LA residents take a bite out of Dracula's vet bills

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Pets > Foster pup needed immediate medical attention

When Lauri Houlton received the call from the Española Valley Humane Society’s Linda Sanchez, she had no idea what she was in store for. After all, she began fostering dogs in April 2011, so it was no surprise that she was being called on to foster another pup.


Dracula, a black-and-tan puppy came to stay with Houlton and her boyfriend Ross Van Lyssel on Oct. 4, because he was too small to go to the mobile adoption scheduled for that weekend.

Van Lyssel has a Shepherd/Husky-mix named Beth and Houlton has two dogs she kept from her first fostering, brother and sister, Knut and Klondike.

Plus, fostering dogs is nothing new for the couple. They have fostered 129 dogs.

Dracula, however, was not their typical foster pup.

“The very first day Drac came home, we noticed he got sick every time he ate his Puppy Chow. He couldn’t keep anything down,” Houlton said.

“He was returned to the shelter on Friday the 5th so the vets could check him out. I called all weekend to check on him. Linda then had me meet with Dr. Parker, a vet at EVHS. He explained that he believed Dracula had an aortic arch. That is a blood vessel that has grown around and encircling the esophagus instead of next to it.”

Houlton said the diagnosis was made by observation only, since the shelter did not have funding for numerous X-rays.

She was then sent to the Cottonwood Animal Clinic for X-rays and received a definite diagnosis.

Dracula did in fact, have an aortic arch, which is basically a constriction in the dog’s throat. As the puppy grows, the blood vessel would also grow and eventually, he would die of starvation. He would need an expensive surgery to correct the problem.

Houlton knew how important it was for Dracula to be operated on, so she took him to Dr. Weh at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Santa Fe. Parker was also interested in being part of the surgery, so he donated his time. The total cost to try and save Dracula’s life came to $5,135.

“The original quote was between $3,500 and $4,000, unfortunately, due to complications (Dracula went into cardiac arrest three times during surgery and post-op), the cost was higher than the quote,” Houlton said. “But not by much, for the extensive care he received.”

As a result of the high price tag, Houlton put a donation jar at Pet Pangaea, in hopes of getting some financial help. She said her sister Brenda Kelley was working with Friends of the Shelter to see if they could help.

“This isn’t a story about a hurt dog or about fostering for the shelters. This is a story about the incredible animal lovers in the town of Los Alamos and how they gave generously to someone they didn’t know,” Houlton said.

“One man, David T. from White Rock, donated $1,500, all because he is an animal lover. He’s an angel to us.
The owners and staff at Pet Pangaea are wonderful and provide more than just good pet food and products. They will do anything they can to help pets of this community.”

Dracula was able to go home four days after the surgery, with orders to stay calm and take it easy, but Houlton said,

“Drac can’t read and has hit the ground running.

He plays with the big dogs and follows the chickens and ducks around the yard.”

Houlton said Dracula is doing great and has recovered nicely, but he still has trouble swallowing if he rushes through his meal.

“Above the constriction, his throat is over dilated and loose. Below the construction, it is tight from lack of proper use,” Houlton explained.

“But each day is an improvement. He doesn’t have to have his canned food mixed with water and blended anymore.”

Since first meeting Dracula, things have progressed for both Houlton and the black-and-tan canine. He has found a permanent home in the Houlton/Van Lyssel household and Houlton has raised all but $1,200 of the medical bill.

The donation jar at Pet Pangaea has been removed, but there’s still a medical fund at Los Alamos National Bank, where people can donate to help Dracula.