Pacemaker retrieves Lab's old heartbeat, personality

My birthday last week made me remember a wonderful birthday present I received 12 years ago: my yellow Labrador retriever, William. His vet calls this present "the gift that keeps on taking."

Everyone thinks their pet is one of a kind, but as a patient at North Mecklenburg Animal Hospital, William is the only one of his kind; he's rare even for all of North Carolina.

I have written about William before, when he escaped from our backyard by head-butting the gate open, and also when he had trouble walking.

William was diagnosed with a heart problem, which isn't unusual in older Labs. His heartbeat had slowed to 35 to 40 beats per minute. Normal dogs' hearts beat 70 to 120 beats per minute. Big dogs and physically fit dogs have slower heart rates than small or out-of-shape dogs, but William's heart was in danger of stopping.

His vets here in Cornelius made an appointment for William with the doctors at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, on the Virginia Tech campus. The plan was to see whether William could get a pacemaker. That's a somewhat common operation for people, but it's rare for dogs. And since William was at a teaching school, his medical care would be at a discount.

We were surprised that the drive to Virginia Tech was shorter than the drive to N.C. State, where our younger son is in school. We were even more surprised that William had his surgery on a Thursday and was home on Friday.

William was put on antibiotics, pain medication and heart medication. I bought a stethoscope, learned what a dog's heart should sound like and monitored him. He now wears a bandana around his neck to protect where his pacemaker was inserted.

The pacemaker turned William back into the dog we had years ago. He complains when he doesn't get his food, his rawhide chews or his treats when he wants them. He tries to break into the dog food to feed himself. He can open the gate and has taken off and gone into the neighbors' house. He runs after our other dogs.

Thank you to William's vets here in Cornelius and at Virginia Tech for my pacemaker dog. Without them, I wouldn't have had my favorite birthday present for my birthday this year.

In memory of Leia

My ferret, Leia, who got sick a few weeks before William had his health problems, died last weekend.

We had Leia only a little more than a year, rescuing her after she had been in four homes in one week. Leia was the fifth ferret we've had, but she was livelier than any other ferret I've seen.

Most ferrets sleep a good portion of the day; we caught Leia napping only twice in her life. She loved people and would throw herself at anyone to get their attention. Her favorite tricks were to climb up inside pants legs or to climb into your lap to see what was in your pocket.

Probably because she was a rescue, she never seemed to get enough food, and she finished off the food once the other ferrets were done. We nicknamed her "baby bird," because she would stand with her mouth wide open, waiting for someone to give her a treat.

When Leia was diagnosed, she was put on medication hopefully to make her healthy. I spent a good part of my summer making sure she ate and drank enough and giving her medications, sometimes in the middle of the night. Eventually the medications quit making Leia better, and she finally gave up.

I miss her.