It's hard for Cole and Sierra Irwin to imagine life without their dog Dwight.
But the large, mixed-breed dog and best friend to their toddler, Otto, had overcome the deadly canine parvovirus just weeks before being adopted into his forever home.
Had it not been for the around-the-clock care from his foster family – John and Ashley Swanson – Dwight's fate would've been much more grim.
Dwight was picked up on the side of the road by a delivery truck driver in one of the nearby reservations on May 3, alongside his brother.
The two puppies were estimated to be about six weeks old when they came into the care of PAWS Animal Rescue in Pierre.
PAWS board president Jennifer Uecker, recalled how on May 8, Dwight was diagnosed with parvo after showing symptoms of being infected with the virus.
"This was my first case since I've been involved in the organization," Uecker said during an interview March 8.
"But just today, I put two more in the hospital. One of the local reservations that we get a lot of dogs from is having a really bad outbreak. We've had those two since Friday and they just started showing symptoms last night."
Uecker said there's a period of time where a dog is too young to get the parvo vaccination.
"There's that spot where they can't get vaccinated but they're out and about. It's transferred through infected feces, vomit, and other bodily fluids," Uecker said.
"Vaccines are super important. They can get some immunity through the mom as long as they're with their mom as long as they should be," she added.
All that could be done for Dwight was that his symptoms be treated by his human caretakers.
That's where the Swansons stepped in.
During the first couple of days, the Swansons didn't notice anything wrong with Dwight.
"He was good the first four days we had him, then he threw up and was just lethargic.
The Swansons fostered Dwight and his brother, Dean, but kept the two separated in different sections of their home.
"I was expecting (Dean) to get it," John recalled. Luckily, Dwight didn't infect his brother with the deadly virus.
Every day for three weeks straight, multiple times a day, John and Ashley would change into their "parvo clothes" which they kept downstairs with Dwight.
The couple was tasked with administering IV fluids to the dog every three hours, in addition to making sure he took his antibiotics.
Dwight also had to be fed through a syringe due to the virus suppressing his appetite.
"It was a huge undertaking," Ashley recalled.
"We'd take the IV and put it under the skin, then there's just like a little bubble there and his body just absorbs it," Ashley said.
It was very hard, especially when you create a bond nursing him back to health
Uecker described parvo as a virus "that essentially eats their intestinal tract."
"A lot of people will think they got the flu, or they got into something or ate a kleenex, or they're just not feeling so good," Uecker said.
"It eats their intestines and breaks down their immune system so they can get sick with things like bronchitis as well. I think once you get past a certain stage there is no recovery. There is no cure for it, it just has to run its course. All you can do is treat it and hope that it doesn't get to the point where there's no recovery," Uecker said.
But then the day came where Dwight began eating again, which was a sign that he was going to beat the virus. That was on May 11.
Seven days later, the Irwins came in to meet Dwight and his brother Dean to see if one of the two would make a good match for their family.
"We've known for a while that we wanted to adopt a dog. We felt comfortable with where we were with Otto after the first year," Cole explained, referring to the couple's son, who had just turned one at the time.
"We followed PAWS on Facebook and we contacted them and set up a play meeting. We actually met with Dwight's brother first. Then she brought Dwight over and we watched Otto and Dwight connect – it was just an amazing thing to see. Honestly, they're best buds and Dwight is really patient. There will be times when Dwight's just relaxing at the end of the day and Otto will come up and snuggle with him," Cole said, smiling.
Seeing the Irwins interact so lovingly with Dwight also made the Swansons – who were able to reconnect with their foster pup and his new family during a meeting on March 8 – grin from ear-to-ear.
The work that the Swansons put into ensuring Dwight survived his bout of parvo was not lost on the Irwins.
"We are really appreciative, especially after the fact and doing some more research on parvo, because we weren't really aware of how bad it was," Cole said.
"It would be weird not having him in our lives. They did all the hard work and we just got this awesome dog," he said.
The Swansons have since fostered two more dogs since Dwight, but not without doing meticulous cleaning and sanitation of their property/
"Parvo can live in infected feces and vomit for six months at least. We were hesitant to bring a puppy into John and Ashley's house for quite awhile," Uecker said.
But so far, so good.
State Veterinarian Beth Thompson echoed Uecker on the deadliness of parvo, noting that it can run through human societies and kennels very quickly.
"Not only are there a lot of sick puppies but a lot of deaths too, depending on the type of dog and how healthy they are," Thompson said.
"There's not a specific therapy for Parvo virus. Hopefully the dogs and puppies can recover. I spent a little time in a small animal clinic making sure the puppies had plenty of water and fluids. The parvo causes diarrhea and they're losing fluids so quickly."
Thompson said making sure everything is cleaned in a kennel or humane society, absolutely and thoroughly, is crucial.
Other than that, there are two or three dose vaccinations available, Thompson said.
"You need to vaccinate before you're mixing and matching puppies and dogs that haven't seen each other before and keep them apart as much as possible. If you've got a symptomatic dog or puppy, involve a veterinarian and quarantine as much as possible," she said.
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