Libby - WestieMed Recipient


January 2007:

We stood there trying not to stare – the dog was the strangest looking Westie I’d ever seen. She was so thin you could practically see through her, her back was hunched into an inverted “U” and she stumbled and weaved as she ran across the carpet and darted under the coffee table, clearly one of her islands of safety in this hectic house she lived in. Her hair had been shaved nearly to the skin, exposing her emaciated body. Her tail curled tight under her belly as she hunched her way across the floor, dragging her back leg behind her. I was shocked and appalled and wondered if this dog could ever live a normal life. 

It was a cold October evening and my daughter and I were there to pick up a ten-month-old puppy who was being surrendered to Dreampower. Apparently, the family had many young children as well as several Huskies, two were adolescents, and they felt that the Westie puppy would be better off in another home than continuing to be trampled underfoot in her current situation. As we stepped into the living room and I sat down to discuss the surrender with the owner, the puppy peeked her head out, looked around cautiously, then jumped out and began to climb all over my daughter and me. For the first time, she looked like a puppy with a typical puppy’s enthusiasm and adoration for all humans! I gave her pets and loves but she ran off to hide behind the sofa as one of the other family dogs came into the room. She reappeared seconds later and growled at the larger dog, acting very terrier-like, not the least intimidated by their vast difference in size. 

My heart warmed to the plucky little girl but I wondered about her obvious disabilities. She could not walk straight, often stumbling and bumping into furniture or walls. The owner explained that one of her children had dropped the puppy on her head on the concrete patio outback. The puppy had gone into convulsions and frothed at the mouth for several minutes. I began to understand the dog’s odd behavior as possible neurological or brain damage. But she seemed attentive and smart and was clearly adept at navigating the hazards in this large house fraught with perils for such a tiny, underweight puppy. 

I asked how the puppy was fed and was told that the dogs were all “free feeding,” meaning food was left down at all times. Once I had a chance to hold the puppy, it seemed clear that the dog was starving, either not eating the food or being trumped by the other dogs before she could get to it. She had no muscle tone, every single vertebra on her back was sharp and evident, her legs were little sticks and I was afraid I would hurt her merely by holding her. I had to swallow hard to hold back tears – this dog was in terrible shape! 

We completed all the surrender paperwork and I thanked the owner for giving up the dog so she could find a good home. I assured her that we would take very good care of the puppy and would do everything we could to nurse her to health and place her where she would be safe and happy. My daughter wrapped the puppy in a blanket and held her in the back seat while we drove home in silence. What had we gotten into?

Although I had owned and loved Westies in the past and am the proud parent of a feisty Cairn Terrier, Peaches, who needed a buddy, I had serious doubts that this puppy would survive the night much less grow up to be a normal, healthy West Highland Terrier. I decided we would foster the puppy until we could, hopefully, build up her strength and treat her physical problems, then determine whether she could eventually be adopted out.

Libby - WestieMed Recipient
Libby – WestieMed Recipient

At home later that night, our first priority was to feed the puppy, who we decided to call Libby, short for Liberty. We gave her some canned dog food that she ate without taking a breath, and then promptly threw up. In order to keep her close by so we could observe her, we held her on a leash. She couldn’t settle down, wouldn’t sit or lay, but kept walking around in circles with her head down, tail tucked, bumping into the kitchen table legs and winding the leash around and around the chairs. We’d unwind her and she’d start circling again, back hunched, head down, drooling slightly. The poor creature was in such obvious pain and misery and we didn’t know what to do for her. She was unresponsive and clearly in serious trouble. I knew that we needed to get her to a veterinarian as soon as possible to get her checked out. I sobbed into my pillow that night, already suspecting that this little dog was going to be very dear to me and praying she would be okay. 

