afternoon before.
“Why didn’t they just wait a little bit longer?” she said, crying, after her pet was handed over to her.
The clinic is the last resort in Greenville when family vets are closed on late nights and weekends.
The clinic’s hospital manager, Rana Sargent, explained to the couple how a Good Samaritan had brought Meeka in early Sunday afternoon because the dog was having trouble breathing and standing.
The medical notes written by the veterinarian on duty diagnose a possible need for an emergency tracheotomy to stabilize.
The record shows the dog was given oxygen and a sedative until the Samaritan could decide whether to take financial responsibility. The vet noted that the Samaritan was “uncertain” and wanted to turn the dog over to the clinic.
With no identifying collar and no microchip, the veterinarian made a decision to humanely end the dog’s suffering two hours after it was brought in.
If someone signs over responsibility for a stray animal, Sargent said, “we take responsibility for it and make a decision.”
The problem, Meeka’s owners said, is that the dog’s health problems had already been diagnosed three weeks earlier by a family vet.
The condition was a “slipped trachea,” Silsbee said, and the breathing problems were easily managed by an Ibuprofen pill and some Benadryl. The condition isn’t uncommon in a Pomeranian, he said.
The couple had spent money to care for the dog’s problems, Silsbee said, and “we would have paid every dime to make sure our dog was OK.” They said they regret not having a tracking microchip applied to Meeka, but that they didn’t because he always stayed close and they thought he was too small to go anywhere far.
The Samaritan had found Meeka on Saturday and kept him overnight. She posted a picture that she had found the dog and that “he needed help,” so she turned him into the clinic, which was “going to help him the best they can.”
On the post a man asked the age of the dog, and the Samaritan said “a little old.” The man – whom Bridges and Silsbee didn’t know – said that he would try to pick up the dog because, if the dog were too old, the emergency clinic would “put it to sleep.”
In the medical record, the veterinarian estimated the dog to be 8 years old.
After the Facebook exchanges, Bridges said she frantically called the clinic to claim the dog, but was told it had been euthanized.
“I was like ‘I’ve got to get him, I’ve got to get him before something happens,’” she said.
The Samaritan, Bridges said, “did what’s right.” However, she said the public should be aware of what could happen.
The clinic, Sargent said, first will scan a pet’s microchip to try to trace ownership and will make every effort to contact an owner. The practice isn’t fail safe, she said — a chip might trace back to a previous owner.
Or, she said, an owner might not be located in time to make a decision about a suffering animal.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Sargent said.
The clinic euthanizes animals on its site instead of sending the animals to a shelter, where they will be euthanized anyway, she said.
Sometimes, Sargent said, the clinic will have to euthanize an animal deemed to be unduly suffering – such as an animal with a broken pelvis – before the clinic closes at 8 a.m. after overnight service is done.
“We don’t have people here during the day to care for it,” she said.