Near Death in Deadhorse

We woke in the treeless north of the Arctic surrounded by frozen lakes and soggy tundra saturated from the snow that was melting quickly under the bright light of the sun that lingered high in the sky for over 20 hours. The stark land that stretched endlessly in all directions reminded us how far we were from any resemblance of a town. We had been slowly traveling north on the Haul Rd. intending to spend the month of May hiking, fishing, bird/mammal watching and exploring the far north of Alaska that was unfamiliar to us. Also known as the Dalton Highway, this route which ended at the oil fields of the Arctic Ocean in Prudhoe Bay was far from the smooth ride one might imagine from the name highway. Rutted with potholes, wash boarded dirt and thick gravel, spotted with the occasional stretch of pavement, it was well travelled by the semi-trucks hauling loads to and from the work camp of Deadhorse which sat at the furthest northern part of the route.

We were about 150 miles from Deadhorse playing fetch with the dogs before we headed north again. Sequoia was stumbling around a little during our game and I commented that she “seemed a little drunk”, but didn’t really give much more thought to it as we loaded into the Chinook and rolled out from our camp spot. A couple of hours later we stopped to make a cup of coffee and take a break from driving. Shilo was acting odd, rocking in small circles and stumbling around our camper. Goose said, “she seems drunk” and his comment struck me as odd since these were the exact words I had used for Sequoia earlier in the day. We had no idea what would have caused the weird behavior in both dogs, but we guessed perhaps they had gotten into something at our last camp spot. Goose mentioned noticing a small amount of radiator fluid on the floorboard of the front seat, leaking from a broken heater coil. The dogs slept in the front seats at night and we began to worry that perhaps they had gotten into the liquid. With no internet/phone service all we could do was to continue to head north, now with a bit more urgency, and monitor the dogs as we went.

Sequoia was now acting normal, but Shilo seemed to be getting worse as we drove. A couple of hours later we pulled into the industrial work town of Deadhorse and found phone service for the first time in weeks. I immediately searched “dogs acting drunk” and my heart sank as I read this was a common sign of anti-freeze poisoning. My dread grew as I continued to read that there was not much that could be done for this type of poisoning which usually ended in death from kidney failure. We found a place to pull over and I immediately phoned a vet in Anchorage. The vet confirmed what I had read and apologetically told us that there was probably nothing that could be done other than to fly south where they could help them pass away with less suffering.

I was in disbelief and was not ready to accept the outcome which I was being told was almost inevitable. Goose had found some activated charcoal which we were feeding to Shilo in hopes of absorbing the toxins that she had ingested. We fed a little to Sequoia as well, but our main focus was on Shilo who was getting worse by the moment. I fed Sequoia bowls and bowls of watered down food trying to flush out her system. Shilo refused to eat or drink anything so I gave her sub-cutaneous fluids under her skin with a needle. We had read, and been told, that the time which had passed since they had ingested the poison made my efforts futile, but I felt I needed to try something.

We called Alaska Airlines to find out about a flight to Anchorage even though we knew it was probably way out of our budget, this was confirmed when we were quoted $1200 for the two of us to fly that night. I also called another vet for a second opinion, who confirmed what the first vet had told us and encouraged us to fly to the city to “ease their passing” as their inevitable death would be “slow and painful for us all”.

In a daze Goose and I discussed our options, including taking the dogs out to the tundra to shoot them rather than let them suffer. As heartbreaking as this option sounded it seemed like it might be our only choice. We then realized however that we didn’t know what to do with their bodies as we would be unable to bury them in the thick permafrost. It was too much for me to handle as I broke down in sobs. We sat for a while to try and process everything that was happening so quickly. Unable to think of any other good solution we decided to send Goose on a plane with both dogs while I waited in the north. He went into the small Alaska Airlines office to purchase a ticket for the flight leaving in a couple of hours while I waited in the camper snuggling and saying goodbye to both dogs. He returned to us quickly with news of amazing kindness from the airline supervisor who upon hearing our predicament extended her guest passes to allow us both to fly with the dogs for under $200 total roundtrip. It was such a relief to know I would have a few more hours with them and would not have to wait alone, heartbroken.

We departed a couple of hours later with Shilo shivering in our arms, unable to walk, appearing unlikely to even survive the flight. When we landed however she had improved considerably, walking off the plane and interested in playing fetch. It was great to see her physical improvements, but we knew this was just a sign of the initial poisoning symptoms moving into the secondary less noticeable stage of kidney damage/failure. We caught a taxi and rushed to the vet at 1am, now close to what we guessed to be 20 hours since they had been poisoned and much past the time of any likely treatment.

After waiting for a while at the vet the dogs were both taken for blood and urine samples. We sat with them awaiting the results, smothering them with love and treats assuming it was all we could do at this point. When the vet called us in to discuss the results of the tests we had no expectations other than bad news. The vet discussed “normal” kidney values and crystallizations in the urine and when she then told us that both dogs were within a range of a viable treatment we were amazed and a release of emotions washed over us.

The treatment was to get the dogs drunk on vodka. The stronger the vodka the better. Shilo was admitted for the next 48 hours to get inebriated on Everclear through an IV, and we were given a small bottle of the 151 proof liquor to feed to Sequoia every hour for the next two days. Apparently the alcohol inhibited the poison from destroying the kidneys. No matter how the silly the treatment seemed, or how costly the simple solution was quoted from the vet, we were overjoyed, as well as still in a bit of sleep deprived confusion and disbelief, at the opportunity to save our dogs lives.

Two days later we reunited our family, all of us so happy to be back together healthy and alive. We hopped a plane back to Deadhorse, were greeted with hugs and joy from every airline employee in the north who had expected us to return alone, and began the southbound portion of our road trip together in a state of pure gratitude. Gratitude for the outcome of what seemed to be a helpless situation, gratitude for all of the incredible kindness that we encountered from many strangers along the way, gratitude for the beauty of our lives and gratitude for every moment that we had to spend with our furry critters as we continued our adventures together.