The next morning, I brought Libby to the vet where I explained her background and asked that she be checked for spinal damage, broken bones, parasites, etc. The wonderful vet was so understanding and obviously as concerned as I was about the poor dog. He did x-rays and blood work and gave her intravenous fluids. He found no obvious broken bones or spinal damage but couldn’t preclude any neurological damage. He thought she might just be so malnourished that her muscles had not developed properly. He prescribed antibiotics, special dog food that would be easy on her stomach, and a course of steroids for the balance and leg problems. He said all we could do was take her home and feed her, care for her, love her and hope for the best. And that’s what we did.

Since that early October day, Libby has come so far. Within days, she was running around the house, tail flying gaily, chasing Peaches, and trying her best to dominate. She quickly claimed the backyard as her own and participates enthusiastically in barking competitions with the neighbors’ dogs. She bumps into stuff a lot, and often stumbles on the steps in the house (which fortunately are only 6 stairs high), but gets right up and forges on. She clearly has the typical terrier toughness and fearlessness, despite her tiny size and delicate condition! In less than a month, she has gained 2 pounds and has developed some strength and coordination. Unfortunately, we discovered that she is blind in her right eye, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. She also continues to drag her right hind leg. Physical issues aside, she is completely loving and affectionate and loves to curl up on my stomach with her head tucked into my shoulder to snooze for a bit between tugs-of-war with Peaches. She is smart, funny, and good-tempered and I can’t imagine a more loving and special dog.

Libby - WestieMed Recipient
Libby – WestieMed Recipient

Although Libby continues to improve, we have since discovered the medical reason for her neurological symptoms – she has a condition called a liver shunt. This is likely a congenital condition that causes blood to be rerouted from the intestines directly into the blood system without being filtered through the liver, causing toxins to flood her system. The vet prescribed a daily dose of amoxicillin, Lactulose to help clean the blood of the toxins, and a very low protein diet. So far Libby is tolerating the medications and continues to be a bright, smart, intrepid little terrier with enormous potential to be a healthy, happy dog with surgery to correct her condition. According to the vet, many dogs experience a complete reversal of symptoms following the surgery. Her youth and blithe spirit will aid her recovery from this terrible condition. With surgical intervention, she could someday have full vision and can hope to navigate stairs and hallways without impacting the walls or floors in the process. I just hope that we can give this little dog the long life she so richly deserves, free of debilitating handicaps and free of daily medication that will only moderate her condition, not cure it. 

Louise - WestieMed Grant Recipient March 2013


Little Louie was a “surprise” gift, along with another Westie puppy, for a girl from her boyfriend. Louie was four months old, and Lloyd was five months. She did not have time to devote to their care, and she surrendered them to the Atlanta Westie Rescue Committee in September of 2012.

When Louie arrived for foster care, we noticed that he was very small, even for four months, and he also had a very sensitive stomach. We finally put him on a diet of boiled chicken and white rice. Our rescue vet, Montrose Animal Hospital in Marietta, Georgia, recommended that we add a kiddie vitamin and fresh spinach and sweet potato to his diet to ensure he was getting the proper nutrition. He still had stomach issues though, and at one point had to go to the emergency clinic for a day. He was a tiny little puff ball at 5-1/2 pounds and did not appear to be growing. We were concerned that perhaps he was suffering from “failure to thrive.”

Louie’s big boy neuter surgery was scheduled in November, and that is when his little life changed. Dr. Davis at Montrose said that his pre-surgery blood work showed numbers “all over the place,” with high liver enzymes and high WBC count of most concern. Given Louie’s other symptoms, Dr. Davis suspected Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, or liver shunt), which means that the blood was bypassing the liver and therefore not being cleansed of all the toxins. Dr. Davis felt that an ultrasound might be beneficial, and it did show a very small liver. The neuter surgery was canceled and Louie was sent home with antibiotics and a special hepatic diet.

There was a huge difference in Louie in just a couple of days as his body fought off infection and he received the proper nutrition. Another medication was added to help Louie pass the toxins out of his body, and again there was a marked improvement in his demeanor. These medications were given in anticipation of Louie having corrective surgery for the PSS.

