The Weight of Mitral Valve Insufficiency

It may be hard to watch, but it is worthwhile. A heartfelt story of a man and his gun dog

Humour can’t make it’s way into this one, I tried. A few opening lines with a pun so ill fit for the topic I am about to discuss it made me take a step back. This. Sucks.

Before I got my dog Fiddle I was pretty damn impenetrable to life’s sucker punches. My biggest concerns were my current love and fly fishing. I had just graduated college and the world owed me for that. Fast forward seven years of moving to Colorado, working multiple jobs, going through heartache, quitting smoking, marriage, loss of friends, loss of family, my first archery elk harvest, my dog Fiddle’s first grouse point, my first truck, my first pigeon loft, fishing the San Juan, hunting with my uncle, my first dirt bike, pair of skis, backcountry skis, mountain bike, back to grad school, remote job, milestones, wood stove, health anxiety; ends up I being giardiasis… chronically…. for two years. Yep, the world doesn’t owe you donkey shit. Good.

Every turn I have taken since I was twenty three was made with my best friend by my side. A friend that wasn’t going to move away, cheat on me (except actually he does, he is quite the lover) or stab me in the back. My best friend who now had an eye infection after some long hunts through the woods for early grouse season here in Colorado. So I did what any decent friend would do and I took him to the vet. What was supposed to be, what life owed me and my young dog, was a small bottle of eye drops and a see ya later. And really, that is what I got. Only the eye drops didn’t work. So I went back to the vet. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone the vet and I opted for looking for a foreign body in the eye while under anesthesia for a teeth cleaning. I could get really long winded here, but basically in the end the vet discovered a heart murmur, which turns out to be Mitral Valve Insufficiency.

Mitral Valve Insufficiency is heart disease, yes, heart disease. A seven year old dog, probably top 1% in the country’s wide and ranging dog population as far as activity level, perfectly ideal weight, doesn’t smoke or drink, has fucking heart disease. No way of knowing why, could be genetics, could very well be a past bacterial infection (may be due to poor dental condition, clean those teeth folks!), who knows.

A note to self; Live your fucking life, you will die.

So what is Mitral Valve Insufficiency? Think of it this way, you have a floor pump to add air to your bike tire. There is a valve in there that lets air in when you pull up and then closes, allowing you to push the air into the tire. Now take that valve that closes and poke a hole in it. Every time you depress the rod of the pump, say 40% of the air that was supposed to go into the tire, now just leaks back into the inlet. This is Fiddle’s heart.

Directions and suggestion for longevity and best prognosis: Limit exercise and altitude

Ok, so this is the point where I pretty much phase out, eye’s blurred with what must be the strongest of salty tears and ears pretty much numb. No more hunting? He is so young – here I spent the past seven years worrying about dog thieves, cars, coyotes in heat, mountain lions, deadfall impaling him while jumping through the woods, car accidents, getting lost, snake bites.

Another note to self; You worry about the wrong things.

Prognisis; 1-2 years before exercise intolerance, 3 more of life. Now this is a guess, the specialist even said he doesn’t see this disease in a dog so young, normally they are 10-12 years of age, so maybe Fiddle’s outlook is a little better. Given this is with the recommended exercise and altitude ban (above 7k’ and mind you live right at 7k’ and hunt usually around 9k but did go for ptarmigan at around 12,000’ this year).

Now to me, one of the great, if not the greatest benefits of NOT being human is a lack of timely awareness. Fiddle does not know he has been given a prognosis at all, he knows that the echo he had to undergo was pretty much doggy waterboarding but he doesn’t know why that was done. In my opinion, and for my dog, I can think of nothing more selfish than to ask him to hang around, pent up with the energy of a prime hunting dog just so I can have extra time with him. I was told by the specialist’s assistant that these recommendations are just for longevity and that he is my dog and if hunting is what being a dog is to him and that is what makes him happiest, it is my decision at the end of the day, just be ready, she said “he may drop dead in the field.” A fate so lucky, I believe. Here again reflection on human life, let us make our loved ones suffer so that we may visit them next Christmas!

This disease may progress to the point where just driving up the local mountain passes will make his lips turn blue and may cause him to die. I don’t want that, God I don’t want that!

Let us be honest, the prognosis isn’t the end of the world, in fact, for a dog it really is great as far as bad news can go. He is my first dog though and your first love is the deepest, she was right about that you know.

Fiddle doesn’t know this yet, but we have a fun quail hunt planned for Thanksgiving week. We have only ever hunted grouse aside from one or two pheasant outings so this is exciting! The temperatures should be mild and the altitude closer to 5-6k, both things that will help.

It feels good to be alive. It feels good to know that my dog is and was able to hunt grouse during good times, when birds are bountiful. Before spruce beetle kills hit my backyard (like next year) and affect populations as well as the climate change that drives it. It feels good to know that we die. I shoot an elk with a stick and it succumbs in 5-10 seconds to the other side, a 500+lb animal, this makes me realize how mortal we are in that moment (much more fragile mind you than an elk). Fiddle and I are hunters, we see death. Though I see it from a higher perspective, we all experience it. He just doesn’t see it coming like humans do. Good for him. May he drop dead with a fresh bird in his mouth. Life does owe him that much.

I have never carried a dead dog off of the road before.

On the way home from the vet (my vet is closer to me than the nearest grocery or gas station; 3 minutes) a dog on the back of someone’s flat bed fell off, their horse trailer proceeding to run it over. Gruesome but quick, the owners did not notice and continued driving. I just missed the visual on this by about ten seconds but consoled the woman who did. I called the number on the collar and carried the warm dog off on to the side of the road like a sack of potatoes, every bone crushed, an eye no longer in its place.

Life doesn’t owe you shit. But you know, that is OK. Life is pretty damn good, one thing that I can no longer imagine however, is life without a hunting dog.

I will enjoy every second I have with Fiddle from now until the day he dies with that bird in his mouth (perhaps even 7 years from now), and much more with this news. Every sip of time I have with him is full of gratitude and appreciation, and for that, I am very grateful.
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One Response to The Weight of Mitral Valve Insufficiency

  1. Fantastically written my friend. The first one is the hardest. I swore after I lost Goobs that I would never have another dog. Here I am with number two and I can’t think of life without him either.

    As you said so poignantly – “A note to self; Live your fucking life, you will die.”

    I think you’re on the right track with letting Fiddle live Fiddle’s life for the things he loves – not for you.

    Stay strong brother

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