Puppy sisters shine after beating parvo, distemper

Shenzi and Bonsai the puppies sitting outside on some sand
Shenzi and Bonsai survived two life-threatening diseases, and now they’re finally getting to enjoy puppyhood.
By Sarah Thornton

Walk into Shenzi and Bonsai’s yard, and prepare to be greeted by hops, flops, and full-body wags. And don’t worry if you suddenly find yourself only able to communicate in baby talk; they have that effect on people. Neither of these puppy sisters has ever met a stranger, and that welcoming excitement coupled with their adorably large ears and bright brown eyes makes them quite the charming force to be reckoned with.

At just 10 months old, their days are all about having fun and making friends. But it didn’t start out that way. When they were even smaller than they are now, Shenzi and Bonsai were in a fight for their lives against canine parvovirus and distemper — a fight they survived, though it left its mark on their bodies. Fortunately, they landed at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where they’ve had the chance to recover and get back to just being puppies.

Sisters surviving together

Bonsai and Shenzi’s life began at a breeding facility in Arizona, and things might have turned out much differently for them had another litter of puppies — already infected with parvo and distemper — not been brought onto the scene. Without proper quarantine and care procedures, the diseases spread quickly. And soon Bonsai, Shenzi, and their littermates were sick.

Even with treatment, either is a difficult virus to endure, especially for such young dogs. Both highly contagious, parvo affects a dog’s gastrointestinal tract while distemper impacts the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems.

Tragically, Bonsai and Shenzi were the only pups to survive. They were moved to a covered concrete area, away from the other dogs, in an attempt to quarantine them and make their space easier to sanitize. But though they were through the worst of it, the sisters were still struggling. Unable to care for them any longer, the breeders surrendered them to Best Friends Network Partner The Fetch Foundation, which immediately reached out to the Sanctuary to provide the puppies with the specialized care they needed.

[Parvo is no match for Maltese-mix puppy]

They arrived in a rough state, needing lots of attention from veterinary staff and caregivers. They were coughing, having trouble breathing, suffering from diarrhea, and could hardly walk in a straight line. Bonsai had a permanent head tilt, and Shenzi bounced and bobbed in place — not uncommon for a distemper survivor.

Several rounds of antibiotics cleared up many of their lingering issues, though scarring in their lungs from distemper means they run out of breath easily and will always pant a little deeper. Caregivers make sure the energetic young pups don’t overexert themselves (a challenging task), while motion sickness medication helps with their movement issues. Their treatment is rounded off with immune system support meds.

“They’re doing well, better than we all anticipated,” says caregiver Alyssa Hill. “They are finally healthy enough to start acting like puppies.”

A chance to be puppies

Life at the Sanctuary is a whole lot less complicated for Shenzi and Bonsai. Like typical puppies, they’re full of playful energy and take every opportunity to have some fun. They can’t go on long walks, but they’ve mastered the short trail, and their human friends make sure they can still get out to see the rest of the canyon.

“They really love rides on the (golf cart); we put them in a crate in the back, and they’re just ready to go,” Alyssa says. “They really like horses — through the barrier, we don’t have them go up to them — but they’re just like, ‘Woah, what’s that?’ They’re very fun dogs.”

[Parvo nearly took this puppy’s life, but the county shelter stepped in to save her]

The sisters also enjoy spending time at the dog park, sniffing the latest news from the bushes and stretching their legs. But their favorite feature is the pool; they love splashing in the water. They even manage to bring the waterworks to their own yard, often upturning their water buckets to play in the mud.

And as much as Bonsai and Shenzi delight in their discoveries around Dogtown, they’re just as happy to hang out with their roommates on a lazy afternoon. “Shenzi has more of the drive, and she can move really fast. She’s done some herding of the other dogs,” Alyssa says. “Bonsai is much more chill; she’ll just sit there with her tongue out to the side watching.”

Looking forward to the future, caregivers have started bringing Shenzi and Bonsai to Dogtown Headquarters, where they’re working on some skills for navigating life in a home. And learning is just as fun as playing, as far as these two are concerned. As Alyssa says, “They’re just doofy little puppies.”

Shenzi and Bonsai the puppies outside together on some sand
Photo by Molly Wald

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