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Mountain Home Magazine

Saving Dogs from Distemper

Dec 01, 2021 09:00AM ● By Ed Bond

The last thing I wanted was a voicemail from the other side of the world, but Mada Lixandru had tracked me down. I played her message when I arrived at my desk at the Elmira Star-Gazette at 2 p.m. on a sunny Saturday in mid-August, 2008.

Mada lived in Romania. Her dog Rina had canine distemper, and she had been desperately searching for a way to save her pup’s life. She begged me to call her back. “Nope,” I thought. “Not gonna do it.”

As that day’s wire editor, I had to help fill the newspaper with stories from the Associated Press and other wire services. I did not want to get entangled in her crisis. Mada found me because of my website——and the story I’d posted about the battles with canine distemper my wife, Amy, and I had when we lived in Los Angeles. All our dogs were vaccinated but must have been exposed before they came into our lives.

In 1996, two of our puppies died in the neurologic stage of this disease. The next year, another street dog we rescued, Galen, was diagnosed in the early stages.

Distemper is a virus related to measles. It typically attacks the respiratory system first. After six days of symptoms like coughing, gunky nose, and fever, the disease usually attacks the nervous system. At this point most dogs either die naturally or are euthanized to end their suffering.

Before Galen reached that stage, we had him treated by Dr. Alson Sears of Lancaster, California.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Sears developed a serum for dogs in the early stages of distemper using Newcastle’s Disease Vaccine. After two days in Lancaster, Galen returned to us strong and healthy.

At the time, I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and tried to write about how Galen was saved. But because Dr. Sears had never published his treatment in a veterinary journal, I couldn’t. Later, I published the website story just to let others in Southern California find Dr. Sears, but I did not want to fight for him.

By 2008, our lives had changed. After our first baby, Amy and I moved back to her hometown, Horseheads. Amy and I had met at the Star-Gazette in 1991, when I was the bureau reporter in Corning. When we returned from California in 2001, I took a job as copy editor in Elmira. In 2006, Galen died of liver trouble and, soon after, Dr. Sears retired and moved to Utah. That should have been the end of the distemper story.

But then Mada found me. She had emailed, too. Later, I tersely replied to her email that the protocols for Dr. Sears’ serum were on the website, and her vet could use them if he wanted.

In mid-December, I was at work with Facebook open on my browser. A chat window popped up from Mada. At that moment, she changed my life. “...we did manage to save five or six dogs with that serum...”

Outcomes in science need to be replicated. A veterinarian in Romania had taken Dr. Sears’ protocols off of my website with the same result. Confirmation? Maybe not enough for a university, but enough to override my skepticism. Dogs do not need to die of this disease, and I could not keep letting it happen.

But I am not a scientist. I respect doctors, professors, and the need for treatments to be analyzed through scientific testing and peer reviewed articles. I trust the scientific method and believe in vaccines. Better to prevent than to need to treat a disease.

However, if your patient is terribly ill, wouldn’t you want a treatment? Perhaps Dr. Sears’ discovery just needed better confirmation, I thought. Could I somehow nudge him toward acceptance from the experts?

The day after the chat with Mada, I launched the Save Dogs From Distemper cause with this message: “Here are Dr. Sears’ protocols. Use them. Make the serum. Treat dogs with distemper and then report back to me what outcomes you have.”

This went out on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, WordPress, and eventually on a DVD and in my book. I received thousands of emails and collected hundreds of stories, photos and videos from Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, South Africa, Canada and around the United States.

Working through Kind Hearts In Action, a small nonprofit founded by my two sisters, we received anecdotal accounts of veterinarians treating 305 dogs with Dr. Sears’ serum before the onset of the neurologic stage. Of those, eighty-six percent survived. According to Cornell University, fifty percent of adult dogs that get distemper die, and 80 percent of puppies die.

But Dr. Sears and I were—and still are—caught in a Catch-22. The experts wouldn’t take a closer look at this because there were no published studies, and there were no published studies because they wouldn’t look at it. My training is in journalism. I collect stories—anecdotes—and anecdotal information doesn’t prove much in science. Scientific proof takes more money and resources than I have.

The next step should be to properly document cases. But vets who have used the serum are mostly too busy running a practice to document outcomes to veterinary journal standards. This requires someone who could consistently treat a group of dogs, preferably working with a trained science or medical writer. If anyone like that is interested, I would love to hear from them.

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