After Buster, Natalie Alatriste’s 9-year-old American Bulldog, passed away, she and her family visited the Miami-Dade Animal Shelter.
“[This puppy with] a big ol’ belly full of worms came straight to us and wouldn’t leave us alone,” Alatriste said. “I was trying to take a look at the other dogs [in the litter]. He just wouldn’t let me. He was by my side the entire time, so we chose him.”
Buddha, a German Sheperd–Chow Chow mix, quickly brought joy back into the Alatriste household by hunting for lizards, going on 1-mile runs, and playing with his sister dog, Halo. But their newly found happiness was short-lived. At 3 months old, Buddha developed a cough that continued to grow progressively worse. The family whisked him to the vet, who diagnosed him with bronchitis.
“The doctors put him on a bunch of medication: antibiotics…and all these other things. They gave him an aerosol machine too,” she said. “My mom, she saw how we were with him. Making everyone happy is her mission in life. She treated him like a sick child…[getting]…up every four hours giving him the aerosol machine.”
However, Buddha’s symptoms only worsened. He began to continually twitch and vomit. The Alatriste family began digging for answers online when it clicked that the symptoms were from distemper, a usually fatal virus that can incubate in a puppy without symptoms from 3 days old to 3 months old. The family dragged Buddha to yet another vet, who said he wasn’t going to make it. The family needed a miracle.
“My mom was beside herself. She just couldn’t deal with the death of another dog,”Alatriste said. The family was also concerned about Halo, who shared the same bowl and toys with Buddha. “She had all of her shots. Luckily, she didn’t end up having it. It was just Buddha.”
Then the news spread: Miami-Dade shelter, who took in 36,000 abandoned animals in 2008, was experiencing a shelter-wide distemper outbreak. “They had to shut down the shelter completely,” Alatriste said. Big dogs, especially Pit Bulls, which are illegal in Miami-Dade County, where being euthanized. Independent rescuers and animal advocates flocked to save over 200 dogs on a single Saturday.
The Alatristes weren’t surprised when Miami-Dade didn’t lift a finger to help Buddha. “We wonder to this day where his brothers and sisters are. We don’t think that they probably survived,” she said. “Not too many people will go through the sacrifice to keep the dog alive through the distemper. It’s awfully hard…because you don’t know [if the dog] is going to live.”
It’s a sacrifice the Alatristes know too well. The family raked together $4,000 and teamed up with Sable Chase Animal Clinic, which did “everything they [could] to keep him alive and happy.” The vets put Buddha on multiple, full rounds of antibiotics. He was also on a seizure medication to treat his massive twitching.
“He wasn’t a normal dog for two to three years,” she said. “He’d rest his head on furniture to stabilize his movement.” The family also discovered that swimming would stop Buddha’s twitching for three to five minutes at a time. “There are tons of pools [in Florida, so] we’d take him all the time. The twitching now is very, very slight.”
Buddha is now 8 years old. Alatriste said that the distemper made him into the dog he is today, and that’s OK. “He is hilarious We used to play music in the background, and he’d twitch to it. It looked like he was dancing,” she said, adding that Buddha is “the nicest, most loyal dog. If we are having a bad day, he senses it. He wants to be there for me. He is there by our side protecting us.”