Main Line Animal Rescue, an affiliate of the PSPCA, has kicked off an initiative with Bissell Pet Foundation for a partnership that will save the lives of 100 dogs living with heartworm—something that has quite frankly never been done due to the cost and time of treatment.
Heartworm is completely manageable and curable, and this partnership is here to prove it.
“One of the struggles that we have in animal shelters is that heartworm is endemic in the south,” says Nichola Redmond, Main Line Animal Rescue’s site director. With over 30 years of experience in the field, Redmond knows the lengths that shelters have to go through to save dogs with heartworm who normally could live long and healthy lives if they only had the access to the medications they need.
“It’s an obstacle for them to find a live outcome in the shelter environment because doctors don’t want to take it on and it is a life-threatening illness if it is not treated. Organizations that transfer animals from the south do not want to take them on because of the length and the expenses. So doctors are reluctant,” she explains.
Heartworm is transmitted by mosquito bites and then passed around from dog to dog, unless the canine is on preventative medicine which equals out to one pill a month. It’s something that seems so simple, but many dogs are homeless, or, owners aren’t too privy to that knowledge if they live in colder areas where heartworm is less active. In the south where it is fairly common, some shelters by law don’t have the same resources, so it can be difficult to gain access to what they need to save these pups.
“With heartworm, dogs can get a lot of damage from their lungs, hearts and associated vessels,” says Dr. Alicia Royer, who works for Main Line Animal Rescue and started a few weeks ago diving headfirst into this new program.”I will fully admit I was a little intimidated in the beginning just because it’s not super prevalent in the area. [But I’ve been] realizing that this is very treatable and very manageable and we are doing everything we can to make sure that they are staying safe during the process so it’s quick and painless for them. But it’s been really interesting honestly. It’s been a learning process and also eye-opening to how preventable and curable this is.”
Royer explains that the damage is cause by little tiny microfilaria which are picked up by a mosquitos and transmitted to a dog’s heart, which is where they mature. They become these big adults and that’s what’s causing damage. So Main Line and Bissell want to hit the problem head on to kill and weaken the disease from the beginning
Although it is treatable, it’s costly and a lengthy process, though not complicated. But that’s where this partnership comes in handy.
“It’s not an uncomplicated disease, but it’s not difficult to treat,” explains Redmond. “Yes, there can be complications, but often there’s not. Mostly, they do just fine. Because we use a well-defined protocol from the American Heartworm Society (AHS), there’s very little we have to think about for how to treat this. It’s already laid out.”
The society wanted to take dogs from areas that are riddled with heartworm (Louisiana and Mississippi are among the states with the highest counts) and bring them to Main Line. With the AHS, both Kathy Bissell from the Bissell Pet Foundation and Main Line were able to figure out how to do that safely without spreading the disease with help from the Society. They also partnered with shelters in the south with little resources to help with strays.
Over the past 10 years, highly successful shelter transport programs have been developed all over the country. The goal of these programs is to help get adoptable dogs out of overcrowded shelters in the south, where they face possible euthanasia and into northern and mid-Atlantic shelters where they have a better chance of finding a new home. Though these transport programs are helping save tens of thousands of southern dogs every year, highly adoptable heartworm-positive dogs are often left behind.
“I can’t tell you how good it makes you feel. I know what it’s like being on that side of the equation when I reach out to transport coordinators at our partner shelters and say hey, I’m looking to bring in some heartworm-positive dogs…they can hardly believe it because nobody says that. So, they’re overjoyed and it means these dogs are going to go on and live happy lives, and that’s wonderful,” explains Redmond.
Through their network of partnerships, MLAR staff and volunteers will save 100 dogs diagnosed with heartworm who otherwise do not have access to care. According to the release, when the animals arrive at MLAR, they will be examined by the veterinarian and then placed into a two week quarantine just in case they have any other contagious diseases. Once the dogs are given a good bill of health (aside from their heartworm, of course), they will move into a foster home for the duration of their 4-month treatment cycle or into the main kennels until a foster home can be secured.
After the initial care, it’s extremely important that these pups are able to remain calm. That’s where Philadelphians can get involved with fostering or adopting. The mayor of Narbeth has already adopted one of the dogs in treatment, and there are more looking for their forever home.
“It’s a second chance for these guys. They are going to live, long and healthy lives,” explains Royer. “We’re going to treat them for these four months and we’re going to find them adoptive homes and you’ll never have been able to have known that they have heartworm disease, and that’s really the goal. To give them that second chance and not let this disease limit their life.”
If you can’t foster or adopt, donating is also a great way to ensure these dogs live long and healthy lives.
“I’d like people to consider: If they have a heart for dogs that are homeless and at risk for dying because people have let them down— and that’s essentially what this is about— consider donating to help this program continue. That’s what we need to do to sustain this. We have to have the funding going forward because it’s not inexpensive to treat this, and we do have a grant through Bissell but they need matching funds for the grants for the 100 dogs. Anybody who cares about dogs, you just have to meet some of them or see them and you’re going to be won over.”