By Emma Foxall
Although Alfie is just 9 months old, his story is already a long and amazing one.
Alfie is a Golden Retriever, born on 15th March 2008, one of a litter of 13 puppies. He reached 8 weeks and went off to a new family just like his littermates.
But Alfie was different. He was small and sickly. A trip to the vets discovered that Alfie had a heart condition, and he was referred to the University of Liverpool's Small Animal Cardiology Department. Here it was found that Alfie had a very complicated condition, one that require further investigation and maybe even surgery.
The estimated cost to treat Alfie was around £3000. His new owner and breeder tried to think of a way to find the necessary money, but it looked hopeless. His owner decided to advertise Alfie on the Internet, and that's where I came in.
I first saw Alfie is a blurry photo on a free ads website. His little face looked up to the camera and as soon as I saw him I knew I had to help him. I contacted his owner via the ad and gained more details about him. I contacted the cardiologist at Liverpool and found out full details of his condition and current diagnosis. There was no other option for Alfie - without the further investigations & surgery he would die.
I decided to offer Alfie a foster home, and decided to try and raise the money needed to save him. I am a Veterinary Nurse so could cater to his medical needs and look after him in my own home with my other 3 rescue dogs.
I immediately set up a blog - www.alfiesheart.co.uk - and started promoting it everywhere I could, appealing to dog lovers and companies with Alfie's story. We would publicise his plight in every way we could, using the Internet dog community and the press. We would host fundraising auctions and appeal for donations.
He was one day off 4 months old when he made his journey from Lancashire to Newcastle. He was exhausted and sick, but still wagged his tail at me. He had a very bloated abdomen full of fluid caused by heart failure, and was on 4 different medications to take throughout the day.
On speaking further to the University, we agreed we had no choice but to book Alfie in with them as soon as possible. The sooner he could be seen, the higher the chances he would survive. He was booked in for 7 days.
The task of raising the money seemed impossible & enormous. The response to his website was amazing. Companies came forward to donate and sponsor Alfie, he featured in the local papers & TV news, and dog lovers worldwide donated what they could and spread the word via the Internet. In less than 2 weeks, we had the full £3000 needed. It was phenomenal and overwhelming and I went through every emotion in the book.
On 22nd July 2008, Alfie travelled to Liverpool, from where his vet transported him further to Milton Keynes, to the top UK Veterinary Cardiologist, for investigations. He was diagnosed with a rare defect, involving an extra chamber on his heart. The only option for Alfie now was to operate - surgery that has never been performed on a dog before.
There was no way of knowing whether he would survive, whether it would be a success. Even if he did survive, his heart failure may be irreversible. It was a scary day for all of us - me, the vets performing the new procedure, and Alfie's many supporters watching his website for any news - but I went ahead with it and consented to the surgery.
A few hours later, I received the phone call to say that Alfie was ok and his heart seemed to be functioning more normally already. The surgery had so far been successful, but they would need to monitor Alfie closely for complications. I was so relieved, and pleased that he had so many people wishing him through this difficult day.
Just two days later, I went to bring Alfie home. We couldn’t believe how quickly he had recovered and bounced back. This little boy was a fighter and wasn’t ready to up.
He was so pleased to see me when I went back for him, and seemed more active already. Of course after everything we'd been through together, I couldn’t let him go, so he became a permanent member of the family.
It's now been almost 5 months since Alfie's groundbreaking heart surgery and he is doing very well. He is still on one of his medications, but is a normal puppy and enjoys his new active lifestyle full of fun & play. He loves to run on the beach and play with his canine siblings. He is very smart and loves training. We are hoping he may be able to become a therapy dog and might even try his paw at some Flyball (just for fun, of course) in 2009. We do not know how long Alfie might live, or whether his heart will eventually fail again. All we do know is that we are determined to ensure that his life, however long, is as enjoyable for him as possible.
I want to thank every single person who read Alfie's story, and cared enough to help in any way they could. Alfie is an amazing dog whose story has touched the hearts of so many, and none more so than my own.
Some have said Alfie’s story is worthy of a book – however, I think he has many more chapters to go yet!
Emma Foxall (www.alfiesheart.co.uk)