The Internet Saved My Dog’s Life

No, really. It’s absolutely true. Without the Internet, my dog would be dead. He’s doing quite fine, thank you very much, thanks to the web.Hoover

This is my dog, Hoover. He’s 11 years old – we think. We got him three years ago when his then-owner moved away to Darfur. My daughter was five and she’s grown tremendously attached to Hoover over the years. He’s a friendly, gentle animal.

Just before we went away for the summer, he started living up to his name: he was hungry all the time. He’d eat and then follow us into the kitchen, quietly begging for scraps. He’d also started needing to defecate frequently – so much that we had to have him sleep outside because he was disturbing our sleep. We de-wormed him and changed his diet but nothing seemed to help. Then we got back from our holidays and he looked horrible: just skin and bones. He had no energy, his ribs were sticking out. I took him to the vet and he tested his blood sugar – no diabetes. No parasites, either. The vet was stumped. Was it a tumor? Cancer? Something else?

Vets here in Ethiopia have limited resources – labs are minimal, access to medicine is iffy – and that people often have a more practical attitude towards animals. Animals are livestock: sources of food and income. The vet was sympathetic and puzzled about Hoover’s decline but in the end he said Hoover was an old dog and there wasn’t anything he could do for him.

Not willing to let my daughter’s pet just go – and aghast at the idea of our dog starving to death while we fed him plenty – I took to the internet. Searching led me to plenty of sites of advice and animal medical information …all of which wound up with the “ask your vet” type of advice. All well and good in America or Europe, but not helpful here. The vast majority of sites talked about diet and parasites. Again, not much use.

Finally, stumbled on a site focusing on EPI in dogs (epi4dogs). EPI – or Enzyme Pancreatic Insufficiency – is a failure of the pancreas in which a dog simply can’t digest his food. He’ll eat plenty, but just defecates it out undigested. I read more about the symptoms and looked at the photos of dogs – this might be what Hoover had. How to be sure? Oh, yes: your vet can do a test. The samples have to be sent to a particular university lab in the US. Ah. Not going to happen.

So how to see if this is what he had? Maybe if I try the treatment on him and see if he improves. How do you deal with a dog with EPI? Buy powdered pancreas enzyme and sprinkle it on his food. <sarcasm> Oh, yes. This is easily obtainable in Ethiopia. </sarcasm> Any advice to those of us living in more out-of-the way places? Sometimes adding raw pancreas to the dog’s food can work. Pig pancreas works best.

Not a lot of pigs here, but we have plenty of sheep. Ethiopians (like many Africans) like their meat fresh, so people buy sheep live and slaughter them at home. This shouldn’t be hard. After a consultation with some of the Ethiopians around, we find out that pancreas is called tafiya in Amharic and that it’s not eaten. People might keep it to feed their dogs (ha!), but otherwise it’s mostly discarded. So we sent out word to the neighbors and sent our guard out to the slaughtering sites to try to get some tafiya for Hoover.

It was a slow start until the end of Ramadan and the approach of the Ethiopian new year. Then we got tafiya by the sackful. (At about 1birr each – that’s about 8cents.) We added it to Hoover’s meals and he seemed to be improving. His stools were looking more digested and were coming less frequently, anyway.

So back to the internet. EPI4dogs had some links to some places where we could order the pancreatic enzyme powder. Thank goodness for credit cards and online shopping! Shipping medical products (a powder with a biohazard warning on it, no less!) to Ethiopia would be problematical at best. Fortunately, we found some friends who could get it in for us …but it would take a while. So we waited and ground up the raw tafiya and added it to his food and Hoover seemed to be less hungry and more energetic.

Finally we got the pancreatin powder and started adding it to his food. We kept up the tafiya as well, figuring it would do no harm and it was readily available. (We had a big bag of it in the freezer from the Eid al fitr feasts!) His ribs are now sticking out less and there seems to be more meat on his belly. It’s still early days, but things are looking good for him.

So my dog owes his life to the Internet. Without it, he would have starved to death (while eating frequently). A horrible prospect. With the WWW, however, I had access to enough information to find out what the problem was and then access to the medicine he needed.

I always like a moral to a story and look to generalize things, so here goes. In more remote or less-developed parts of the world like Ethiopia, the access to information that the Internet brings is of phenomenal importance. People can quite literally know more than they ever possibly could before. With a little work, they also have access to goods and services that were formerly completely out of the realm of possibility. This has amazing ramifications on people’s quality of life. The saving of my dog’s life may be a small thing (to you, anyway – not to my daughter!) compared to the potential for helping or saving human lives, but it points the way: open access to information and access to services and products beyond the local market can save lives.

So thank you, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and all the team who created the internet. And as I check my Twitter stream and send out emails, I acknowledge and am grateful that the Internet has not only brought more communication and entertainment into our lives, it has also brought the means of actually saving lives.


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