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Frank Gray

Annie Hootman discovered after she got Rocky that the puppy has a heart ailment.

Rocky’s person faces $1,500 surgery for dog

It has only been about a week since Annie Hootman, who counts herself as an animal lover, bought a purebred German shepherd from a breeder near New Haven.

But the bad news came fast.

Hootman took the 8-week-old dog to the vet to get its first shots and was given a startling diagnosis after a brief checkup.

The dog, which was lively and playful, had a serious heart murmur caused by something called patent ductus arteriosus, a condition that occurs in humans and animals.

It turns out that the major arteries in the heart are connected by an artery before the animal is born, preventing blood from flowing to the lungs. But after an animal is born, this connection collapses, and normal blood flow starts.

In the case of Hootman’s new dog, named Rocky, the bypass didn’t collapse, at least not completely. The condition, which occurs in about 7 in 1,000 births, can result in heart failure.

As a result, Hootman’s dog would need surgery that would cost about $1,500. Without it, there was a chance the dog could live for only a year or two.

Hootman was devastated, and contacted the breeder. She wanted a refund for the dog, but she also wanted to keep the dog and use the refund to help pay for the surgery.

The breeder, she said, offered to take the dog back and give Hootman a refund. But she’d already fallen in love with the dog, she said, and couldn’t do that.

Eventually Hootman got a $275 discount from the breeder, but she’s still looking at some big medical bills for the dog.

It is noteworthy that outwardly, the dog appears perfectly healthy.

I talked to the Humane Society of the United States about the situation. Can a breeder really be faulted for having a dog that has a medical condition and not knowing it because the dog seems perfectly normal and healthy?

Good breeders, said Kathleen Summers of the Humane Society, will provide paperwork signed by a veterinarian showing that a dog has at least started its shots. That establishes that a vet has seen the animal, and any unseen problems will have been detected.

“If they don’t have a note from a vet, that’s a red flag,” Summers said.

And there is nothing wrong with asking to take the dog to your own vet for a checkup before buying it, she said.

For Hootman, it’s a lesson learned, but an expensive one.

“I’m so far in debt with student loans,” she said, and she doesn’t have the money to pay for the surgery.

So Hootman plans to go to a website called and set up her own fundraiser for Rocky.

It might be a long shot, but there are bound to be a lot of dog lovers on the Internet.

“I’ve got 611 Facebook friends,” Hootman added. If each one of them gave her a couple of bucks, it could pay for the surgery.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.