You've decided it's time to adopt a dog. You pack up the kids and head over to the new Aiken County Animal Shelter to check out some prospects.


A volunteer introduces you to Duke, a 35-pound, black and tan border collie/shepherd cross. Duke is frisky, alert and well-behaved. He loves attention. He loves his bath. He walks quietly on a leash.


Duke's perfect, you think, but there's one thing that worries you.


Duke is heartworm positive.


You need not worry. Duke is a healthy dog with Stage 1 heartworm infection which can be treated with proper care. As a result, pursuant to a new County/Friends of the Animal Shelter initiative, Duke is eligible for adoption, and FOTAS will pay for the first six months of treatment when he is adopted.


I asked Dr. Charlie Timmerman, a well-respected veterinarian in Aiken County for more than 30 years and a FOTAS board member, about heartworms and the new County/FOTAS initiative.


CT: Heartworms, which are prevalent in South Carolina, are parasites that live in the heart and lungs. Left untreated, the worms can increase in numbers and fill the heart chambers, interfering with the heart's ability to pump blood to the body and ultimately causing congestive heart failure.


JDS: How is the disease transmitted?


CT: By mosquitoes that have fed on an infected dog; the mosquito then transmits the microfilaria, or the larva, to the next dog it bites.


JDS: Does a dog bitten by an infected mosquito get sick right away?


CT: No, it takes the microfilaria 6 to 7 months to become an adult and move into the heart. The time for a dog to develop heartworm disease varies with every dog, and not every dog will develop heartworm disease. That's why early diagnosis and treatment is so important.


JDS: How can you tell if a dog is infected?


CT: Through a blood test that checks for the presence of adult worms. If it's positive, then you do a second test to determine if there is microfilaria in the blood stream. Some dogs only have adult worms and no microfilaria.


A dog that tests positive for infection, who is otherwise healthy and shows no clinical signs of disease, could be in the very early stages of infection. They are as healthy as any of the other adoptable dogs at the County shelter.


JDS: How do you treat early-stage heartworm infection?


CT: We endorse the “slow-kill” method of treatment, which is more affordable and easier for the dog than the “fast-kill” method.


First we administer antibiotics, which weakens the adult worms and makes them easier to kill. Then the dogs are put on Heartguard, a monthly preventative, which keeps them from getting more heartworms and “slowly kills” the worms and any microfilaria.


JDS: If someone adopts a healthy HWP dog from the County, does FOTAS help pay for the treatment?


CT: Yes. FOTAS issues a voucher for the doxycycline and six months of Heartguard, which is accepted by six participating veterinarians in the County.


It's a great deal, because every dog in South Carolina should be on monthly heartworm prevention anyway, so it's one less expense for the owner.


This is all good news. Like Duke, there are many loving, healthy dogs at the County Shelter that just happen to test positive for heartworms.


Through Aug. 9, if you adopt a HWP dog, the adoption fee is reduced to $35 and you get the first six months of Heartguard free.


That's a win-win for everyone.


So come on, why don't you take Duke home today?


FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 333 Wire Road. For more information, email info@fotasaiken.org or visit www.fotasaiken.org.


By the numbers

Received: 300 dogs, 268 cats, total 568


Re-homed: 65 dogs, 80 cats, total 215


Euthanized: 43 dogs, 292 cats, 435