According to owner Samantha Sroczyk, “Otter,” a 3-year-old male Labrador retriever, is absolutely obsessed with playing fetch.
“He loves to eat, loves to snuggle, and loves to swim,” said Sroczyk. “He thinks he is a 12-pound lap dog.”
Sroczyk is eager to talk about their deep connection. “I think most would call it unhealthy,” she laughed. “We have what I call a mutual obsession. I am moving across the country after graduation to a new job in North Carolina; on my own, with no family or friends, but I’ll have Otter.”
Sroczyk said she had felt pretty confident in pursuing her upcoming adventures with Otter by her side, until Otter became gravely ill and was rushed to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“I realized that my strength and comfort, and the reason I felt that I could make that leap across the country, was because I had always thought Otter would be with me,” Sroczyk said. “I realized I couldn’t do it alone.”
Facing Medical Concerns
A WSU veterinary student herself, Sroczyk had been on a clinical rotation at WSU for her studies. Otter was at home with Sroczyk’s parents in Montana. “My mom called me one night and said Otter was lethargic and not really eating.” A Labrador not eating was a huge red flag to Sroczyk so she asked her mom take Otter to her veterinarian.
Otter was taken into the veterinarian immediately. Throughout the day, his condition deteriorated to the point he was unable to use his hind legs; and when on his side, he was unable to right himself. Otter was kept at the hospital overnight while his health continued to decline.
“My friend picked me up the next morning and we drove to Montana to get him.” Sroczyk said. “When I saw him, I immediately started sobbing. He looked awful. I swore he was going to die on the drive back to WSU. He had severe muscle loss and was in severe pain, though he wasn’t showing it at that time.”
When they arrived at the WSU veterinary hospital, first thoughts were it may be FCE, a fibrocartilaginous embolism. The condition will usually resolve on its own, but the signs Otter was displaying meant it could also could have been trauma, cancer, a fungal, or a bacterial infection.
Dr. Dudyk was Otter’s primary doctor, but the entire neurology team was also involved in his diagnosis and treatments; including Drs. Jukier, Chen-Allen, Chavera and Wright. Drs. Harrington and Ngwenyama in the Intensive Care Unit and even Dr. Gold from Equine Medicine plus Dr. Dyke from community practice and Dr. Slovak from internal medicine. Otter was in good hands and was scheduled for an MRI the next day.
Otter’s imaging showed some changes between his fifth and sixth thoracic vertebrae more consistent with an infection and inflammation called diskospondylitis, yet Otter wasn’t acting painful
“Despite my best efforts to make him comfortable that night, he trembled and cried and panted for the time; signs of extreme pain.”
At about 1 o’clock in the morning, Sroczyk made the decision to bring Otter back into the veterinary ICU.
The next morning, he was doing a little better, sitting up and eating. Still he was not moving well on his own or urinating. Throughout the course of the day, he deteriorated considerably again. Once again, he was in excruciating pain and was not eating. Sroczyk said she left the hospital that night pretty sure he was going to die.
Throughout the night Sroczyk received photos of Otter and, at about 3 a.m., she received a video from her overnight friends that showed Otter trying to walk with assistance. He was still weak and couldn’t stand on his own but this was the improvement we had been waiting for. From that point on he continued to get better. He stayed in the ICU for one more night and was released the next morning with Sroczyk.
Otter’s blood samples were set off for testing and the lab was able to culture the bacteria Streptococcus canis from his blood which confirmed a diagnosis of bacterial diskospondylitis.
“This confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of bacterial diskospondylitis, and it was susceptible to the antibiotic the care team had chosen.”
Thankful for WSU Veterinary Community
“Otter had everyone looking out for him from team neurology, to emergency, to radiology, to internal medicine, to the CVM admissions, heck, even equine medicine!” Sroczyk said. “I truly don’t know what I would have done without my classmates. I would not have made it through without all the love and support everyone showed us, I could never even come close to adequately thanking everyone.
Sroczyk says there is something incredibly special about the environment and culture that WSU fosters. “I just hope they all know how much it means to me that they cared so much. I have never been so humbled by such a genuine show of kindness.” Sroczyk said. “I think that these people took a truly awful experience and turned it into one of the most wonderful and poignant moments of my life.”
Otter’s Road to Recovery
After five-days at the Teaching Hospital, Sroczyk is optimistic Otter’s health will continue to improve, even though he is still very upset that he cannot play fetch. Otter still lacks coordination between his hind limbs and his forelimbs but is improving. Otter doesn’t seem to care though, he has his friend Samantha.
“We have a long road ahead of us. He will be on antibiotics for at least a year, we will have to continue to monitor him through repeated imaging and there is always the potential for a relapse… but I’ll take all of that over the thought of losing my best friend.”
Otter’s next adventure will be a cross country road trip with Sroczyk to start their new life in North Carolina, an endeavor she is sure he can’t wait to partake in.
“That’s a lot of miles for Otter to hang his head out the window.”