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Dodger no longer living on borrowed time

Closeup of Dodger, a rescue dog from Puerto Rico
Small animal surgery veterinarian Dr. Boel Fransson checks in on Dodger the day before his second surgery. Dodger was diagnosed with a rare liver shunt that resulted in toxins in his blood. By placing two stents in the shunt Dr. Fransson is hopeful Dodger’s liver will begin to fully function.

The Peterson family made a commitment to Dodger when they brought him into their home just more than a year ago as a small, 14-week-old puppy from Puerto Rico.

So, when Washington State University soft tissue surgery veterinarian Dr. Boel Fransson recently told the Petersons the mixed-breed street dog who never had a home was “living on borrowed time,” the family knew what they had to do.

“We adopted him to give him a better life,” said Christy Peterson. “We brought him into our family, he’s part of our family now, and we will do whatever we can to take care of him.”

Dodger was rescued by Love Puerto Rico Golden Retriever Rescue, a small nonprofit organized in 2014 dedicated to homing surrendered, abandoned, and neglected golden retrievers and golden mixes. According to the nonprofit, there are some 250,000 to 300,000 stray or abandoned dogs in Puerto Rico, and euthanasia rates at shelters are as high as 90%.

In Burien, Washinton, Dodger found a family.

Known to Christy; her husband, Tyler; and her children, Avery, 12; and Nate, 15; for his soft, floppy ears and his love of long belly rubs, Dodger was diagnosed with a portosystemic shunt; a condition where toxins in the blood are not filtered by the liver and are sent directly back into the bloodstream.

Normally, the liver filters blood through the portal vein, located on the bottom of the liver.

Dodger and a WSU veterinarian student pose for a picture
Fourth-year veterinary student Carli Evatz and Dodger pose for the camera before his first surgery at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

In Dodger’s liver, however, there was no portal vein, only some undeveloped blood vessels that were too tight for blood to pass.

His condition explains why Dodger was half the size of his brother when the Peterson’s family veterinarian, Dr. Roxane Jackson, picked the rescued pup up off that American Airlines flight from the Caribbean. The toxins intended to be filtered by the liver and excreted were being sent into Dodger’s bloodstream to make their way to his heart and brain.

Soon, Peterson would find the undersized pup pacing in the kitchen and vomiting. To extend his life, surgery was the only option.

If the family did nothing, likely Dodger would die, explained Dr. Fransson.

Recognizing Dodger as an extremely rare case, the Petersons were referred to the largest veterinary referral center in the Pacific Northwest — WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

In an attempt to apply some pressure and open Dodger’s blood vessels to begin filtering his blood, Fransson took a novel approach by placing two stents in his shunt.

In most cases, a stent, a small tube, is used to open blocked passageways. In Dodger’s case, it was quite the opposite — it was meant to block the passageway.

Due to the rarity of Dodger’s case, Fransson was assisted by a physician from Spokane familiar with the same surgery in pediatric patients.

The first stent, placed in the fall, applied as much pressure as Dodger’s liver could safely handle at the time. The stent allowed the small underdeveloped vessels to distend and begin to carry more blood, but it wasn’t enough pressure to open the vessels entirely.

In order to maximize the effect, another stent was placed this spring. Placement was critical — too much pressure on the liver could result in a number of complications that could kill Dodger.  Too little and the shunting will continue without improvement.

In a week’s time, the small blood vessels in Dodger’s liver began to function.

“The small vessels taking over the function of the portal vein were beginning to open up,” Fransson said. “It’s a challenging procedure, and any time it’s over and things have gone well it’s exhilarating.”

Dodger poses for a picture with his family
Dodger (center) pictured with some of the Peterson family, Nate, 15 (right), and Avery 12, (left).

Now it’s a waiting game.

Fransson said it could take up to a year for Dodger’s liver to function correctly. Hopefully, the vessels will have opened all the way so toxins that need to leave his body will be filtered from Dodger’s blood.

Fransson said a surgery like Dodger’s is unprecedented. While WSU just started providing the surgeries in 2017, she’s never seen a dog that didn’t have a portal vein. WSU is one of the only veterinary facilities in the West that offers the surgery.

“Dodger was an extra challenging case, but it is good to know we can help other animals in need of care who may have a similar condition,” she said.

With Dodger on the mend, back at home the young dog is literally chomping at his crate to get healed up and back to playing.

“He wants to be running around with our other dog,” Christy said. “He seems like our normal little Dodger dog.”

In addition to Dr. Fransson, the Peterson family would like to thank 4th year veterinary students Carli Evatz and Caitlin Fay, and surgical residents Dr. Kyle Martin and Dr. Bettina Salmelin.

“It has been an amazing experience at WSU,” Peterson said. “They came in and took him in even with his challenges. We want to extend our gratitude to the students, residents and technicians and Dr. Fransson for all they’ve done for our family.”

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