Louie was referred to Dr. Berryessa at Georgia Veterinary Specialists (GVS) for a consult. Louie’s “entourage” consisted of his foster mom, the chair of the rescue, and the VP of the Westie Club of the South, all there for moral support. After the initial examination, Dr. Berryessa suggested another ultrasound to try to confirm that Louie had a PSS. We met the most amazing staff, all very caring, and they even let us go back with Louie for the ultrasound so we could see what they were looking at. The procedure was thoroughly explained to us, and it was confirmed that Louie was very sick with a PSS.

Due to the fact that we had changed Louie’s diet and had him on medications, he was looking healthier and gaining a little weight, which made us happy. We also discovered this amazingly active pup with newfound energy who played until he couldn’t anymore! What a difference that made, and we were hopeful that the surgery would help even more.

Louise - WestieMed Grant Recipient

Surgery day arrived and we dropped Louie off bright and early at GVS. They took him back and Dr. Winkler, the surgeon, came and talked to us before we left and assured us that he would call as soon as the surgery was over, which he did. However, the news was not what we had hoped for. They were unable to repair the liver shunt because (1) the veins were in the wrong location and (2) Louie’s liver was very tiny. The surgeon was able to neuter Louie while he was under. He had an overnight stay, and we were able to pick him up the next afternoon.

As an aside, my teenage daughter had a liver transplant eighteen months ago; as difficult as it was for me, I could deal with that okay. However, I was not prepared for the pitiful little baby I picked up from GVS, and it just tore my heart to pieces. We brought Louie home and put him in a nest that we had created to keep him quiet and away from the pack to try and help his little body heal. The first couple of days he was pitiful, but as his incision healed he started acting more like himself. After about a week, it was difficult to keep him quiet because he wanted to play and be with the pack.

Since then, my daughter and Louie have been on the same schedule for medications (so Mom can keep it all straight). Now almost three months later, Louie is thriving and growing and is a happy pup at thirteen pounds – almost tripling his weight since diagnosis. Although he may have a shortened life span, he is living life to the fullest and is a sweet, mischievous little man who makes us laugh all the time. He is a delight to have in the house, and all of our children’s friends have “adopted” him as their foster brother, too!

All we can say to WestieMed is “thank you for being there when we needed help.” There is no way we could ever thank you enough for your assistance with Louie’s surgery.

Rhona Terrell, Grateful Foster Mom
Westie Club of the South, Inc.

Update October 1, 2013

Louise - WestieMed Grant Recipient March 2013
Louise – WestieMed Grant Recipient

Many of you will recall the story about Louie, the littlest four-month-old Westie I had ever seen. He was surrendered in 2012 along with Lloyd by a woman who was “surprised” by her boyfriend with two puppies, and she had no desire to raise any puppies. Apparently a backyard breeder was getting out of the business (i.e., someone had turned her in) and she would not take the puppies back.

Louie came in relatively small, but he didn’t thrive no matter what Rhona fed him. After about a month, Rhona and his two aunties (Cindy and Harriett) took him for a consult with Georgia Veterinary Specialists, and Louie was diagnosed with a liver shunt, which was unable to be surgically repaired. Louie has been on medications ever since to keep him as healthy as possible.

His foster mom, Rhona Terrell, was up with him all night last night. A trip to the vet showed that Louie is going into the next stage of his liver disease. His protein and albumin levels are very low, and there is fluid in his belly. After discussing his condition with the vet, I have opted to keep him comfortable on diuretics and anti-nausea medicines.

Louie is still a very happy (although somewhat tired) one-year-old. Rhona, James, Matthew, and Kathleen (and all of their friends) are taking wonderful care of him. Rhona said it best this morning: “Louie has loved a lifetime in his short life” and I don’t know anyone who has met him that did not fall in love at first sight.

I just wanted to update everyone on his condition and express my appreciation of everyone coming together and rallying around this little pup. Now Louie and his foster family need our prayers and all good thoughts.

Cindy Levine

Update February 24, 2014

Louise - WestieMed Grant Recipient March 2013
Louise – WestieMed Grant Recipient

Louie is doing well most days and continues to delight us with his antics.

