Saving Sookie

Pet owner shares her story with thousands of OVC Pet Trust supporters this holiday season.

Roberta MacNaughton remembers the cool March day earlier this year as if it were yesterday. It was a day that began like any other: Roberta watched as her six dogs enjoyed the fresh air, running, rolling and playing in the snow in their backyard in Caledonia, Ontario.

Sookie, a four-month-old Husky mixed breed and the newest addition to Roberta’s family, came bouncing through the snow to Roberta when she called her name, and rewarded the playful dog with a treat to reinforce the obedience training they had been working on together. Tail-wagging, she scarfed it down and ran off to continue playing in the snow with the other dogs. When Roberta looked at her again, she was thrashing on the ground about 30 feet away.

“My heart skipped a beat and I ran to her side as fast as I could. My first thought was that maybe she had choked on the treat, so I tried to dislodge whatever remained in her throat. All of a sudden, she went limp,” Roberta recalls.

She quickly called a friend who lived nearby to help, scooped Sookie up into her arms and urgently rushed her to the local emergency veterinary hospital. Sookie’s breathing was extremely laboured and X-rays showed what looked like advanced lung disease. Needing answers, Roberta loaded Sookie into her truck and headed immediately for the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph.

When Sookie arrived at OVC she was admitted with acute respiratory distress and was treated with oxygen supplementation and urgent therapies while the team monitored her condition; she was eventually placed on a mechanical ventilator.

Roberta had recently lost one of her older dogs to cancer, and she says her heart would have been broken if she lost Sookie.

“I will never forget seeing my girl in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), laying on her side, intubated and hooked up to all of the medical equipment,” Roberta remembers. “I don’t think you realize how attached you are to your dog until something like this happens. Faced with losing my Sookie, my heart was breaking: it’s devastating to see your healthy puppy playing happily one minute, and worry that she’s dying the next.”

The OVC ICU team diagnosed Sookie with non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema. They concluded that she had choked on the dog treat, leading to a sudden and severe accumulation of fluid within her lungs, which caused the life-threatening condition.  She ended up spending four days in the hospital’s ICU before being discharged.

“OVC saved Sookie’s life. The emergency and critical care team at the OVC Companion Animal Hospital were quick and compassionate, with a single-minded focus on caring for Sookie,” Roberta reflects. “If you have ever faced a medical emergency with a loved one – including a pet – you understand when I say that in those critical moments, nothing else matters.”

Roberta says that even though everything these days is about the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the last thing on her mind when her dog stopped breathing. Fast forward to this fall; Sookie celebrated her first birthday on November 3 and is back to her playful, lovable self.

This fall, Roberta shared her story with thousands of University of Guelph supporters through OVC Pet Trust’s annual fundraising campaign appeal. 

“I share this story because you deserve to share this happiness — our story has a good ending in part thanks to your generosity and support of OVC Pet Trust,” she wrote in her letter to OVC donors.  “Your donations mean that OVC has the expertise and resources to operate when pets like Sookie need it the most. Thank you for giving to OVC Pet Trust.”

Dr. Alexa Bersenas was part of the team that saved Sookie’s life.

“As Chief of the OVC Emergency and Critical Care service, I see your pets when they’re at their worst. Our daily efforts to save lives are both fulfilling and heart-breaking. Caring for the most critically ill pets is rewarding and challenging. As you can probably imagine, during a pandemic, everything is just that much harder,” says Dr. Bersenas, a board-certified emergency and critical care specialist and professor at the OVC. “The generosity of OVC Pet Trust supporters lifts me up: you make a difference in the future of veterinary medicine. You make it possible for me and my team to save lives like Sookie’s; thank you.” 


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