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Family goes extra mile to save puppy


Rescuing animals is a habit that Jessica Stretch’s family can’t break, and their pets hit the jackpot when it comes to tender loving care. Jessica, the Tecumseh Farmers Market manager and a realtor with Howard Hanna, said that either by chance or fate, sick or injured animals find the family. The newest member of the clan is Havi, a 19-week-old blue nose Pitbull puppy.

Havi was only six weeks old and seemed healthy when the family rescued him from a situation in the Flint area. About three weeks later she and her husband, Matt, were away from home and their son, Mason, fed the puppy his dinner. He called his parents concerned that Havi’s throat was swollen and his breathing was labored. “Matt and I rushed home and we took him to Ann Arbor, and that’s when they told us that he has megaesophagus,” said Jessica.

Megaesophagus is an enlarged and paralyzed esophagus, so when a dog eats, the food doesn’t move down its throat. Havi was born with the condition, so his future holds lifelong treatment and possibly a shortened life. “I was devastated. I think I cried all the way home from the veterinary hospital,” she said.

With treatment and care their puppy could still live a somewhat normal life, so Jessica said the family decided to do whatever they could for the happy, loving little guy.  

He must see his veterinarian for check-ins at Companion Animal Clinic every three weeks and has a complicated feeding process. Sometimes he needs to be taken for x-rays, because if he coughs food can get aspirated into his lungs.  

They had to take the pup to Michigan State University’s (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine last Thursday because he was sick, and he will see an internal medicine specialist at MSU at the end of September to discuss his options. He may get a permanent feeding tube placed in his small intestine, which would eliminate the lengthy feeding process, help him avoid sickness, and ensure he receives adequate nutrients so he can gain weight.

Havi’s meal routine takes more than an hour three times each day, starting with a medication an hour before feeding. He then eats a mixture of soft canned food mixed with water to make a soupy consistency, sitting in a special dog highchair to keep his neck straight during feedings. “He jumps up into the chair like he knows it’s feeding time,” Jessica said.

Having a dog with megaesophagus makes it harder to leave home, but Jessica’s cousin, Alyssa Halasz, has veterinary experience and helps take care of Havi, and Jessica’s mother, Julie DeJonghe, and stepmother, Connie Brown, are both nurses. “I feel comfortable having people that work in the medical field that can help out,” she said.  

Once Havi is older Jessica wants to enter him in therapy dog training, so she can take him to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor to visit sick children. “If he makes one positive impact in this world, then to me it’s worth it,” she said. “Whether that’s taking him to Mott’s where a sick child can relate to him being sick while he’s spreading love and joy to that child, or it’s somebody who’s terrified of Pitbulls or dogs and they develop a relationship with him. Whatever it is, if it creates one positive impact that means the world to me, and I think he will live a fulfilled life by creating one positive impact.”

So far Havi’s care has incurred close to $7,000 in medical bills, and DeJonghe started a fundraiser at to help the family with the pup’s medical expenses. “It is a financial burden on us, and we don’t ask for sympathy or handouts. But if anybody wants to help us we greatly appreciate it and it means the world to us. Anybody who’s passionate about anything will always put their heart and soul into it. That’s just who we are,” said Jessica.

The family has rescued several animals, including their dog, Finn, and Bastet, a three-legged cat that was found in a dumpster at four weeks old. Jessica said some people might question the family’s dedication to the time and expense of taking care of animals with special needs. “I feel like everything happens for a reason. Most of the animals we rescue we have no idea that they have issues until after we’ve already rescued them. I feel like it’s fate that they have come to us because we’re passionate about giving our pets the opportunity to have a good life. Just because they’re not human, who’s to say that they can’t have that opportunity?” she said. “We’re just that family that gives them that chance to live a happy and healthy life and give them the love that they deserve.”

To follow Havi’s progress, visit the Instagram account @helpforhavishealth.

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