Carly the Labrador and a Tragedy in Our Community


Almost 2 weeks ago our picturesque community was struck with a tragedy. Although we may seem like a small, secluded area, Huron Valley sits within a large metropolitan area that is surrounded by Detroit, Ann Arbor, Pontiac and East Lansing. Certainly we are aware of the crime and tragedy that surrounds us both locally and internationally, but the communities within Huron Valley have always maintained that small town mystique, safe and quiet. Unfortunately, we were reminded late on Monday night that small towns, like Milford, were not immune to the ugly tragedies that seem to feed our news reports each day. 


On Monday night a geriatric labrador arrived at our emergency hospital. She was presented by the Milford Fire Department at the request of the police. At the time we did not know her name or her history, other than her  male owner, who was chronically ill, had been allegedly attacked by his wife with a crowbar and the labrador had suffered a similar fate. Our emergency doctor evaluated dog, performed preliminary diagnostics, stabilized the patient and instituted a plan that included, among other things, pain management for the wounds she had sustained to her head and back. At that time, the dog was unable to move, but responsive and stable. 


As the sad tale unfolded we learned that the dogs name was Carly. She was morbidly obese, had chronic pelvic limb weakness and she was almost 12 years old. The other dog in the house escaped that night and was later found unharmed. The perpetrator was suspected of suffering from mental illness. In court she explained that both her husband and dog were old and ill and she felt that it was time for them to pass on. 


The beating of Carly and her owner underscores so many very important societal issues such as the need for better medical and social support for families that are caring for chronically ill and geriatric family members as well as the very seriously damaged condition of the mental health system in our country. However, although I have opinions on these topics, I feel vastly under qualified to address them. 


Carly’s tragic fate, however, does provide an opportunity to discuss some very current topics in animal welfare and veterinary medicine. Some of which mirror issues in the human medical and welfare system.

Last week, shortly after Carly arrived at our hospital, I met with a client in her mid-80’s, she had one pet, a cat. She had hand raised her from a kitten and lived with her for over 10 years. It was obvious that the small orange cat meant a great deal to her, the client was in tears when I entered the room. She thought it was time to euthanize her cat. She went on to explain that the cat was vomiting at least weekly, and she had an episode of paroxysms of vomiting that lasted an hour a few days ago. The cat was eating, and otherwise acting fine. At the age of 85, this client  explained, she found that cleaning up after the cat, traveling to the vet, paying for veterinary care or even administering medications were overwhelming tasks, however that cat was her companion. It was obvious that my patient was well loved. Loosing this long time friend carried with it issues surrounding loss as well as an admission of her own advancing age and health issues. The cats illness also lead to the painful recognition that she could no longer care for her pet as she had for ten years. The cat was stable and comfortable. Initial tests were normal.We discussed a treatment plan and I administered some medications and provided some food that may prove to be more palatable for the cat. The owner explained that she did have family near by. I encouraged her to discuss the continued care of the cat, possibly to see if a family member would help with her care, adopt her or assist the owner in finding a way to continue the little orange cats care. 


I see many older and physically disabled clients with geriatric pets. The pets assume a major roll in these peoples lives and are a source of comfort and solace. But, just as their owners are experiencing the effects of aging or illness, so are they. The pets need more care, better diets and more frequent visits to the doctor. There are many different responses to this dilemma. Sometimes families help support the human-animal bond by assisting in the care of the older pet, maybe even adopting it. Other times families encourage their relatives to euthanize the animal. Organizations in our community like Meals on Wheels and Community Sharing’s Pet Pantry provide food and, at times, veterinary care. Hospice and high quality home veterinary care for chronically or terminally ill patients is an area of veterinary medicine that is beginning to receive more and more attention, but is frequently unavailable.


Obviously, there are no easy solutions to these dilemmas. In Carly’s case, if the owners inability to care for her had been identified and her chronic health issues been better managed, she would not have been so infirm at the time of her attack. Maybe, when her care was too difficult for her family, if there had been some where else that she could have gone or an opportunity for adoption, she might have avoided her injuries completely. This past November was designated ‘Adopt a Senior Pet Month’. Many shelters and rescues are promoting the wonderful pets and companions that can be found in an adult or senior pet. Within our practice, I feel that we have seen more adult and senior pets adopted over the past few years. Hopefully adult/senior pet adoption will become an option that will be considered by more and more prospective pet owners.


The bond between human and pet carries so much significance and it is valuable on so many different levels. For the lonely, the sick, or geriatric owner the pet may be their only source of companionship, a reason for getting up in the morning. Having a pet may allow them a sense of worth, recognizing that they have someone who depends on them and who they can care for. The pet in turn receives the attention and companionship they relish. However, we must recognize that the relationship between the special needs owner and pet is a fragile one and it takes the support of family, friends and the community to be sure both the owner and the pet are well cared for. Hopefully the tragedy of Carly’s injuries and the story of the little orange cat and her concerned owner will help us all think about the plight of the unwanted older pet or the older pet that can no longer be cared for and also help us consider their owners who may be struggling with their own very real problems. 


P.S Carly continues to improve each day at our hospital. Recently, she sat outside with one of our interns, enjoying the afternoon sun. She also has new home to go to when she is ready and they visit her regularly. 


We have asked that rather than donating to Carly’s care that you consider sending a donation earmarked for the Pet Pantry at Community Sharing  2029 N. Milford Road, Highland, MI 48357 or PO Box 405 Highland, Mi 48357 or donate on line:




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Posted on December 12, 2015
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