He has slowed down a little, which is all part of his condition.

He still loves to play with the pack but prefers to sleep by himself most nights as he gets restless and, due to being on diuretics, has frequent bathroom breaks (so does Mom).

Whether he is running and playing or just chilling in the sun, the outdoors is his favorite, although at the end of the day he is very content to be snuggled up in someone’s lap with a blanket.

Louise - WestieMed Grant Recipient March 2013
Louise – WestieMed Grant Recipient

We go on walks to the park with him and the other dogs, he can’t go the same distance but he is very happy to be in his stroller (see attached picture) after he is done walking.

He will turn two in May and we know every day with this loving little guy is a blessing.

Please enjoy his pictures.

Thank you again WestieMed for being there in his time of need; we are all truly grateful.

Rhona Terrell, Foster Mom
Westie Club of the South, Inc

Little Joe - WestieMed Recipient

Little Joe

June 2005:

On February 22, 2005, we received a call from a vet in southwest Kansas saying that she had a seriously ill eight to ten week old Westie puppy that was about to be euthanized, and she asked if we could take him. She believed that he had a life-threatening liver shunt, but she didn’t have the specialized equipment to diagnose or treat such a problem. We discussed the experience that Westie Rescue of Missouri has had with treating liver shunt dogs, and the vet agreed to speak to the owners about releasing the puppy to Westie Rescue. She later called back and said that the puppy was ours if we could transport him from southwest Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri. Fortunately, we have a wonderful volunteer who agreed to make the run and who christened the puppy “Little Joe”.

We took Little Joe to the Veterinary Specialty Clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, where they confirmed the diagnosis of a liver shunt and determined that, although he only weighed five pounds, Little Joe was a good candidate for surgery. On April 6, 2005, he had surgery to repair the liver shunt. He was released to his foster mom on April 7, 2005. But, on April 11, 2005, he began having trouble retaining fluids, so he was re-admitted to the animal hospital for observation. (It is not uncommon for liver shunt puppies to have trouble with fluid retention until their livers get accustomed to the increased blood flow). After a couple of days in the hospital, Little Joe was pronounced well enough to return home.

Little Joe has continued to progress under the careful care of his foster mom and his foster sister, Wendy the Westie. While he has been waiting to go to his adoptive home, Little Joe has been spending his days helping his foster sister train some of the other foster dogs that have been through that foster home on their way to forever homes. Little Joe likes to go on wonderful backyard adventures with Wendy and particularly likes to help Wendy chase squirrels. He likes to race up and down the fence line with the border collies who live next door. He likes to play with his favorite ball, and he has just learned how to go up and downstairs. He is now sleeping through the night and has gained three and a half pounds.

Little Joe’s bile acid tests are almost back to normal and we expect that he will have a long and healthy life. Little Joe is still in foster care, but we expect to pick the lucky family who will get adopt Little Joe sometime in the next few weeks.

Rescue groups would not be able to give beautiful little puppies like Little Joe the chance for a life without the wonderful help and support of WestieMed. Thank you so much!

Luann Johnson, President Westie Rescue of Missouri, Inc.

Update: June 2006:

I fostered and then adopted Little Joe a.k.a., Mr. Brodie B. I just couldn’t let him go after all we had been thru with his liver stunt surgery.

He is a very happy, full of energy, and curious boy. His build is still very small, but he thinks he can take any other neighbor dog on and win. Mr. Brodie gets along great with his sister, Miss Wendy, and all the other foster Westies that come in and out of our home. Our vet thinks he will never grow any larger, and the bio acid tests keep coming back high, but he looks and acts very healthy. Brodie loves to the car ride, play with toys, play tug-of-war with the fosters, and run and bark at the squirrels in our back yard.

He is very sweet, gentle, and loving when he wants to be, but acts like the “man of the house” all the time. Brodie will cuddle up next to me at night and wakes me in the morning with a cold nose to my neck.

We hope we can someday meet those who helped in saving Mr. Brodie’s life. Have a great day.