What Happened to Walter the Adventure Mutt: Dealing with a Sick Dog on the Road

In our last blog post, we shared our adventures (and misadventures) in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. That adventure ended abruptly when Walter, our adventure mutt, unexpectedly became very sick. We decided to rush north to El Paso, Texas to get vet care for him.

Since posting information about Walter on our blog and on social media, we’ve received lots of questions about him. So, we decided to put together a little Q&A post about Walter’s medical drama, to share answers to the questions you’ve asked, and to those you never asked, but that we want to tell you about 😉. Who doesn’t love a good Q&A?

Q1: What Happened to Walter?

The short answer is we’re not sure. But who asked for a short answer? So, we’ll tell you what we know.

We realized that something was wrong with Walter on our first morning in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. He was unusually slow and wobbly on his feet, uninterested in eating, lethargic, drinking a lot of water, and peeing a lot. Seeing him like that was terrifying because our previous adventure dog, George, died of kidney failure and the symptoms were very similar.

We spent a worry-filled day and a half driving north to the East El Paso Vet Clinic in Texas. We chose it because it is well-rated and takes walk-ins. When we arrived, they took his temperature and ran a whole bunch of blood and urine tests. They also discovered a large swollen mass in his abdomen. It was so painful that when they touched it, I can only describe his reaction as a dog scream. To our great relief, all the tests came back “normal” (good). They diagnosed him with a fever and what they suspected was a bad infection and sent us away with pain medication and antibiotics.

Our relief was short-lived because, after two days of antibiotics, his symptoms were getting worse. A new set of X-rays revealed nothing and the next step was to put him under anesthetic to take a biopsy of the mass. The fear was that he could have a fast-growing tumour. During the biopsy, they discovered that the mass was a huge abscess, which they were able to drain and clean with 3 small incisions. Phew! This outcome was such great news after spending an afternoon preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario. They sent us away with a slightly groggy Walter, wearing the hugest cone I had ever seen, and with open holes in his abdomen that were to continue draining for the next 7-10 days. The vet suspected that the abscess was caused by an insect bite, but we’ll never know for sure.

Walter with his giant cone – relieved to be back in the van after his surgery

As predicted, Walter and his wounds improved with every passing day, and on the 10th day, the vet gave us the ‘all clear’ to get back on the road.

Q2: Why a Texas Vet Clinic and Not a Mexico Vet Clinic?

This is a good question, and we did consider bringing Walter to a clinic in Mexico. There are lots of good vet clinics throughout Mexico, particularly in Chihuahua, which was the biggest nearby city when Walter got sick.  However, we ultimately decided to bring him to El Paso, Texas for a few reasons:

  • Language: We wanted to make sure that we could clearly explain Walter’s symptoms and understand what the vet was saying to us. We weren’t sure that our Spanish skills were up to it.
  • Convenience: We knew that we’d likely have to spend a lot of time near the vet clinic and everything (accommodations, grocery shopping, errands, etc.) is easier for us in the US.
  • Timing: It was Semana Santa (the holy week before Easter) in Mexico – a huge holiday that results in a lot of parties, cheerful chaos, and business closures. We were worried that this may complicate things.  
  • Trip Plans: We were planning to return to the US within a week anyway, so the impact on our travels in Mexico was limited.

If we had been any further south in Mexico or if the timing was critical, we would have brought him to a vet clinic in Mexico.

Q3: Did You Really Get an Airbnb for Walter?

Yes! And, well, for us too. Between vet visits, and before we knew Walter would need minor surgery, we booked 6 nights at the Franklin Mountains State Park, just 25 minutes from the vet clinic. We spent 4 nights trying to care for Walter in the van. It was a bit of a disaster. We had puppy pads all over the van to catch any drips from the drain holes in his abdomen and to keep his sleeping surface clean. Despite his new, fashionable, soft cone, he was getting super frustrated by constantly bumping into things in the van. When the weather forecast predicted a daytime high of 30 degrees Celsius, we knew we had to get out of the van and into an air-conditioned room of some sort.

A great campsite in the Franklin Mountains, but not a good location to care for a sick dog
A very unhappy camper

Lucky for us, Easter weekend had just passed, and accommodation options opened up. Several affordable, pet-friendly Airbnbs were available in El Paso and we found an excellent one – Casita del Rey. It had a great host, WiFi, A/C, a hot shower, a functional kitchen, an adorable pink door, and… drumroll…  a Ms. Pac-Man game! We spent 5 luxurious nights in the Airbnb and when our time was up, Walter was much better.

Q4: How Long Did It Take for Walter to Get Better?

From the time of his surgery, it took about 1 week for Walter to perk up, but 2 weeks for his wounds to heal, and for his energy levels to return to normal.

Q5: How Much Did It All Cost?

The vet bills, which included 3 appointments, blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, minor surgery, antibiotics, and pain medication amounted to $1,900 CDN. We estimate that the cost for these services would have been similar back home.

Five nights at the Airbnb cost $510 CDN. This amount was over and above our usual trip expenses but very reasonable for the excellent accommodation. We enjoyed it so much we’re considering returning to El Paso (and the adorable Casita del Rey Airbnb) another year.  

Q6: Would You Do Anything Differently Another Time?

We learned a few lessons through this experience and there are some things we would do differently in the future:

  • Buy a pet thermometer. It would have been helpful to know that he had a fever when he first showed symptoms.
  • Buy a dog recovery harness. We’re often a long way from civilization. A recovery harness would allow us to transport him if he’s sick or injured on a hike or in the backcountry.
  • Book an Airbnb or motel room immediately. It was a mistake to make a reservation at the State Park and care for him in the van.
  • Bring a Dog First Aid book. We have one at home and it would have been helpful to have it with us for reference.
  • Be more observant of his behaviour. We had noticed some minor symptoms earlier but assumed they were related to weather, activities, etc.

Q7: Is Walter Happy to Be Back on the Road?

We asked him. He said “Yes” 😉. He also mentioned that he looks forward to returning home to see his bestie Auli, his girlfriend Nella, and his new friend Max.

First day back on the road (Blue Water Lake State Park, NM)

Q8: Where is Walter Now?

Walter is currently in Utah (with us of course!), meeting new friends and enjoying all the dog-friendly hikes around the city of Moab. He’s back to impressing all the lady dogs with his athletic prowess on the trails.

Fisher Towers Hike, Moab UT

Q9: Is Walter a Good Boy?

We’ll let Walter answer this one. He says: “Woof, woof… YES… and I deserve a cookie!

Stay Tuned

In the next post, we’re in the US, sharing our latest adventures from one of the best adventure states: Utah!

6 thoughts on “What Happened to Walter the Adventure Mutt: Dealing with a Sick Dog on the Road

  1. What a story…! So happy he is back to health and to see his beautiful smile again! Well done you guys. Nella is very much looking forward to see him (and you guys too!) again. Sending big hugs your way xo


  2. So glad to hear that Walter is back to being Walter again. The weather back home is wet and cold no rush to get home but I know that rush is not part of your vocabulary. You are in a great state , see you when you get home.

    Liked by 1 person

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