When the time was finally right for Emily Steelman and her fiancé to adopt a dog, they discussed exactly what they were looking for in a pooch: medium-sized, either a young puppy (which they could easily housebreak) or an adult (who was already housebroken), and one that they could manageably train.
After scrolling through hundreds of adoption profiles online, Emily was smitten by Wilson’s photo, even though he had none of the characteristics that she and her fiancé had discussed!
“He was the opposite of everything we were looking for in a dog. He was big, already 50 pounds at nine months old. He was neither puppy nor adult, neither trained nor housebroken, and didn’t know his own name,” Emily told iHeartDogs.
But there was something that really drew her to the pooch. “He had a goofy smile that melted my heart,” she said.
So Emily, her fiancé, and her best friend (conveniently a trainer!) hopped in the car and took the hour drive to meet Wilson for the first time. There, shelter staff discussed the pup’s quirks and lack of training. Emily and her fiancé knew that adopting him would be a huge undertaking, and took some time to weigh their options. But a week later, they’d made the decision to get Wilson and bring him home.
With the support of their dog training friend, the couple worked extensively with their new pooch. Despite the difficulties, they loved Wilson more and more… but couldn’t help but notice that something wasn’t quite right.
“It became clear to us very early on that Wilson was an odd dog, particularly when it came to food and digestion,” Emily explained. “He often wouldn’t eat in the morning, causing a buildup of bile in his stomach that led to vomiting. His stomach was also very sensitive, which we often found out the hard way after introducing new foods such as antlers and peanut butter. Additionally, he seemed very prone to illness.”
The pup’s strange appetite and digestion issues lead to several visits to the vet. Emily and her fiancé were told that he was just spoiled with treats and had become a picky eater.
Wilson’s appetite faded to the point of being nonexistent and he began dropping an alarming amount of weight, so the couple took him back to the vet. This time, they got a different doctor, who knew something was wrong and referred them to a specialist.
“She told me that she wasn’t going to stop looking until we got to the bottom of Wilson’s tummy troubles once and for all, which was encouraging after months of being told that we just have a weird dog,” Emily said.
After extensive tests, x-rays, blood work, and even exploratory surgery, the desperate couple finally got an answer, but not an encouraging one. Wilson had an infection called pythiosis, and a portion of his intestine was infected and inflamed. This had blocked food from passing through, causing his frequent nausea and vomiting.
“This infection is caused by direct contact with water that accommodates Pythium insidiosum, a water borne fungal parasite. It is usually swallowed or inhaled by the dog, and from there makes its way to the animal’s intestinal tract,” explains PetMD.
When Emily discovered that 80-90% of dogs die from the infection, she was devastated; when she realized he may have contracted it from stagnant water in one of the mud puddles, ponds, or kiddie pools she let him splash in, she was in utter despair.
Treatments included anti-fungal medications and even the removal of part of his intestine. But even with these treatments, the infection returns in 9 out of 10 pythiosis patients.
Despite the grim diagnosis, and the little hope offered to her by vets, Emily refused to give up on Wilson. She and her friend researched online and in the library for hours, learning as much as they could about this rare but deadly condition. She wondered if a large amount of deaths it caused could be because it’s so hard to diagnose. Hanging on to a fragment of hope, she decided to seek out the help of a holistic vet.
Wilson was able to participate in a new study on pythiosis that they happened to be conducting. His treatments consisted of anti-fungal medications and immunotherapy drugs, administered through shots. He was also put on a feeding tube until he could gain some weight back onto his frail frame.
After two months of treatment, the pup’s feeding tube fell out of its stitches – but miraculously, he’d started eating on his own! Wilson’s diet consists of meat, cheese, and eggs, but with his weight gain and lack of nausea spells, his humans couldn’t be more thrilled to make his meals. He’s been eating completely on his own for several weeks now, and has already surpassed his life expectancy by over a month. Emily and her fiancé are hopeful that, with the right treatment, Wilson will be one of the few dogs who can beat this terrible infection. Hopefully, the results of this study will help cure this pup, and others like him.
In the meantime, they plan on living life to the fullest and enjoying every moment they have with their precious pup.
Emily is passionate about spreading awareness about pythiosis, hoping that the more people learn about it, the less dogs will have to die from it. Follow Wilson (aka, Wilson HandsomePants) on Instagram @wagswithwilson for updates on his antics, as well as more information about this family’s experience with pythiosis.
This is an amazing story of a couple who refused to give up hope and accept defeat. We wish this family the very best – we’re rooting for you, Wilson!
Special thanks to Emily Steelman for letting us share their heartfelt story.
Update: With the support of his loving family, Wilson is still going! Keep up with them on Instagram!