January 21, 2021


A dog on the grass


For Neil and Priscilla, Peaky the Havanese and his “big sister” Starry are simply members of the family. And, at 14 years old, Peaky has taught his owners just how strong and deep that family bond can be.

Peaky has had his share of health problems over the years. He underwent treatment for a severe gastrointestinal illness when he was younger, and then endured multiple chemotherapy treatments for a rare and very aggressive form of skin cancer. At that point, Peaky seemed to be in the clear. But then he collapsed. And he collapsed again.

“We raced Peaky to our local emergency veterinary clinic, and the on-call doctor performed an electrocardiogram,” recalls Neil. “He said, ‘He’s gonna go, and he’s going to go quick if you don’t get him to a cardiologist.’” The local cardiologist knew he wasn’t equipped for the situation, so he called the Animal Medical Center’s Cardiology Service, headed by Dr. Philip Fox, and was told that a team would be ready to go when Peaky arrived.

These pet parents would do anything for family.

The two-hour drive from Connecticut seemed endless. Priscilla sat in the backseat, holding Peaky’s head in her lap as his life ebbed away. Once they arrived, however, they found that the plan for Peaky was already in motion. “We didn’t even sit down,” Neil recalls. “AMC’s specialists immediately took Peaky back for testing.”

What they found was not encouraging.

Peaky had a dangerous arrhythmia and a pulse of just 29. His little heart was working so hard, yet only operating at 30% capacity. There was almost no blood flow to his organs and other tissues, a very low platelet count from the chemo, and he was in congestive heart failure. Dr. Lauren Wiley, the cardiology resident in charge of Peaky’s care, emerged from triage. “I told them that his only chance was a pacemaker. But with his advanced cancer and heart failure, it was risky to even administer anesthesia, let alone perform this type of surgery.”

Priscilla and Neil sat down to discuss their options, but it didn’t take long. “He’s family,” said Neil. “If there’s a chance to save him, we have to roll the dice.” So, they did.

Peaky was immediately whisked into the operating room, where the anesthesiologist monitored and adjusted medication levels to keep him alive.

The cardiologists placed a human-grade pacemaker. A delicate wire was inserted into the jugular vein, and the pacemaker was then gently implanted under the skin. Boston Scientific donated this state-of-the-art pacemaker to save the lives of four-legged family members, like Peaky.

Every second counted, because without platelets, Peaky’s blood couldn’t clot and he was in constant danger of bleeding out.

Just an hour later, Dr. Wiley walked out of the OR with a big smile on her face. “He did great,” she told the family. There were no complications, no bleeding, and he came out of surgery with a perfect heart rate and perfect blood pressure. Peaky spent the next two days in the hospital to recover while his cardiologists treated him to resolve the congestion in his lungs, and then he was ready to go home.

Thanks to the pacemaker, and the talent and commitment of the team at AMC, the little dog’s heart is now functioning nearly at full capacity. The arrhythmia is corrected permanently, and he only needs to visit AMC occasionally for slight adjustments. Peaky’s quality of life has improved dramatically, and his family is so thankful that they decided to go for it. Says Neil, “When I think back on all he’s been through health-wise, we had to give him a chance.”

A dog on the grass
A dog on some rocks
A dog on a patio
Two dogs in a driveway
A dog playing in the snow